Saturday, April 09, 2016

Books Read in March

Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis: I don't have words for how much I love these books. Together (they can only go together, they are two parts of the same story, not a series) they are 1000 pages of pure bliss. Yes, it's convoluted and confusing and time travel probably doesn't make sense. I don't care. The second time around I was actually able to follow the characters in their different personas and make sense of what was going on. The first time through, a few years ago, I couldn't and I didn't care. They're about World War II, of course, but mostly they're about heroism and patience and love and whether goodness really matters in a world that usually doesn't make sense.

It was really silly of me to check out the first one on a whim and then start it before I had the second one in from the library. Actually, it's really silly of me not to own these.

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold. It's kind of disappointing in a series that began with epic planet-destroying threats in every book to have petered out to a plot line built on petty contractor disputes and exploding insects. Also the morals were way too, well, "Betan" for me. There were some nice musings on aging and parenting, though.

Paradise Lost, books VII-X. Mankind finally falls. Is it the woman's fault? Or is it built into the system? Regardless, the demons all turning to snakes was a great moment.

Father Brown, by G. K. Chesterton. I can't remember which books I've read, because I'm going through the Omnibus but haven't finished it yet. Anyway, this was necessitated because we tried watching the newer Father Brown BBC series that stars the actor who plays Mr. Weasley. Well, the casting was perfect--few actors could capture that blend of unassuming exterior with deep insight so well. But the writing was frankly terrible. It moved the whole setting forward to the 1950s and converted it into one of those standard village homicide series with a nosy amateur that have presumably decimated the British countryside. None of the exotic locations or fantastical atmospheres dispelled by Father Brown's flash of insight and ability to distinguish between the truly and falsely spiritual. We made it through about three episodes and gave up in disgust. After a few books the taste is mostly out of my head.

Oliver Twist. We must have finished this early in the month. It was a tough read for Duchess and Deux, but I think they grew through it and Duchess at least was enjoying it by the end. (Deux doesn't admit to enjoying much that isn't an equation or a game with an inordinate amount of rules.) Now we're reading Kim which I am determined they shall enjoy, so I'm reading it out loud.

We finished The Phoenix and the Carpet. I still think the chapter when the Phoenix demands the worship of his "priests" at the Phoenix Fire Insurance Agency is one of the funniest ever. I tried reading this to the ducklings years and years ago and it went completely over their heads. This time they were rolling on the floor. DOB was rolling his eyes. We are now reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. 

I'm pretty sure I must have read some other books, but I can't for the life of me remember what they were. They must pass into oblivion.

The Pox Departeth

We have survived.

We are never, ever, ever going to do that again.

I hope.

Duchess came down on Tuesday night and the twins followed on Thursday and Friday. By Saturday everyone was pretty much down to sucking on Pedialyte popsicles and watching endless episodes of Get Smart while lying limply on the couch.

Well, except for Deux who was feeling very left out, since he had never gotten that sick. So he had to get his being sick time in with everyone else even though technically he was much better. He didn't rank a seat on the couch, though.

Fortunately the grownups' immunity held strong, although I did get a nasty cold that was much exacerbated by sleepless nights with itchy kids. So I think this weekend I get to lie around and be sick, although I don't care for Pedialyte popsicles or Get Smart that much.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Bunnies and Chick(en pox)

This year will undoubtedly go down in family lore as "The Year We Had the Chickenpox on Easter."

Except we didn't *exactly* have it on Easter. Deux had pretty much scabbed over by Easter, and Duchess didn't come down sick until Tuesday.

Still, chickenpox has loomed over all the festivities, keeping us out of general gatherings, and keeping away everyone except those confident in their immunity or desiring to acquire some. (I did let asymptomatic kids go to the sunrise service--I figured outside they could adequately avoid everyone else.)

We did manage to dye eggs with friends (who were hoping to catch it) and have a reduced family gathering on Easter. It hasn't been entirely without festivities.

So far Dot and Dash have not had any definitive symptoms. Duchess is in the throes of misery as the eldest sufferer. Deux endured the whole thing with relentless stoicism and a whole lot of Alphabears on the iPad. (His verdict: having chicken pox was not worth the extra iPad time.) Where Deux acquired them in the first place I cannot imagine, as he does not exactly vigorously seek new acquaintance and I haven't heard of anybody we actually know having them.

I have laid in a stock of movies and now am just hoping for everyone to get it quickly and be done.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Horror!

I promised myself that I would *never* do this, but I did. I couldn't stop myself. The twins were complaining, yet again, about the fact that they were expected to work on the exact same math page at the same time, not to mention having to write down some of the answers instead of doing it all orally.

Finally, I blurted out, "You know, in regular school, the kids all have to do the same math page. Twenty or thirty of them."

Dash: "They do? Not at the same time, though?"

"Yes, at the same time."

Dot: "Well, not the same page."

"OK, technically not, but copies of the same page. And they have to write in all the answers by themselves."

Dash: "I never, ever want to go to regular school."

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Cure-All

The last couple of weeks we had a round of nasty colds go through (I think there were at least two separate viruses swapping back and forth).

So last Sunday I took the time to just sit on the couch and Be Sick all day. Except for about fifteen minutes of standing up and chopping long enough to get this chicken soup cooking. This chicken soup contains pretty much everything I've ever heard of being useful against a cold, and if you're not into healing properties of foods it's just an incredibly easy and delicious soup, with none of that grandiose roast this and blend that nonsense that people keep cluttering up honest, simple soup recipes with. Between the soup and the resting, I was back to functional by Monday. All amounts are wildly approximate.

Chicken Curry Cold Cure Soup
 2 onions, chopped
A big ol' spoonful of minced garlic
A glug of olive oil.

Sautee in the bottom of a large pot.

Add
2 quarts chicken broth (Way better with proper homemade broth from bones, of course)
Two cups or so each of chopped carrots, celery, and potatoes
Two cups chopped, cooked chicken
1 T grated fresh ginger
2 T curry powder
1 t. turmeric
1 t. oregano
Salt and black pepper to taste

Cook until the veggies are soft, about twenty minutes. Add 2 cups frozen broccoli and the juice of one lemon; let it all get hot again and serve.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Books Read in February

The Long Mars, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. Mostly enjoyable as a final (I assume) book in the series. I did find myself a bit annoyed by the depiction of the "Next," though. Why is it that when we imagine the new, improved humans they're always much smarter than us but also arrogant, entitled jerks? Why can't the human of the future be kinder, humbler, more empathetic? Maybe there's something to Original Sin after all.

The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin. Duchess recommended this after reading it for the library's book club. Surprisingly dark (not in an overwhelming evil way, just in the little pettinesses and life struggles) for a children's book from its era, but not, I suppose, for a mystery. I saw much of the solution in advance, so at least I scored there.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Beautiful and heartbreaking and sometimes hilarious. I especially admire her ability to convey the feelings and perspective of a child, something hard to reconstruct after the years. And her insight into the ugliness that can build in victims. A very real book.

True Justice by Robert Tanenbaum. His Majesty left this at my house and suggested I might try it. I picked it up skeptically as legal thriller is definitely not a genre I usually enjoy. However, I enjoyed it in spite of myself; the characters were surprisingly relatable despite the vast differences between the fictional life of criminal attorneys in New York City and the real life of estate attorneys in rural Washington. And the legal and ethical issues raised were worth pondering.

A Duty to the Dead, by Charles Todd. This was the current pick for the church book club; someone thought we needed a more cheerful read, so we did a murder mystery. (Well, murder mysteries are rather cheerful books on the whole. At least the ones where we find out whodunnit and they get caught.) It was a good read. Spoiler: a rather disturbing conjunction between this one and the previous was that in both a cold-blooded serial killer turned out to be a ten year old boy. I checked with Deux, but he has no plans to kill anything but zombies.

Paradise Lost, Books IV-VI. Still reading this along with an online group. Much more fun this way, but I'm falling behind and need to catch up.

Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull: In Duchess's estimation, if I cannot still instantly recall all characters and plot points in a series of books for discussion, then I need to read it again. So I read it again. It was a good way to spend a weekend with a cold. I think Mull is going to prove to be one of those prolific authors whose writing improves as he goes along. His inventiveness is amazing. The writing is not eloquent but not awkward; just a lot of fun to read. A little preachy in spots, but not really in a bad way.

In Process:
Hell's Foundations Quiver, by David Weber: Honestly, I'm not sure why I'm still reading this series. The first few were very enjoyable, with their depiction of a world deliberately kept in technological ignorance for its own safety by means of religious control, and the attempt to disentangle truth from mind control. However, at this point the world-building and global war have gotten way too cumbersome for my tastes. When we're learning the fabric content of the polar army's long underwear, it's just too much. However, I haven't quite let go yet.

Longitude, by Dava Sobel: I finally caved in to being middle-aged and got a large purse. This means I can now keep a book with me to read instead of reading three-year-old Good Housekeepings in waiting rooms. This is that book, which I found at the library sale shelf. Navigation, shipwrecks, and politics. Promises to be awesome.

Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens: The big kids are reading this for school and I realized I needed a refresher on this to adequately discuss it with them. Dickens is rather opaque--this book is definitely a stretch for them, but seems to be rewarding the effort.

As a family, we finished up Five Children and It and are reading The Phoenix and the Carpet. I tried reading the latter to the children when they were much younger and thought the scene where the phoenix insists on receiving his due homage at the fire insurance office was the funniest thing ever, but of course they could not fathom it at all at the time. This time they got it and also thought it hilarious, and composed their own ode to the Phoenix.

We're also reading Hiawatha. All of it. I don't think any of them realized a poem could go on that long.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Mooo

Sometime in the last several years, my sinuses started clogging up. I didn't notice, because I don't notice little details like that, and it came on gradually, and I don't go to the doctor very often but I finally did and she said, "Wow, your sinuses are awful."

So we tried nose sprays and allergy  medicines and antibiotics and things got a little less stuffy so that if I took all of everything I could breathe somewhat on occasion. And she said, "You should maybe go see a specialist."

But I have a pretty low tolerance for going to doctors and I already wanted to pursue TMJ treatment first because my jaw hurts a whole lot worst. That took me to a sleep apnea specialist, and he looked at my sinuses and said, "Wow, your sinuses are awful. You should take more allergy meds and go see a specialist."

So I thought about going to a specialist after the TMJ treatment, but that was going to be awhile, and it was going to cost money (as were all those allergy meds being consumed in copious quantities), and my sinuses still hurt pretty bad.

Then one day I suddenly said to myself, "Why don't I just see if it's something I'm consuming all the time. Like, say, milk?"

I stopped consuming milk. Within 24 hours I could breathe while on the allergy meds. Within a week I could breathe even off the allergy meds.

I should be very happy to save myself the trip to the specialist and future allergy meds.

But mostly I just miss milk. Milk milk milk milk. And yogurt. And cheese. And milk chocolate. And stuff that claims to be dark chocolate but actually has milk inside it. And a tall, cold glass of milk alongside all those things.


Every time I find myself reaching for something dairyish I stop and breathe very deeply. Through my nose. It helps, a little.

I still want milk!

(Yes, I know other people suffer with far worse and more extensive food issues. Hey, I've had them myself. I still want milk.)

I'm hoping it's just a temporary intolerance and I can handle it again in moderation after going off it for awhile. Because I don't want any of that faux whipped stuff on my pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Overflow

We are observing the inevitable February Slump this year by taking things a little slower in school . . . spreading three weeks out over four . . . just enough to allow for those mornings when getting out of bed doesn't seem to be an option. (Although, in the usual perversity of things, if I let the children know that the next day is off school, they will be up hours before dawn, though I can barely get them up by eight-thirty on a school day.)

Mostly school is going quite well. Deux and Duchess are doing Year 5 of Ambleside Online, which is pretty much awesome. But AO is in the process of revamping their science selections (I am *so* excited about what we'll be doing in future years) and Year 5 hasn't been revised yet. When my students kept complaining that their anatomy book was too easy--not a common complaint with AO selections--I decided to try to find something else.

We wound up with The Way We Work by David Macaulay, which they tackled with enthusiasm based on their affection for The Way Things Work, which Deux took to bed with him for many years. It was a good thing they were enthusiastic, because much of it was over my head, especially with the biochemistry up front. But with the help of some Kahn Academy videos, we made it through and are on to large body systems which are a little easier to envision.

Still, just reading and sketching was a little dry, so I was happy to come across an old human biology experiments book at the library sale rack--one of those older ones that dates from the days when any determined youngster with a garage and the dangerous chemicals readily available at his neighborhood hardware store could unlock the mysteries of the universe. So now we have some supplemental experiments to do.

To go with breathing, I thought we could start with a simple experiment that involved exhaling through a tube into an inverted jug filled with water. The idea was that your breath would force out the water and then, by measuring how much empty space you created, you could estimate your lung capacity. This sounded like fun. And it was. Especially when I ignored the, "Do this in the kitchen sink" instructions and the water fleeing the force of Duchess's lungs erupted over the counter, dirty dishes, and floor.

"And this, children," I said, "Is why your mother is a lawyer, not a scientist."

Deux, with the reflex of young students, asked, "Then why do you make *us* study science?"

"Because it is awesome," I said. And he didn't argue.