Monday, December 15, 2014

We're DOING this Christmas thing

Christmas had kind of gotten sidelined this year up until Sunday. Which was OK, right, because it's Advent, not Christmas?

Only Advent is supposed to be getting ready for Christmas, and we weren't doing that. DOB has been absorbed with the Thing Not Yet Announced, I was busy with working and school and the Remodeling Project That Grew, and the kids have been shifting as best they can and listening to a lot of audio CDs. We did manage to get out the Advent wreath and readings, but that was it.

But this past weekend I put in my last day of remodeling. It's not done, but I am. And it's really, really close, and detailed finish work is definitely not my talent. It is an amazing transformation. We have eradicated nearly every scrap of country blue in a house which was one solid mass of it. Hopefully the new and improved pictures will attract a new and improved set of showings.

And I made an executive decision to quit school a week early. Since I didn't make this decision until Saturday, we skipped the whole vacation brain final week, so that worked well. We'll have to keep going until the second week of June, but it's not too awfully long.


So Sunday we had the church Christmas pageant and chili cook-off. Dash is gratified that no one tries to recruit him to be a sheep any more. He has hated being a sheep since the role was first foisted upon his toddler self, and most recently declared his role in the Christmas pageant to be "100 sheep who are not there." As a long-limbed first grader, though, he's solidly into shepherd territory, and shepherds wear fuzzy bathrobes and carry long sticks, so they're cool.

Then afterwards we had an unexpectedly gorgeous day and went and found our tree. (It's on the smallish side, because most of the $10 yellow-tag trees were gone this late in the season, but on the other hand that meant the kids could decorate it entirely without help.

The kids even tried to bring in the boxes by themselves. Some of them were too high up, but the big kids got a number of them. Deux asked, "What about this box that says 'Dishes?' It looks like it might have something."

"Oh, no," I said, "All the 'Dishes' boxes only have dishes in them."

Then when they had gotten through all the rest they could reach, I went out and got down the rest. And we searched through them all and found everything except the Christmas tree lights. Which, of course, had to go on first.

I went back out and searched the other miscellaneous boxes. I found some more things, but no lights. I searched the boxes we had brought out again. No lights.

I went back out to the garage and noticed a small box labeled "Dishes" sitting next to where most of the Christmas boxes had been. A light began to dawn. I looked inside.

Deux was pleased with bragging rights.

 Nothing got properly cleaned, but the decorations are up. This morning I rescued the Christmas CDs from the heap in the boys' room after they decided to repurpose the CD box as a fortress. I put Bing Crosby on. We read our advent reading and did a craft. I have butter thawing to bake cookies.

We're going to do this Christmas thing. I think I'm going to start with a long winter's nap.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Dear Internet Writers, Please Stop Pretending You Know Me

Headline writing has always been the redheaded stepchild of literature, but the internet (which freeing us from typographic constraints, ought to have made things better) seems to have brought out the worst in headline writing. Or maybe it's even deeper, since the problem seems to afflict the entire article.

The formula that goes "Something Bland. You'll Never Believe What Happens Next!" was a lousy one the first time it was used. It has now been used 5,403,243 times. It really, really should never be used again. Yes, *I* will believe what happened next, because *I* know exactly how oversensationalized internet stories work. Everyone will burst into dancing, somebody will do something really nice without an obvious reason, and/or a crafter will make something quite clever. If it were something truly unbelievable, like a visitation from Narn or a rift in the space-time continuum, you wouldn't need to jazz it up with such a lame headline. "Giant lizards from space in awesome leather coats visit Munich" just doesn't need anything more.

It's probably the need for constant content. We just can't have these massive bandwidths of information and let them go empty, can we? Yet, giant lizards so seldom visit. So we must pretend that the adventures of our pet cats are Every! Bit! As! Exciting!

(You know another meme that needs to die now? "Keep Calm and . . . " Yes, it was a fine wartime slogan and the first 15 iterations were mildly amusing. It's done now. Let it die. Stop making t-shirts.)

But the *really* annoying thing is when this presumption moves from doubting my ability to believe completely believable things and begins making moral assumptions. Such as this article, titled "5 Ways You Are Unknowingly Destroying Your Husband and Killing Your Marriage." Well, I surely did not know I was killing my marriage in those ways, especially since the first one on the list was "Living beyond your means" and mentioned how I might have to suppress my desire for a Kate Spade bag. (Actually, I have no idea what a Kate Spade bag is, but I was pretty happy when my friend gave me a bit of silver wire so I could rewire the handle on the purse I got from the thrift store a year or two ago and hopefully get another couple of years out of it.) Without this article, I definitely would not have known my rampant spending was threatening my marriage, although I had noticed that at times the dry heaves I get at the prospect of ever spending money on anything do seem to cause a bit of a strain.

OK, at some point the article did throw a "might" in there. As in, you "might" have these problems. But, you know, let us not let the possibility that different people struggle with different things (and, oh, that not every minor stress in a marriage is sending it into a death-spiral) keep us from writing a sensational headline.

Why is it so difficult to just write what you mean? What is meant appears to be, "Here are some attitudes that can cause more problems in a marriage than first appears." Nothing's wrong with that.

Of course, once an internet article writer faces up to an honest, straightforward assessment of what they have to say, they might just discover that . . . it's not much. And that would let all that bandwidth go empty. We couldn't have that, now could we?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving Week

I have made it past my low number of posts from last year, and then I seem to have stopped.  I feel like my mind is too full. Two major things, one of which I would rather not talk much about, and the other of which I can't talk about just yet. (The first one is remodeling my grandparents' house in hopes of making it more marketable. Spending evenings and weekends steaming wallpaper in order to desecrate a childhood shrine is not a pleasant task.) The other thing is good but a little scary and should be ripe for revelation before the end of the year.

One other major accomplishment of this month was hosting my first large-scale Thanksgiving. It started smallish and grew to 16, but we managed tables for everyone and I only slightly overcooked the turkey. In anticipation of the meal, I had made up a bunch of post-it notes stuck all over the windows of things that needed done.

I figured I should get my grocery shopping out of the way early, as grocery stores would be crowded on Wednesday. (They were pretty crowded on Monday, actually.) But I figured we could easily get it done in the morning and be done by lunch. We stopped at Store A first and on our way out some people in the checkout line bought the kids a box of sandwich cookies. I wasn't too thrilled, but the kids were and I figured I would give them some in case we were a little late for lunch.

Then we finished up at the second store and were heading out to the car when Dash, running full-tilt through the damp parking lot, slipped and landed on his forehead. I rushed him back in to the bathroom where a very kind lady volunteered to bandage him, even though there was blood everywhere and the store people took awhile to find gloves. Dash tends to be very vocal about pain, let's put it that way. Or possible pain. Anyway, when I finally got him back out to the parking lot I discovered the other kids had unloaded all the groceries and were waiting for us in the car.

It was definitely into stitch-worthy territory, so we headed straight to Urgent Care. It turned out to be kind of crowded, and there were no interesting magazines and I hadn't brought anything along, but we survived on sandwich cookies and memory games. Later people asked me why I hadn't called to have someone else get the rest of the kids, but I kept thinking that it would only be a few more minutes, and continued to think so for all of four hours. It was only three stitches, but it was plenty of drama for all that. Dash is hoping for a Harry Potter-style scar, but I doubt it was quite enough to be lightning-shaped.

That would have put a crimp in Thanksgiving preparations, but I ditched wallpaper steaming instead.

Also I had a birthday on Wednesday and DOB got me a haircut and a new outfit (including a pair of jeans that I think qualifies as non-mom jeans, not that I approve of that terminology because why should it be a fashion offense to have children?) and we hung out at the mall on the day before Thanksgiving, which was curiously quiet and pleasant. My birthday is a boring square number this year, but next year it's my all-time favorite prime number. (BTW, given that I am an adult human under 100, that's enough information to figure out my actual age.)


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.