Friday, July 31, 2015

A Message to the Past

Sometimes I like to go back and reread old years of blog posts and remember what things were like back then. Then again, some things don't bear remembering. Sometimes I wish I could send messages back through to my past self. Sometimes I almost feel as if I can. So, this is for me then.

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When the twins were on the way and our church was very kindly helping out with meals and sometimes people would stay and help catch up on dishes or something while I lay on the couch and didn't speak or move because if I did I would throw up. One lady, a tall and imposing and efficient woman without much experience with small children, took advantage of the opportunity to look around at our house knee-deep in toys and point out that I was neglecting the necessary task of teaching my children to pick up after themselves, and they would certainly need this for life, and it really was quite horrible that I was failing them in this regard.

I didn't say anything at the time, mostly because I would have thrown up if I had, such as pointing out that it is very hard to direct small children in picking up when you can neither move nor speak. I just tried to be grateful that she had washed the dishes and brought supper and not to worry too much about it.

And, though I tried not to let it worry me, sometimes it did, because even when I could move and speak, I never was one of those people who could make sure there was A Place For Everything and Everything In Its Place. Sometimes we got things cleaned up (usually in time to show the house and move) but more often we didn't. When we did get things cleaned up, it was often by dumping everything higgledy-piggledy in a box and shoving it out of sight somewhere.

But I figured if I couldn't keep on top of things enough to teach them good habits of cleanliness, I could at least not make them hate cleaning, so on the days when we did clean, I tried to make it fun as long as I could, and then I let them go, even though I feared this was a terrible mistake. (And I didn't always manage that. Sometimes I freaked out about the mess, too. Sometimes, everybody cried.)

I read once that children who had plenty of time for free play were actually better at picking up and taking care of things, owing to their more highly-developed executive function. It seemed too much to hope for, and I certainly didn't see any evidence of it yet, but it did give a glimmer of hope.

And then, slowly, I started to notice that things were changing. The children's cleaning-up capacity started to outstrip their mess-making capacity. The older two, especially, could actually participate in cleaning for quite a long time and even enjoy it. Sometimes, if they wanted to beg me for a special favor, they would even clean an area up on their own initiative.

Two days ago, they decided they wanted to move some furniture and beds around between the bedrooms and play room. (Essentially the whole upstairs of the house belongs to them, and it runs pretty wild most of the time.) I didn't want to deal with it. We hadn't done much housework in two weeks and everything was a mess. But DOB agreed to their pleadings that if they really got the whole area--all three rooms--cleaned and organized, they could do it.

They started right into that evening. They worked a lot of the next day (but they still did their weekly chores of laundry, mopping, scrubbing chairs and cleaning the bathroom and they also went swimming with his Majesty). And they did it. No grownup help, supervision, or even ideas. They cleaned out areas I had been afraid to touch. If I had tackled it, I would have scheduled at least three days, meals and laundry would have been late, and I would have been horribly crabby the whole time.

Now, I haven't been up yet but things are probably going to be messy again. But they *can* clean. More than that, they can tackle a big project on their own.

So, dear past me, lying on the couch: You're doing fine. They'll get it. Give them time, and let them play.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Why I Hate Pretty Much Everybody In *The Hunchback of Notre Dame* (Especially the person who owned it first)

I don't remember when I got this book, but it must have been a bargain grabbed at a book sale or something.

I finally read it. And wondered how Disney managed to make a movie out of it, the plot consisting entirely of seduction, attempted rape, torture, mass slaughter, and hanging witches. (Answer, ascertained by a visit to IMDB: Disney took the title and list of character names and created an entirely different plot. I hate Disney.)

Pretty much everybody in this book is loathsome.

Claude Frollo is of course the villain and so perhaps I am supposed to hate him, but he's evidently been quite a kind man up until this point, taking in the deformed Quasimodo when everyone else wants him burned as a demon. Now, smitten by Esmerelda's dancing, he can apparently only think of two options: raping her or murdering her. I'm not saying it's impossible for these two characteristics to exist in the same person, I'm saying Hugo never explores why or how.

I rather liked Gringoire for quite a long while--he had all the best lines. "And then I have the good fortune to spend all my days from morning to night in the company of a man of genius--myself--and it's very pleasant." Weak, yes, but amusing and not bad-hearted. But walking off with the goat and leaving Esmeralda in the clutches of Frollo, that was just too weak.

Phoebus of course is despicable, and meant to be.

One feels like one ought to cheer for Esmeralda and of course I don't approve of her fate, but honestly, the girl is as dumb as a gargoyle. She has lived her life on the streets; she has all the worst of Paris as her closest friends and associates; and yet she still believes after months of no contact that the lecherous Phoebus must be truly in love with her and will gallantly come to her aid. Even for sixteen, that's pretty dense. (Difference between Phoebus and Frollo: Phoebus is handsomer and has more practice.)

That pretty much just leaves Quasimodo, who is of course a noble soul. Not that it does any good. In this book all love is unrequited, except perhaps Gringoire's fondness for the goat. Let's not inquire.

According to Wikipedia, Hugo wrote the book to draw attention to Gothic architecture. Well, the architecture was fine.

The truly maddening thing about this book that I did not realize until I started it, was that it was formerly owned by a high school student, who made notes for class in a large round hand in the margin. Notes like, "This is an example of irony," and "not brave" and "metaphorical." Yes, thank you, I have a *much* better grasp of irony and metaphor now.

I never get those second-hand books where someone wise and profound has written in the margins and it changes my life.

(Note: this post may possibly be the result entirely of the incoming storm system. However, Victor Hugo has been dead a long time and can't be hurt by this. I quite liked *Les Miserables*.)

(Second Note: Apparently the Disney version was partly based on Hugo's own rewrite of the novel as an opera. Guess he wound up hating everybody in it, too.)

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Finis

We finished school.

I'm proud of us. Last year we crashed and burned at the end of June with a month left. We had lost too much time moving, and when DOB's mysterious malady (let's be alliterative if we can't get a diagnosis) struck again in May without warning, it all just got to be too much.

So to finish this year, to *finish* the work we set out to do, on top of starting a business and all the rest of life ongoing, well, that's really something. And considering that this year saw the twins doing formal lessons for the first time, thus doubling the student body, that's really, really something. In a dramatic denouement, my red planning binder collapsed under the strain on the next to last day.

I am neither in the all-life-is-learning camp, nor in the just-school-all-year-round camp. I like to have a goal, and then I like to take a break. (Sure, all of life is learning, but there are days in life when one binge-reads fantasy novels or lies on the grass by the lake, and I don't intend to try to quantify what exactly is being learned.) I might take breaks through the year if I lived in a different climate, but the Pacific Northwest was crafted for the specific purpose of having summer break.

Some days I've probably pushed too hard at getting done for getting done's sake, but I think most of the time we've managed to stay in the moment and learning. Some days we cut our losses. The twins didn't get a lot of math this year, but I'm rather ambivalent about formal math that young. Some days we didn't do a lot of writing, but we always did some. We read some great books together.

One principle I am coming to believe in is that, if you don't have a lot of time and energy, focus what you do have on something challenging. It's better to do two tough books than five easy books. I hope to keep that in mind planning for next year.

I'm especially proud of the way Duchess and Deux have stepped up to doing their own work on their own steam. And I'm enjoying the way Dot and Dash revel in the stories we've read together.

DOB is doing a little better this summer--the whatever-it-is is still lurking in the shadows, but a careful balance of rest, exercise, air conditioning and protein seems to be keeping it at bay. He hasn't had to give up driving yet, at least. I'm hoping to pick up the pace at work a bit--I haven't quite been making the 15 hours I hope to work yet, although I'm finally increasing my billable hours as we get things better organized and more handed off to our assistants. As usual, there is way too much to cram into summer vacation.

And, of course, it's time to start planning for next year . . .

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Proper Nouns

There are many ways in which I fail at being a good modern parent, ranging from seldom insisting on baths to never once having done a craft off of Pinterest.

However, probably the most important is in teaching children proper names for body parts from earliest ages. You know, *those* body parts.

This is really important for their proper development and safety and what-not, or so countless articles and other, more successfully modern, mothers tell me. Nonetheless, I continue to fall behind on this count.

There are reasons for this.

One is that I tried once, and I got so tired of hearing about *that* body part that I never wanted to proceed to others. "Hey, that comes up as high as my (body part)!" "Watch out, you bumped my (body part)!"

Another is that I am still pretty dicey on anatomical details myself. I mean, I know a lot of names and I know the general area, but it's kind of like trying to remember the difference between Estonia and Latvia. This shocking ignorance has not prevented me from reproducing four times and having a lot of fun in the bargain. So it can't be completely necessary for a good life.

I'm a lawyer, not a doctor. My kids may not know where their spleen or other, more interesting, body parts are, but they can dissect a verbal ambiguity in ten seconds flat, much to the bewilderment of their peers.

So, kids, if you want to know the names for body parts, consult the anatomy diagrams in the science dictionary. If you want to know about your rights and duties with regard to your insurance, I'm happy to help.


Sunday, June 07, 2015

Quoth the Raven

After many years of wondering how I would know a raven if I saw one, as opposed to a crow, I have finally learned. And discovered that our yard is ruled by a raven.

The difference is simple to spot: crows always flap; ravens glide. Now that I know the difference, it seems obvious and I feel as if I should go apologize to the majestic bird for muddling him with his lesser cousins.

He likes to sit on one of the stubby branches of the fir tree at the bottom of the yard, the few that are left after a predecessor in title from some other part of the company valued sunlight over trees.

We still have plenty of crows, too. They like the compost pile and tend to spread it. Actually the raven may help them. I'll have to watch more and learn his habits.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Random Number of Updates of Moderate Length

Doing fun things on the weekend has never been something we are very good at. I grew up on a farm, where weekends were for doing farm things, so I never got used to it. Anyway, doing fun stuff generally requires a surplus supply of a couple of basic things like time, money, and energy. So our weekends consist of DOB sleeping on Saturday while I do work and keep the kids quiet, and then me resting on Sunday afternoon while he (and sometimes a designated pusher) goes to the Y to get in a lot of workout and therapy.

BUT we managed one fun weekend this month. Bookworm and Rocketboy took me and the kids to the Science Center to see the Pompeii exhibit before it leaves the US. We also naturally used the opportunity to aim lasers, fly to the moon, visit butterflies, and all the other stuff science museums were for. Though by far the most memorable item was the presentation with liquid nitrogen which led to lots of further discussions on the point at which various materials melt or condense.

Then on Sunday DOB took all the kids to the Y and paid for them to go in so they could swim, too, not just wait on the sidelines. And they got ice cream. They were beyond thrilled.

That was a brutal Monday. I don't think we'll have fun again for awhile.

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After avoiding medicine for the better part of a decade, I finally decided to go in for a checkup. The nurse noted that my sinuses looked bad. Well, I suppose they feel bad, too, I just try not to think about it. This is my standard approach to illness. It is not without reason, as my experience is that no proposed remedy (standard or natural) makes me feel any different. Or any substance at all, really. My body just lumbers along, doing its thing, without much regard to what is thrown at it, though it tends to put up a protest at lack of food.

So far the sinus remedies are living up to expectation. Except now that I've noticed my sinuses hurt, it bothers me more. Ignoring them was also a lot cheaper.

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We have four more weeks of school. Four. more. weeks. It should be five, but we're going to squish it into four, because we have to finish before Duchess's birthday. At least we should be able to come respectably close to finishing this year, unlike last year when nearly everything got tossed to the wind.

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Although we are not a lot of fun, we have reinstituted our summer tradition of Tuesday Movie Nights and so far have seen National Velvet, Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, and a somewhat debatable Kidnapped. I'm happy to report that we have produced four children who cannot help but point out all the ways the movie deviates from the book. (Though they were pretty happy with Harry Potter.) Part of this tradition is popsicles. I'm thinking I might want to branch out a little bit from my standard mushy-banana-and-peaches combo, so maybe I'll try some of these.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Books Read . . . Whenever


So, I'm already far behind on keeping track of books for this year. And it certainly hasn't been a good time for especially deep or challenging books. But let me see what I can still remember.

Idylls of the King, Tennyson
OK, not deep except for this one. But this was with an online book club, or I probably wouldn't have kept plowing. Tennyson's take on Arthur is unique. In his portrayal, Arthur is not Mordred's father--which means that the undoing of the Round Table doesn't come from Arthur--or at least not so directly. Rather Tennyson focuses on the roles of ideals and idealism and our own failure to live up to them. Arthur may be an innocent figure, but he is a cold one, lacking the ability to sustain love even though he inspires from a distance. He cannot sustain what he has created and it falls under its own weight.

Carpe Jugulum, Terry Pratchett
This is one of those books I just need to read every once in a while. Despite being about witches and vampires and written by an agnostic, I find it very encouraging to my faith. I identify a lot with the Reverend Mightily Oats. Except for the acne.

The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss
This is a brilliant title. The writing is good. I found the youthful hero a bit tedious, too much fabulousness at absolutely everything, but it was tempered with enough self-inflicted disasters through overconfidence that I thought he might grow up into an interesting character. And his nemesis, the mysterious Chandrian, definitely drew my curiosity. Which was all rather a pity, because then I read the second book in the series.

The Wise Man's Fear, Patrick Rothfuss
And this was still going along OK, but it was getting more and more tedious as our hero goes to ever more places and masters ever more implausibly difficult things with absurd ease, and still gets no closer to finding out anything at all about the evil horrible things he has vowed to combat, when it took a detour that left me completely uninterested in the rest of the book. I am quite willing to accept that different cultures have different morals and customs. I cannot, however, swallow a low-tech, no magic society run by female martial artists who also practice free . . . well, they don't dignify it by the name of love so neither shall I. People can have many different customs, but they can't escape basic biology (or if you intend them to, then you better *explain* their novel biology). Either they would be pregnant most of the time--which would *really* put a cramp in the daily practice of hand-to-hand combat--or their society's in real trouble because all its strongest and healthiest young women are infertile. Sorry, that's not competent worldbuilding anymore, it's just sophomoric fanfic. So I lost interest and it had to go back to the library and I probably won't bother again. I don't find philandering to add to the appeal of a hero who was already starting to bore me. But dang, I wanted to find out about those nasty Chandrian. It just never seemed like we were getting any closer to finding out.

The Dead in their Vaulted Arches, Alan Bradley
Fortunately Flavia de Luce never disappoints.

Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand
This was for the church book club, or I never would have read a book so currently popular. It was, nonetheless, pretty good.

Maskerade, Terry Pratchett
Not only did I need some more Granny Weatherwax, but I had to do this one again because I am leading an online discussion of Macbeth. Not that it's at all relevant. I just needed to.

Macbeth, William Shakespeare
Always my favorite tragedy. I just love bloodthirsty female villains. Lady Macbeth, Medea, even the White Witch. Let's not analyze it too closely, shall we? Or if we do, let's take a Gilbert and Sullivan approach and hope no one will hold it against me for being just a liiiitle bit bloodthirsty:

The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers. This was another reread, and I don't know what to say about it. If the idea of a literary dinosaur struggling for his life in a grizzly catacomb of books and monsters doesn't appeal to you, then there's no sense trying to explain. If it does, then you should just read it and the other Zamonian stories by the same author.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. This was a highly entertaining take on the end of the world. When the devil becomes incarnate he finds himself siding with the carnate. I'm still pondering what I think of the theology of it all, though. Perhaps too much for a work of humor, but I think it well deserved. Hey, maybe we should read *it* for the church book club. (Insert maniacal laughter)

ETA: Of course when I wait this long I forget about two of the best ones:

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. Like pretty much everything by Potok, brilliant and sad and beautiful. A young Orthodox Jew tries to reconcile his gift and passion for painting with his faith and community.

Snuff  by Terry Pratchett. Honestly, I don't know how anyone could keep writing so many great books and keep them all just as good while dying of Alzheimer's. I was sad to think this was the last one, but Bookworm assures me there is one more in the publication pipeline. RIP.

Still in process but probably going to finish someday soon:
The Royal Road to Romance, by Richard Halliburton. An old travel memoir from the days when travel was easy but McDonald's and Coca-cola had not yet invaded everywhere. A geography possibility for a few years down the road, but I found it at a second-hand store during Duchess's birthday trip (no, her birthday isn't for a couple of months yet but we found it kept getting lost in the morass) and couldn't resist the chance to get it now.

Home, by Bill Bryson. This is lots of fun, a meandering look at how the rooms and things in our houses got to be the way they were. Though the basic message seems to be that homes in the Stone Age were a lot more comfy than you might think, and homes right up through Victorian times much less.

Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens. We watched an outstanding BBC miniseries on this last month, so naturally at the end I had to pull it out and figure out what they got wrong. Not the casting, that's for sure.