Friday, December 30, 2005

Showing Off

The little sign has gone up in front of our house. We have found the place to which we want to move, and what seems like the ideal apartment (ground floor, no fireplace, and the larger size for the smaller price) is available until January 10. We have been ridding ourselves of boxes and bags of stuffs. We have started showing.

The phone call for the first appointment came about 5 p.m. yesterday--asking for a showing at 9:30 this morning. At the time, we were an hour away, finishing up a day-long round of preliminary errands pertaining to the new home and job. The house looked like you would expect a house to look after several days of sorting through junk and a hurried morning preparing three meals at once before walking out the door--in other words, absolutely the messiest it's been since we finished moving in. (As a free bonus fun thing, the dishwasher has been on the fritz, too.)

This was a real showing--for real, live, potential buyers. With a realtor you can hope for some leeway, since they have the professional eye to realize there is a lot of space where that overcrowded desk is stuffed. But with buyers, the general idea is to make it look like no one has ever lived there.

DOB's family was kind enough to trade us two teenagers and a large, empty van for a toddler. D2 was kind enough to go to bed early and sleep late. The rest of us went to bed late, rose up early (hopefully not in vain) and proceeded to do in a twelve-hour stretch the organizing and cleaning that had been put off for two years. We removed large pieces of furniture and large bags of garbage. We vacuumed the places that never get vacuumed.

In the end, we were scooting the last dust bunnies out the back door as the prospects walked in the front. But the house looked fabulous. I was tempted to look around and think, "Hey, why don't we keep the house this neat all the time?" And then I recalled that I was desparately short on food, water, and sleep, I could only dimly recall what my children looked like, and there were six loads of laundry concealed around the house.

Somebody else is coming at five. Somehow we must conceal that we have been living, eating, drinking, washing laundry, changing diapers, potty-training, sanding drywall, and painting in the interim.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Save Time AND Money

I generally avoid reading articles or postings about frugality. This is not because I lack interest in saving money, but because they don't offer much advice that His Majesty didn't teach me twenty years ago. I saw an article today headlined "Save $150 a week on groceries." If I were to find a way to do that, I'd be walking out of Wal-mart with a large gift card every week. Learning that it's cheaper not to buy frozen entrees isn't very helpful when you reflexively regard canned beans as a luxury item.

Keeping house is a little like trying to pack too much stuff in a suitcase. Poke the shoes in one side, and the shirts comes bulging out the other side. You finally stuff it all in, sit on the top, and fasten it, and then you realize you forgot to include the present for Aunt Margaret and must start over.

Every household has a finite amount of time, money, and space. Some of us have limits a lot tighter than others do, but they all are less than we could use. But you can't save on all of them at once. Find a way to cut costs, and it's likely to cost you more in time and energy. Find a gadget that saves time and money, and it takes up too much space. If on top of this you add a few other concerns, like health or education, the challenge gets that much harder.

I do know an easy way we could save money. I could stop doing things like dropping my cell phone in the parking lot on a dark night and running over it. But after 27 years of diligent effort by all in the vicinity, I think that may be a hopeless endeavor.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Duchy Seeks New Territory

In very rapid succession in the last couple of weeks, DOB has decided to take a new job in Cincinnati, we have decided the commute would be too long and we would have to move soon, and then decided that even soon would be too long and we would have to move now. DOB called a realtor on Thursday and he came to view the house Friday. Cleaning a house to sell is a little like cleaning it for a Presidential visit, except the President probably wouldn't be looking in the closets and under the sinks. On short notice, it's impossible. But we did what we could.

So instead of enjoying the post-Christmas season (all of the fun and none of the stress of Pre-Christmas), we have already put Christmas away and are trying to begin packing everything else up, figuring out what we can sell or give away and generally how to fit ourselves into a smaller space for the time being.

It's a little sad. And a little exciting. And a lot of work.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

D2 being held by "Joseph." That's a tax collecter in the foreground.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Lofty and Low: Christmas*

1. Cookie plates
2. Icicle lights
3. Used gift bags
4. "White Christmas"
5. Tree Scent
6. Cleverly disguised gifts
7. Spiced cider
8. Frosty noses
9. The first quarter of a candy cane
10. New snow

1. Fruitcake
2. Giant inflated snowmen
3. Used wrapping paper
4. "The Little Drummer Boy"
5. Tacky nativities.**
6. Cash in envelopes
7. Smashed bows
8. Colds
9. The last three-quarters of a candy cane
10. Old snow

*Note: Concept shamelessly stolen from The White Shoe Irregular, which has been idle for several years now, so hopefully the Redactor won't mind.
**Link rated PG for language. Probably worse if you read the comments.

Monday, December 19, 2005

My First Christmas Pageant

By D2

My regular schedule keeps me pretty busy--eating, sleeping, hitting toys. Still, I've always wanted to pursue acting. The opportunity I was waiting for finally came this past week when I was cast as Baby Jesus in the church Christmas pageant.

The part itself was relatively undemanding. All I had to do was lie around and wave at the audience occasionally. Uncle Paul was Joseph, and we get along great, so that played well, I think. Isaiah's mom played Mary, which was my Mama for the play. She didn't feed me, though, so I didn't think much of her as a Mama.

Fortunately my real Mama stayed handy to provide the food. She was also making sure everyone was in the right costume and helping D1 go to the potty every fifteen minutes. Right before the performance I realized I was in the wrong outfit, so I messed it up so she would get the right one out of the diaper bag.

Papa was busy, too, telling everyone what to do and reading the story. It's quite a story--pretty weird to think God would ever want to be my size. If I were as big as God and could do everything, I don't think I'd want to turn myself this little.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Helping Mama

(By D1)

As you can probably guess, my mama needs a lot of help. She has Papa and D2 and the house to look after, and she's not really good at some of this stuff.

Often she remembers to ask me to help--with the dishes, fixing food, and folding laundry. But there are lots of things where she just doesn't realize how much help she needs, so I volunteer.

Like keeping things picked up. She likes the house neat, but she often forget she's left something out. So I make sure to point to it and shout, "AWAY!" until she puts it where it belongs. If I can reach it, I'll put it away myself, but for some reason most stuff isn't down where I can reach it. I'm getting taller, though, so it gets easier.

Last night she was late clearing the dishes off the table and too busy feeding D2 to notice, so I took the water pitcher off. That got Papa in to help clear the table right away.

Mama also could use a little advice on the interior decoration and organization. Sometimes I find new places for things where they will work much better. She usually doesn't want to leave them there, though, for some reason.

I've also heard her complain that she can't quite button her favorite skirts yet. I talked to D2 and he said no way would he stand for her eating less. So instead we work together to get her to exercise more. D2 will fuss until Mama picks him up and starts bouncing around singing to him. When she does something sufficiently aerobic, I will grin and clap my hands and say, "Again!" repeatedly until she has put in a good workout. I've found that parents will do almost anything for the right smile.

It's important for her not to sit too long in one place, too, especially on the computer. When I think she's getting too sedentary, I say "Potty!" This gets her to run with me to the other end of the house. It's a nuisance for me, but I do what I can to help Mama.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

D2 does batting practice. I think he rolled himself over today--at least I could have sworn I left him lying on his tummy, and he was in a different spot on his back. But my brain is a bit fuzzy and I'm not 100% sure.

Ah, the weekend

On Saturday we had DOB's aunt and uncle over to help us decorate our Christmas tree. Our evening was progressing in a relaxed and festive manner, when we received notice that the toilet was overflowing. A few minutes and the usual procedures revealed that this was no ordinary backup. To wit, all the rest of the plumbing in the house was backing up as well.

DOB called our regular plumber, who informed us that he could only help us if we had a certain vent in the ground next to our house. This sent DOB and his uncle out on a treasure hunt through the dark and five inches of snow to see if our shrubbery concealed such a vent. They concluded, after some time, that it did not.

So DOB went searching through the phone book to find a plumber who could address the problem through the roof. He finally found one, but they told him it would be after midnight before they could come out--and that we would have to clear the snow off the roof. So DOB set boldly forth once again in search of a neighbor who owned a ladder.

In the midst of all this we muddled through dinner and the like without making use of the drains. After everyone had more or less eaten, the gentlemen (augmented by B3, who had stopped by to use the exercise bike and was impressed into service) set forth to clear the roof. They finally did this by establishing a bucket brigade of hot water, while I at last was able to be of some help by filling the buckets. Then they salted it down so the plumbers would not be greeted by a slanted ice rink in place of the snow.

After everyone left, DOB and I prepared to retire for a short winter's nap until the plumber arrived. At this juncture, DOB noticed that our air vents were dripping again. His goal was to catch the leaks without making too much noise, and he decided glass was the ideal substance for this. Unfortunately, the glass that came closest to hand was my best crystal serving dish, which was still sitting unwashed on the table because I couldn't use the sink. When I protested this, he obligingly went and got my second-best crystal serving dish. I finally persuaded him to settle for a small corningware dish. And we went to bed.

At 3 a.m. I awoke for the usual reason and realized the plumbers had not arrived. DOB went to call and found that they were still on their way, hoping to arrive sometime before 5. They in fact made it by 4:30 and went to work deconstructing our plumbing and diagnosing the problem.

The diagnosis was tree roots. This was gratifying in that it was a genuine problem and not something that was our own fault, like stray toys. (It occurred to me later, though--was it just coincidence that tree roots overtook our plumbing on the very day we erected a Christmas tree? Or was something more sinister afoot?)

It was disturbing however, in that having a giant tree-eating machine enter one's house through the roof and work in the basement is just as loud as you would think. Naturally everybody in the house awoke. It was my job to keep them happy while DOB supervised the plumbers. Fortunately the little ones are still easily pacified.

The plumbers left, I took a short nap, and then I had to get up and clean up the aftermath in time for us to get ready for church and arrive there early to prepare for the Christmas pageant practice.

We arrived at church later than planned, but still in time; we got the costumes ready and otherwise prepared; we made it through practice, which is far more interesting with two small children, one of whom keeps busy moving a chair around to random parts of the stage and then protesting because she is too short to sit on it, interspersed with calling out "Potty potty potty."

We had lunch. The place was deserted--even the bulk of DOB's family had left us for the community band concert up in our town. We loaded up the car and fastened the children in their seats. The car would not start.

The pastor was kind enough to come back and loan us his car, so we were able to make it home and collapse in a heap. We're still recuperating from that and trying to get ready for next Sunday, when the pageant actually occurs.

And we're making plans to have DOB's aunt and uncle over again. Maybe in the spring, when it's time to clean out the gutters . . .

Friday, December 09, 2005

More on Movies

Is it just us, or is the ending of The Bridge on the River Kwai incredibly, incredibly frustrating? Two and half hours spent building up personalities, character issues and moral conflicts until both kings are close to check and then at the end they just tip over the table and knock the chess pieces on the ground.

I'm sure it was deliberate. I just disagree strenuously with the worldview reflected. Sometimes two goods may come into conflict, but they still are good. It is worthwhile to use building a bridge to maintain your sanity and show up the enemy; it is worthwhile to blow up a bridge and destroy the enemy. With only very minor changes, the movie could have ended several ways that would have created moral resolution. Instead it ended in moral anarchy.

Watching movies in snatches may sound like it detracts from the movie watching experience, but we are getting to rather like it. It's more like reading a book. One has time to ponder, speculate, and analyze. And watching movies sitting bolt upright in office chairs insures that I never fall asleep during them anymore.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

D1 got her Bible and took it with her horse riding. Perhaps she aspires to be a circuit riding preacher? If so, she better overcome her current fascination with the word "money." We think she actually means "bunny," but we can't be sure.

In which I start a new blog

Blogs are like potato chips, you can't stop at just one.

I want to journal the learning of the ducklings from long before we do anything that could resemble school: what they learn and how they learn it, how we do things, what I think about education and how that changes with experience.

I'm terrible at keeping journals. Blogging, however, is quite addictive. On the other hand, I didn't want to weigh down my general blog with such detail. Plus, I really wanted to join the Homeschool Blogger community.

Hence, "Introducing the World."

The Duchy of Burgundy Carrots will still host thoughts on everything besides education, cute stories that have no profound application, pictures, random quizzes, my personal misadventures, etc. Introducing the World will be the detailed observations of learning, more for my own recollection and reflection than anything else. But you're welcome to read, yeah, and even comment. I write much better when I have an audience.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Wide World of Symbols

Last week I was pondering the aisles full of toys you couldn't pay me to take home, and noticed that they still sell the little red-handset Fisher-Price telephones I had when I was a toddler.

"Does this make sense?" I thought to myself. "Phones look nothing like that anymore. Do kids even know what they are supposed to be?"

Then I recalled D1's phone fascination. Not only does she talk into my old cell phone, she can turn pretty much anything else that can be held in one hand into a phone. Suction cups. Film canister lids. Surely a red handset would be as much fair game as anything else. Except that she's used to cordless and probably wouldn't want to be tied down.

Despite having received a doll from a neighbor, she doesn't show much interest in it. (I don't blame her, it's ugly.) But she does love to burp things. She helps burp D2, of course. "Pat-pah?" Then she burps her blocks, her glass at dinner, and the other half of the film canister. Versatile things, film canisters. Except it drives her crazy to have the lids stuck on. "UCK! UCK!"

All this book reading during potty training seems to have finally sparked an understanding of what pictures in books mean. A few weeks ago, I would try without success to get her to point to the most obvious things in the books we'd read dozens times. Now she looks at new pictures on her own and points things out. When you think about it, this is quite an amazing mental feat. Somehow she knows that a couple of colored smears on a piece of paper are meant to reflect a reality.

D2, meanwhile, is fascinated by the discovery that his flailing arms sometimes come into contact with solid objects. He's at the ideal holding stage--he can smile and coo at you, but doesn't try to leap out of your arms. If only he weren't so heavy.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Advice from the cereal box

My treasured boxes of on-sale Wheat Chex have an ad on the back for a book called Women are Not Small Men, providing specially tailored advice on what women should do to avoid heart disease. The feminine advice? Eat healthy, exercise, and avoid stress. As opposed to what men should do to avoid heart disease, which I suppose is to sit around eating doughnuts while their boss yells at them. I would try to come up with some profoud musings on how our culture muddies all the important differences between men and women while highlighting nonexistant ones, but in fact I think it's just a lame market segmenting ploy to sell twice as many books.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

But aren't we all . . .

You are Edmund!
You are Edmund! Boy, you really screwed up in the
beginning, falling into the trap of the White
Witch and betraying your friends and Aslan! But
Aslan took your place for you, defeating the
White Witch, and you turned out to be one of
the greatest kings in the end!

Which Chronicles of Narnia Character Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Nobody tagged me, so I'll do it myself . . .

Seven things to do before I die:
1. Tour castles in Scotland.
2. Publish a book.
3. Spoil my grandchildren (moderately).
4. Make a complete patchwork quilt.
5. Take a second honeymoon in the same place as the first one--only for several days next time.
6. Perform in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.
7. Get the entire house clean at the same time.

Seven things I cannot do:
1. Catch up on the filing.
2. Keep my clothes dry.
3. Finish a cross stitch project.
4. Cook neatly.
5. Care about celebrities.
6. Sleep in (even when the kids do!)
7. Wait patiently.

Seven things that attract me to DOB:
1. His fine grasp of the English language.
2. His weirdness.
3. His hair when it's messed up.
4. His hair when it's fixed right.
5. His ability to motivate people.
6. His patience with me.
7. His imagination.

Seven things I say most often
1. Are your pants dry?
2. Oh, poor little Pookie Man.
3. Hi there.
4. No, that's not for Abbey.
5. Are you stuck?
6. That must be Papa!
7. Ooops. (That should probably be 1)

Seven books or authors you love:
1. G. K. Chesterton
2. J. R. R. Tolkien
3. Shakespeare
4. Tolstoy
5. Jane Austen
6. Dr. Seuss
7. W. S. Gilbert

Seven movies you (would) watch over and over again:
1. The Princess Bride
2. Taming of the Shrew
3. Much Ado About Nothing
4. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
5. The Scarlet Pimpernel
6. Pride and Prejudice
7. The Mikado

Seven people I want to join in, too:
1. Continuing the non-tagging tradition, if you want to do it, consider yourself tagged.

Facing Fears

I suppose most people have some deep, intractable fear of something or other. Snakes. Spiders (not naming names). The dark. Heights. Confinement.

I've never seen the proper name for my deep fear. I don't think I would want to.

What I fear is potty training.

I know, I know, everybody gets through it. I looked through the church directory, I watched movies, and I thought . . . All those people got potty trained! Their mothers did it, you can do it too!

Still, I was afraid. I'm not sure exactly what I was afraid of, except the prospect of absorbing every moment of my time wiping up accidents and extolling the virtues of dry pants.

And I finally realized that, afraid or not, the time had come. When a child starts sitting on the potty chair for fun and superintending the proper conducting of diapering, it seems only fair to at least let her give it a try.

So Monday we started. I spent it wiping up accidents and extolling the virtues of dry pants. We greeted everyone with inquiries about their moisture preferences. Everyone voted for dry, except for D2, who after all is a baby and doesn't know any better.

At the end of the day I wanted to quit, to the extent I was able to think at all. But I had promised to give it three days.

Tuesday we spent wiping up accidents and extolling the virtues of dry pants. With one key advance: most of the accidents occurred en route. There was a faint glimmer of hope. Still, one can only for so long chase around a toddler, watching for suspicious moments and trying to find out where they went.

So we will carry on, but at a slightly slower pace. I am counting the days until some waterproof cloth training pants will arrive in the mail, and we can resume use of our beds and couches.

Meanwhile, we have read Blue Bug's Circus 57 times, and can point to Blue Bug (who is a terrible role model for potty training, since he doesn't wear pants). We have learned several new words. We like dry pants. We like cheese. And the naptime load of laundry today was a little bit smaller.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

A Birthday, from various perspectives

27 is the cube of 3, one of only three cubic birthdays in the standard lifetime. I suppose the proper way to celebrate would be with cubes of cheese, lumps of sugar, and playing Yahtzee.

One decade ago, I was in my first semester of law school, spending endless hours designing complex diagrams of torts, contracts, and criminal law. I still hadn't managed to pass my driver's exam, so I had to bum rides to the law library. My only notion of Ohio was that it was that shield-shaped state somewhere in the middle of the country. Getting married was very low on the priority list. I hated the color burgundy.

It's great that my birthday coincides with the sales on Wheat Chex, because I love Wheat Chex and it's one breakfast I don't have to cook.

On the other hand, birthday cake is somewhat redundant this time of year. I am making birthday cupcakes so we can freeze the surplus and move on to Christmas cookies.

A decade from now, D1 will be old enough to bake my birthday cake uninstructed. And she won't keep putting her fingers in her mouth. At least not where I can see. D2 can help, too. There will likely be several more Ds by then. Hopefully we will live somewhere with room to put them.

This week we have watched, in very short stages because it's impossible to do anything any other way right now, two old favorites of mine which DOB had never seen: Cyrano de Bergerac and The Quiet Man. We watched one new favorite neither of us had seen: The Great Escape. All for free. I love the library, except for my inner anarchist who still thinks it's evil.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Random Notes

  • Taking two babies grocery shopping is every bit as difficult as it looks.
  • Do not run over your cell phone.
  • If you destroy the display on your cell phone, text messaging is not going to work no matter how well it still dials.
  • Snow is beautiful from Thanksgiving week through Valentine's Day. But no longer.
  • Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

What Baby Likes

D2 likes to eat. All day. Most of the night. D1 was sleeping through the night about now. With D2, I don't look forward to him sleeping through the night so much as being able to get up and get his own snacks. But I couldn't sleep if he did (storage capacity does have its limits), so it works fine. We can get the feeding done while both of us sleep. Meanwhile, he's looking on track to double his birth weight by two months.

D1 likes to talk. She has started coming up with the occasional two-word phrase. "Bible go?" "Mo' Nah-nah?" (Nah-nah means water, for reasons not entirely clear.) Mostly, though, she likes to chatter congenial syllables, sometimes a random "Odley, odley, odley," sometimes a more devout "Beelahbeelahbee" (The B-I-B-L-E) and sometimes a Shakesperean "Nonny, nonny, nonny."

She's also showing every sign of being the organizer I so desperately need. Yesterday she reminded me to get the clock for my exercises and located Carl's missing hat in the playpen. This bodes well, within limits.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Oh yes, that sounds exactly like my life

The Monk
You scored 34% Cardinal, 56% Monk, 29% Lady, and 40% Knight!
You live a peaceful, quiet life. Very little danger comes you way and you live a long time. You are wise and modest, but also stagnant. You have little comfort, little food and have taken a vow of silence. But who needs chatter when just sitting in the cloister of your abbey with The Good Book makes you perfectly content.

Link: The Who Would You Be in 1400 AD Test written by KnightlyKnave on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Too poor to even pay heed

Kim, in the eponymous (now there's a word one doesn't get to use every day) book by Kipling, begins his training in the Great Game with a humiliating defeat in the art of noticing things. He can't even remember the contents of a tray of household objects as well as the jeweler's apprentice. But with a little practice he has mastered this essential skill for a spy.

Or for anyone else. Noticing things and remembering them is largely a matter of education; and vice versa, education mostly consists of noticing things and remembering them. Learning styles may influence how easily you pick up a certain type of noticing, but the real clincher is practice. Through long practice editing, I can't skim anything in print without one eye out for misspellings and those loathsome misplaced apostrophes. But ask me to describe a car that just drove by, and I might be able to tell you its color--even though that's a visual skill, too. DOB, on the other hand, will rattle off its make, model, year, and a close estimate at the mental abilities of the driver.

I used to blame the things I didn't pay attention to on innate ability. I'm not an auditory learner--so don't expect me to listen to what you're saying. I'm not good at spatial perception--so don't expect me to avoid your car in the parking lot. But I've learned that I can learn. I can learn how to notice which muscle movements shoot the ping-pong ball back at my opponent and which send it careening into the shelves. I can learn to focus my mind on a speech and not spend the time composing my own thoughts on the subject.

The reason I'm working harder at paying attention is not just to make my own life easier. I want to be able to teach my children to devote their whole attention to something, as a matter of choice, not just of ability or interest. That means I have to learn it first.

So I'm working on what is perhaps the hardest for me: listening. I've set myself the challenge of actually listening to the sermon every Sunday, recounting in the car all the main points and any particularly noteworthy illustrations without notes. It's hard work, because I'm not used to it. You would think it would be the children who make it hard, but it's not--just my own bad habit of being more interested in my own thoughts than in what I'm hearing.

Maybe once I master this, I'll learn how to notice how close my shins are to the dishwasher.

Monday, November 14, 2005

An Unmentionable Quandry

QOC: I don't know how we're going to pottytrain D1. Apparently a key element in everyone else's potty training is the desire not to wet on the child's favorite cartoon character.

DOB: Don't worry about it. Maybe we can find her duck underwear.

QOC: But ducks like getting wet.

Quack. Quack, quack.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Educational Toys

By that mysterious process known only to marketers, I am starting to receive educational toy catalogs. (I haven't even bought any toys except at garage sales, except for one measly, but much loved, package of alphabet blocks at Wal-mart.) I was unimpressed by their collection of write-on plastic birthday cakes (Teaches writing skills!) and books that read themselves (why bother?). Maybe I should start my own catalog:

Bowl of Beans
This attractive plastic dish full of black and white beans, accessorized by an empty film canister, will provide hours of fun and learning as your child masters fine motor skills, sorting, colors, math, and auditory discrimination. For added fun (and less vaccuuming), buy the extra "Charmin Soft Tissue" box to use when playing with the beans.

Tupperware Cupboard
Bursting to the seams with educational activities, the "Tupperware Cupboard" teaches shapes, colors, stacking, sorting, and dishwashing skills. Plus, it will increase your own coordination as you learn not to step on scattered tupperware.

Baby Brother
This adorable little fellow will give your toddler wonderful opportunities to role play, practice sharing and social skills, and learn anatomy. Best of all, it grows with your child! Cost varies with delivery method. Ongoing maintenance costs not included.

This one does it all. In addition to the letters, numbers, colors and shapes that everything teaches, this one can teach hygiene, nutrition, safety, household maintenance and pretty much anything else. Sings songs, reads stories, and serves as jungle gym. Some models also do windows.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Moving at the speed of life

My life used to seem busy. After all, I had a full-time job. For awhile, I had another part-time job on top of that. I volunteered. I spent part of the week in one house and part in another. I had a large, close-knit family who were always doing something. I cooked dinner every night. I went for a walk every day.

Now I know I didn't know what being busy was. In the past twenty-four hours, I've served over 20 meals, changed about 15 diapers, and changed somebody's clothes 12 times. I've had an oil spill, two eruptions, and 345 instances of tears, many occuring concurrently. I've read or told at least six stories and washed or folded six loads of laundry. Someone is always moving, and as a general rule every person in the house and at least two appliances need attention at the exact same moment.

The month I spent traveling around the state promoting a new curriculum while studying for an unexpected bar exam seems serene and straightforward by contrast. The only job that I can imagine providing a similar sense of nonstop crisis would be managing an emergency response station during a natural disaster.

Sometimes I lay down to rest and find I can't because my mind is spinning, trying to process everything that has just happened and subconsciously convinced that someone, somewhere, has just gotten into my makeup drawer again. Even if everyone who might is temporarily immobilized.

I used to think that the comment "You'll have your hands full," was a figure of speech. Now I know that it is quite literal. I almost always have someone in at least one arm, often on both. I think of efficient things I should do--take this here, move that there--but I can't because my hands are full.

But I think I can feel my brain expanding to the new challenge. Eventually you learn to do more with your feet, your elbows, and your nose. Eventually your brain adapts to the constant adrenalin and indeed even thrives on it. I probably would go through withdrawal now at a lower level of adrenalin. That's probably what empty-nest syndrome is.

And to think, this is just with two.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Week in Review

So we come to the end of the first week without full-time (or close to full-time) assistance. And it went like this:

Monday: Did all the exercises, took a walk, kept up on the laundry, cooked a meal from scratch. House was clean and supper on the table on time. Helper came, but had a hard time finding anything for her to do.

Tuesday: Called Grandma to take care of D1, stayed in bed all day. Ate leftovers. Laundry rotted in the washing machine.

Wednesday: Skipped exercises, pawned some of the dishes off, took an extra nap. Laundry got finished (amazingly enough).

Wednesday night: D2 up all night sniffling and gagging.

Thursday: In zombie-like state, found enough food for everyone to survive. Washed a load of towels. Watched D1 take everything in the house from points A, B, and C to points Q, M, and R. Took D2 to the doctor's office and got ear infection diagnosed. Nobody died trying to cross the parking lot.

Friday: D2 is a little better. D1 has a cold and gets to fulfill her dream of constant nose-blowing. Helper has a cold; in case it's not the same cold, I tell her not to come. Adjust to the fact that the house will not be cleaned this week. It's a beautiful day; take a walk and let the dishes rot.

While I was trying to get in the door at the doctor's office on Thursday, a lady opened the door for me and remarked that I looked 16 and certainly not old enough to be the mother of two children. So I guess it hasn't started aging me . . . yet.

I'm getting closer to finding out what a maintainable pace is, I think. And as mother always said (to herself), this, too, shall pass. Too soon.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Reading through the paper

Today is Husbands Make Dinner day. Tomorrow is Sandwich Day (commemorating the birthday of the Earl thereof, I believe). Shouldn't they have combined the two events?

A quote for those of us who blog about everyday life: "Little minds are interested in the extraordinary, great minds in the commonplace." By Elbert Hubbard, whoever he is.

Speaking of earls reminds me that we never got around to awarding a title. Naturally everyone was very far off, but even when everyone missed the target someone must have come closest to staying on the grounds. (Guesses made after hearing of the birth do not count.) And so (drumroll please) based on my best calculations, the title of Countess of Calculations goes to Sara Jones!

(Actually Anonymous scored higher, but the Duchy is too politic to award titles anonymously.)

Monday, October 31, 2005

Precocious Skills

All parents think their children are precocious. We rack our heads to find something that makes our little darling stand out from the crowd.

Walking? Nope, she's well behind average there.
Talking? She does fine, but nothing phenomenal.
Toilet Training? We have only gotten as far as the mommy-having-nightmares-about-it stage.

Ah-ha! There is one area where she is well ahead of the pack of poor, average children.


Yes, for a couple of months now, D1 has been skillfully blowing her own nose. Not only that, she thinks it is one of life's great pleasures. For awhile it was just when she found a Kleenex box incautiously left near the ground. Lately, though, she will use her skill on any available piece of cloth. This morning I heard her wandering through the house, giggling with delight. When I went to check on her, she was trotting down the hall, cheerfully blowing her nose into a spare bib. Burp cloths and washcloths are also favorite choices.

Now, I've spent enough time in the nursery to know most one-year-olds will tie themselves into knots to avoid having someone else blow their nose, much less attempt to blow their own. She loves it so much you can end a crying spell just by producing a Kleenex.

The only trouble is, she doesn't have a cold. She hasn't had a significant cold since she was six months old. (Then again, that's a good thing, considering how indiscriminate her taste in handkerchiefs is.)

I guess we're ready for winter.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Cleaning out the Mental Corners

Did you know that John Lennon went on to design baby gear? I finally realized this after a year of puzzling over the scrawled signature on the clothes and diapers. Kind of weird. The designs are a lot cuter than the name brand diaper stuff with Sesame Street and the like, but I never expected to be diapering my kids with Beatles lyrics.

I have a theory that graphic design is in the process of turning into a standard literacy skill of the well-educated. Gone are the days when you could churn out two columns of small type and get your message across. People are so used to seeing things well-designed that to communicate anything, it must not only be written clearly, it must look good. Writing was once a skill of the hired specialist that now is expected to be universal; graphic design is moving that direction. (See? I've thought about something besides diapers!)

Yet another library sale this weekend. Fortunately this time my sister is here to take half the books and help us figure out where to hide the rest.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Aunt Becky has been taking lots of pictures, and I finally have my hands free for long enough to post a few.

D1 with two of her favorite things: a book and a laundry basket.

This is asking for a good caption, but I haven't figured out what yet.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

In which I answer questions you may or may not have wanted to ask

How are they getting along?
D1 thinks D2 is her particular responsibility, and thinks it essential to verify his safety and happiness every time she gets up from a nap or otherwise feels a need to check. She can help burp him and brings extra baby outfits in case he has wet one.

When D1 first showed signs of starting to talk, DOB started coaching her in taking her turn at praying during family devotions: "Dear Heavenly Father,Thank you for Papa (pat Papa), Mama (pat Mama), and Little Baby (pat Mama's stomach)." She was starting to get the hang of this prayer and talk and pat along. However, as soon as D2 was part of the activity, the prayers started to go like this:

DOB: "Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for Papa,"
D1: "CAHHRLL!" (pointing to playpen)
DOB: "And Mama,"
D1: "CAHHRLL!" (pointing to playpen)
DOB: "And Baby Carl."
D1: (with relief) "CAHHRLL!"

D2 thinks D1 is another strange phenomenon of this world, and a non-milk producing one.

What developmental milestones would you like to report?
About a week after D2's birth, D1 finally, finally, finally started walking as her standard means of transportation, to the great relief of all concerned. Although I worked on teaching her to climb in and out of things while I was on no-heavy-lifting orders, she would still much rather have me lift her. Now she has progressed to the carrying things everywhere stage, allowing preliminary instruction in setting the table, putting things in the trash, and running errands.

The inevitable: Is D2 a good baby?
But of course. Actually, he's quite manageable. He only cries for good reason, and sleeps between feedings at night, which is all I ask of a newborn. He likes to stay awake--with a few catnaps--for several hours in the morning, take a long afternoon nap, stay mostly awake in the evening, and sleeps well at night. I've never seen this suggested as a newborn schedule or even newborn behavior, but it works well for me, because I can get a long afternoon nap. So I'm not about to try to change it.

What else would you like to report?
My sister is here for two weeks. Great strides in organization and decoration proceed, while I sit around, feed D2, and raid her stash of airplane reading material.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Yes, we have two kids

The nice thing about having two is you can finally talk about "the kids." It rolls off the tongue so smoothly:

"The kids keep me so busy."
"I have to go see what the kids are doing."
"Did you check on the kids?"

The annoying thing is that it draws out the fertility police. Especially if you have a full sampling.

"Oh, a girl and a boy! How nice." Sometimes they go ahead and say what they're thinking next: "Now you're all done!"

I missed the posting that only alloted us one of each. We haven't even reached the population replacement rate yet, much less done our part to raise the average IQ of the human gene pool.

The bad thing is, I only have two hands. Can I get a surgical implant of a few more?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Maternal things I still can't do

Swaddle--With D1, I gave up after a couple of weeks. With D2, I gave up in the hospital. Neither of them liked it much anyway, even if I told them that Baby Jesus liked it. I just toss a blanket over the top of them and hope for the best.

Wipe a face clean--There's always a little bit of mashed bean lurking somewhere just out of sight, where I will see it only after we are out in public with no washcloths nearby.

Fasten disposable diapers properly--I don't know if it's me, the diapers, or the children. But after a week of trying to use disposables to make life easier, I decided I'd rather do a load of diapers every morning than a load of sheets, towels, and clothes every morning. No matter what diaper I use, however, D2 can last only two hours in one. At two hours and five minutes, I also have to change everything in his vicinity. But at least with cloth I don't have to get any stains out.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Caffeine on IV and other medical oddities

Law students everywhere will be pleased to discover that it is possible to get caffeine administered via IV. The downside is, to get it you have to have what is known as a "spinal headache," which I can assure you is not conducive to bar preparation. Caffeine on IV is also not conducive to getting lots of rest, which is what you are likely to be supposed to be doing after activities that might have given you a spinal headache. It didn't help me much either, so I opted for the patch treatment that fixes the headache right away, but leaves you with a backache.

The whole medical treatment thing tends to build on itself in a This-is-the-House-that-Jack-Built way. This is the medicine to treat your nausea, which was caused by the medicine to treat your pain, which was caused by the other treatment for your pain, etc. By Sunday night, though I had progressed as far as only needing hot rice packs for my back and ice water, which I'm pretty sure don't have any further side effects.

D2, not too surprisingly, had a touch of jaundice, which meant he had to spend Sunday night catching rays at the hospital. I was not at all pleased when my doctor's new partner, whom I have never met, told us by phone we should stop breastfeeding him because of the jaundice. I miss her old partner.

Nowadays when I see someone with multiple body and facial piercings, I think, "Amateur!"

Another thing that is not conducive to rest is coming back in for checkups, for one or the other of us, every day. (Or, while in the hospital, having them check your vitals every few hours. I'm still breathing, OK? Let me sleep.) We should be done after tomorrow, though.

Monday, October 03, 2005

And now, the rest of the story

Contrary to DOB's confusion of the medical lingo, the placenta was not abducted, which sounds like some urban legend email forward ("And then she woke up in a tub of ice, and her placenta had been abducted!"), but abrupted, which means it decides it's ready to leave whether baby is or not.

Anyway, my plans for Thursday included driving D1 to the chiro and then Grandma's house, driving back to our town for my doctor's appointment, taking a nap, meeting DOB in town to run several errands and get a caramel apple cider, going back down to get D1, and coming home and catching up on the dishes and laundry I left lying around in my rush to get out the door.

Up until 10:30 everything proceeded according to plan. My only regret was that I had not put "pack snacks in my purse" on that list and was ravenously hungry. The doctor had just finished checking things and announced that although there was no sign D2 intended to come really soon, he was in the wrong position and we would need to get him scooted around. She went out to call the doctor who does the scooting around, and I started to get up.

I promptly realized that something was very, very wrong and sat down again before the carpet got messed up worse. Unlike hospitals, doctor's offices are not equipped with handy buttons to call. And, as is probably necessary in a family practice, the walls and doors are very thick. So it took awhile before someone realized I was yelling for help, in a calm and dignified manner, at the top of my lungs. Once they came in, though, they promptly called the ambulance. My doctor said later it was fortunate the ambulance was handy, as otherwise she would have had to drive me herself and she had just had the inside of her car detailed.

Meanwhile I called DOB and his mother. I was apparently a little too calm at that point, because it took them awhile to realize the seriousness of the situation. I let them work it out between them, because by this point the parameds were starting to pelt me with questions. One guy asked me my name twice in thirty seconds.

"Not doing too well today, are you?" said one.

"I'm testing the patient's coherence!" he retorted, and rammed the gurney into the doctor's scales.

It's not as exciting to ride in an ambulance as it should be. The ride is very smooth, so you can't tell if you're going fast, and you can't see that you're running red lights. It only took about five minutes to get to the hospital, and hardly any more to thread the hospital hallways to a room where about fifty people commenced to introduce themselves, brandish papers that needed signed, and prepare me for surgery. I signed and hoped I was doing the right thing. (I was.)

I commented to the doctor, "Well, I guess we won't have time to go over the birth plan today." "Oh, that's what did it," everyone said, "Birth plans always jinx you."

The anesthesiologist's name was also Karen, which was most confusing. People would keep yelling at her to do something or other medical, and I would wonder how on earth I was supposed to do that. Fortunately they decided they had time to give me a spinal instead of knocking me out completely, which was good except that I was still acutely aware of being hungry and they wouldn't give me anything to eat.

At 11:29, within less than an hour of when things started, I could at least hear them announce D2's entrance into the world. Unfortunately they brought his head out first and started commenting on what a pretty baby he was, so for a few minutes I thought he was a girl. But that was quickly clarified.

Meanwhile, DOB was proceding at a safe but somewhat superlegal rate of speed in an effort to arrive before it was all over. Unfortunately, he encountered Inspector Javert, who is now patrolling rural Ohio highways, and does not think such trifles as emergency c-sections justify exceeding the precise legal rate of speed. Fortunately DOB decided to take it up later with the judge rather than forcibly debate the distinctions between the letter and the spirit of the law on the spot. But the delay was enough that he reached the hospital only in time to learn that he had a son.

Anyway, D2, though a little small and early, came through quite strong and healthy, rating a 9/10 Apgar score (for those of you who know about such things) and eating like a small version of his Papa from the beginning. I seem to be recovering pretty well, the doctor being amazed at the discrepancy between the mess in her office and my blood count when I left the hospital. Either of us could have easily had much more serious problems, if I had been anywhere else when it happened or if anything had been delayed longer.

And now, we are all very, very happy to be home. Especially D1, who has discovered that even Grandpa and Grandma's house palls after four days.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Here's D2. (We tried ones with us, but we don't like them. We'll try again tomorrow.)

Thursday, September 29, 2005

And So We Were All Wrong . . .

It's a boy!

Ronald Carlton (we'll call him Carl)
Born September 29th at 11:29 a.m.
Weight: 6 lbs., 11 oz.
Length: 19.5 inches.

His early arrival was due to a placental abduction (or something like that) and an emergency c-section. But QOC and D2 are doing quite well, and we're just thankful.

QOC will fill in all the details on the exciting time, and God's miraculous working later. All went well except for an encounter between yours truly and a rather unsympathetic sheriff on the way to the hospital.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Enter now for your chance to win!

That's right, folks. For a limited time only, you too can compete with a chance to win a prestigious title from the one and only Duchy of Burgundy Carrots.

Here's the deal: Guess the gender, birth date, weight, and length of D2. The person whose collective guess is the closest (based on a complicated but fair mathematical formula I fully intend to figure out one of these days) will be awarded the title of Earl of Estimation, or, in the event of the correct guesser being female, the Countess of Calculation.

Data for reference: D2 is, according to doctor's measurements, due October 15; according to QOC's I-know-when-I-started-feeling-sick calculations, closer to the end of the month. D1 was born three days before her official due date, weighed 7 lbs. 11 oz., and was 20 inches long. (And I am a bad mother. I had to look that up.)

No allegations of gender bias, by the way. Estimation and Calculation are both equally large and prosperous regions of the Duchy. It's not my fault that the titles for that rank of nobility are not alliterative.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Some recent reading

Soldiers and Ghosts, by J.E. Lendon--The ethics and ideals of ancient Greek and Roman warfare, as exemplified in the epics and in the real-life battles. This is DOB's pick, but I'm finding it quite fascinating. Did you know those famous Spartans generally refused to fight on holidays? And they had lots of holidays. Plus, now I finally have the Persian, Peloponnesian, and Punic wars straight in my head. (Why do all these ancient wars have to start with "P"?)

The Disciplined Mind: What Every Student Should Know, by Howard Gardner. He's the guy best known for the "multiple intelligences" theory (no doubt you've taken the online quiz). This book looks at education more generally, however, arguing for a deep focus on a single topic in order to learn the tools for a specific discipline (history, science, the arts) rather than trying to cover a little bit of facts from everywhere. The goal should not be so much to cover all the dates and facts of history, or all the vocabulary and lists of the sciences, but to learn how historians or scientists approach problems.

The Creators, Daniel J. Boorstin. This is a history of human arts, with an emphasis on how people's beliefs are reflected in what they create. The Christian belief in a single creation, by an all-powerful transcendent God, for instance, encouraged a much greater emphasis on man's power to create, and human beings as supreme over creation, than did the emphasis of eastern religions on endless cycles and escaping material reality. So for instance permanent works of architecture are much more common in Europe, whereas in Asia landscape painting dates back much further (because humans are more or less just part of the landscape).

The Secret of Father Brown, by G. K. Chesterton. Some of my favorites of all the Father Brown mysteries. We're discussing it over at the Parliament of Fools.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle. Will the caterpillar recover from his stomachache? What will happen when he emerges from his cocoon? A classic of suspense.

I Am a Bunny, by Richard Scarry. The timeless story of the change of the seasons, viewed through the eyes of an overall-clad bunny.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Out to the Ball Game

DOB got four free tickets to a Reds game, which we redeemed on Saturday, taking along the two of his brothers who are most devoted Reds fans.

It was just as well the tickets were free, as it took all of our capital to get a parking spot and a small bottle of water.

I am not a devoted Reds fan, or a devoted baseball fan in general, but I am a devoted DOB fan, and I like going to ball games. There is so much other stuff going on that actually watching the game is completely superfluous. And baseball moves slowly enough that I generally can follow it.

Our tickets, being free, were for seats somewhere in the upper reaches of the Himalayas. By the time we reached them, I was ready to lie down and take a nap. After a few innings, DOB scouted out an empty section lower down and sneaked us in while The Enforcer of the section was distracted. She later came by and asked us about our tickets, but allowed us to remain as long as no one came to claim the seats. She was far too busy harrassing a group of six teenage boys, ticket status dubious, whose goal in life was apparently to get on the camera wearing a series of t-shirts they had painted to spell "GO REDS" (or, when the "S" guy didn't feel like going along with it, "GORED.") They were in the wrong part of the stadium, however, and eventually gave up and left for a party.

I couldn't help but be reminded of the time I had to write a sports story for a journalism course and wound up writing the article about a group of little-leaguers watching the game. When I sent it to DOB for his comments, his response was something to the effect that I wrote sports stories like a girl.

D1 meanwhile got to try spending the night at Grandma and Grandpa's for the first time. She was completely unfazed by the experience and was far from excessively thrilled to see us. On the whole a good thing, I suppose, but a little enthusiasm for parental return is in order, I think. (Grandma thought she was just disappointed to find out that she had been standing by the door to wait for us rather than standing by the door to go outside.)

Thursday, September 22, 2005

I want a refund

I'm sending this day back in to the weather bureau. Ninety degree weather on the first day of fall is just wrong.

They'll probably get to it after they refund me that week in April when it snowed.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Yard sale retrospective

Judging from the paucity of ads, the yard sale season has about come to a close.

I now know a whole lot about how to run a yard sale, should I ever get energetic enough to host one. Such as:
  • Advertise in the paper, on the main road, and in front of your house. You don't want people passing you by because they're not sure if you're having a sale or just a messy garage.
  • And make your signs big enough to read.
  • Advertise specific items. Ninety percent of yard sale ads center on the phrase, "lots of misc.," which any seasoned yard sale shopper knows means tacky Christmas decorations and old shoes.
  • Put prices on things. Nobody wants to stand in line in the sun waiting for you to remember what you wanted to charge for that thingymabob.

I try to keep my yard sale shopping in check by mostly limiting myself to sales within walking distance of our house, which I can hit while out walking with D1 on Friday mornings. Only two times this season did I decide to drive to exceptionally juicy-sounding yard sales. Both were worth it.

Best finds of the year:

  • Four-foot high clear plastic drawers. ($5) I thought this would be a great place to keep D1's toys. It was, for awhile. Now it is itself her favorite toy. She loves pushing the drawers out and back in, taking things out of one drawer and putting them into another, and hiding behind it.
  • Nursery-school chair. ($.50) D1 loves sitting (and standing) on this. It's the only chair I've ever seen that is really short enough for a one-year-old. It fits perfectly in a little cubbyhole between the office bookshelf and filing cabinets.
  • Plastic picnic table. ($15) Yes, I broke down and now have Little Tykes plastic in my house. It was cheap. And now D1 has her own table in her room, of suitable height to climb on without catastrophic injury should she fall off. I'm still looking for something more charming someday, but in the meantime D1 isn't getting any younger.
  • Silver nativity set. ($10) I have really wanted a nativity set for some time, but had found none that I cared for at all. I thought about this one at $20, and decided against it. Then I told DOB about it and he decided to go see if it was still there the next morning. Not only was it, it was marked way down.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Pardon the dust

Owing to blogback shutting down next month, I'm trying to fix up a few things on the blog. I exported the old blogback comments but have NO CLUE how to import them, so for now they'll just be in hiding.

Those of you who don't have blogger should still be able to sign in as "other" and just type any name and (if you want) webpage. Please don't be anonymous!

The font size problem seems to have fixed itself, which means the small font is now really, really small. Oh well.

Old links are gone. There's only about fifty gazillion links I should have added there, anyway. Maybe someday I'll get to it.

Today, someone is not happy. I must go.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Talking it over (by D1)

I'm having to say different words a lot more these days. Mama (I usually call her "Baba" cause "b" is a really fun sound to say--also she likes to pat her tummy and say that so maybe it's another name for her) usually knows what I'm trying to say. Other people need clarification, though. Like Mama knows that when I hold my glass or my plate up I want more food. But Papa doesn't get it. He wants me to say "More" and put my hands together. Well, fine, I can do that, although I think waving dishes around makes the point more clearly.

Then Mama knows if I make any sound and point I want to go somewhere. But Grandma doesn't understand until I say, "Go." That's ok, because "g" is another interesting sound.

I really do like words with "b"--bib, block, blow, banana, baby, ball, book, Bible, and most important, blankie. Some of the other sounds in the words are hard to tell apart, so if I point at the same time, it helps.

My favorite thing to say is still "Quack, quack." Sometimes I say that and then everyone else says "Baaaa." Then I say "Baaaa" and everyone else says "Quack, quack." I can keep them going for several minutes like this; it's hilarious. Sometimes I do it by myself with Duck and Sheep, or with my magnets on the refrigerator.

I like to read books the best. I think the most interesting ones must be the ones on the shelves in the living room and the pile by the couch, but I get in trouble if I read those by myself. So I usually go read the ones in my room. My favorite is the one about the hungry caterpillar. It has these nifty little pages with holes in them.
In fact, I like to read so much that lots of times I just go off and read when Mama is distracted with someone else. Then she comes wondering what happened to me. Of course, sometimes I like to go and check out the soap dish, too. It tasted really bad the one time I tried, but maybe they have a new flavor out.

Walking without holding on to someone is still pretty tricky, but I discovered this morning that when I do, I can carry something around with me. Very handy. I think I may have to work harder on this.

Friday, September 16, 2005

One Month to Go

So we are now just a month away from D2's official due date, though I still consider it possible that that date is about two weeks early.

The doctor seemed a little apologetic yesterday that there were no signs of moving towards labor. I was relieved. Let's not rush things. This week I only got as far as making the list of things I need to do before D2's arrival.

I think part of the reason the last month of pregnancy is so uncomfortable is to make you willing to do ANYTHING to get that baby out. I haven't gotten that uncomfortable yet. Maybe my exercise regimen is working too well. But I still really don't feel like giving birth yet. It isn't the pain that bothers me. It's just so much work. And I've got so much other stuff to do.

An Object Lesson

So with FEMA and the state of Louisiana and the city of New Orleans all competing for "Most Incompetent Response" award, guess who was ready with a stellar example of an emergency plan, getting essential goods back into town days before the government could?

None other than that bastion of corporate evil, Wal-Mart.*

No doubt they were motivated by a sinister desire to profit off the unfortunate. But in that circumstance, I'd certainly rather get food and water from a greedy corporate profiteer who was there, than from a generous government that wasn't.

For all the allegations that profit is theft, profit makes things happen. People who have a profit to make will be there sooner, more efficiently, and with more appropriate items than people who don't.

Further, what are the two great reaons Wal-Mart is considered evil? One is pushing neighborhood stores out of business. Now I like neighborhood stores better, too. Big ugly warehouses offend my aesthetic sensibilities, and I like knowing the people I do business with. But I'm betting not many neighborhood corner groceries had the resources to re-open as quickly as Wal-Mart could.

The other, deeper, reason people hate Wal-Mart is that it is not unionized. Even if unionization would allow Wal-Mart to consider existing (which is doubtful)--does anyone really think that the extra costs and regulations associated with union work would help it respond more quickly to a disaster?

Unfortunately most likely the focus will remain entirely on how to get government agencies better equipped to do something they simply cannot do well, instead of on how to get government further out of the way of the private sector doing something it does better than anyone else.

* Wall Street Journal, Sept. 12, B1, Col. 5.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Fantasy Jobs

A dream job is the job you might hope to have someday. A fantasy job is a job you have no expectation of achieving, and indeed might not actually posess any talent for, or even want--given the tradeoffs--to have it. But in the abstract, it sounds like fun. Some of my fantasy jobs:
  • Waiter or, better yet, maitre'd at a five-star restaurant. (Elegant surroundings, great food, and you get paid for it! Plus, you can get away with acting snooty.)
  • Bit part movie actor or chorus member in light opera/musicals. (Being a star would be too much trouble. But acting is fun.)
  • Display designer at an upscale department store. (I love changing decor.)
  • Designer of ad campaigns. (Really weird ones. Actually, this may not count because at my old job I occasionally helped design ads, including one starring DOB as a nerd.)
  • Bed and breakfast owner. (In real life I would hate all the work. But the abstract concept is charming.)
  • Teacher at an avant-garde school with complete freedom to choose my curriculum and methods. (Oh wait, that doesn't go on this list.)

So, what are your fantasy jobs?

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Entrepreneurs and Bureaucrats

One of our major goals in raising children is to raise entrepreneurs, not bureaucrats. We do not attempt to dictate their future careers--we will not disown them just because they work for the government. It's the attitude that matters. People can have an entrepreneurial mindset even though they work for someone else; if they do, they will either be very successful employees of a very happy employer, or they will drive everyone crazy, including themselves, and go find something better. People with bureaucratic mindsets can also own their own businesses, they just won't do very well.

This is bigger than just instilling a good work ethic, and irrelevant to how much income they make. A stay-at-home-mom can choose to be an entrepreneur or a bureaucrat. It's about how they look at work.

The bureaucrat looks at his job as a series of tasks to be fulfilled; when they're done, his job is done, regardless of the outcome. The bureaucrat works to make enough money to fund his leisure. When obstacles arise, the bureaucrat waits for someone else to solve them. The bureaucrat may work diligently enough, but he doesn't own his work.

The entrepreneur looks at his work as a goal to be reached. When he finds an obstacle, he does whatever it takes to get around it. He sees his work as valuable in and of itself; he thinks he's doing something to benefit the world. He can enjoy the money he makes, but he also looks at it as a tool to use for further influence.

Now, chores are the classic way to teach children to work, and I don't dispute their significance. But, I've seen a lot of kids doing a lot of chores, and they were almost all bureaucrats. Some of that is no doubt the natural problem that the chores were working on eliminating. But I'm not so sure it's an inevitable trait. Whoever heard of a lazy toddler?

Part of it starts with not discouraging them from work at the age when they are most eager for it--which is why I spend five minutes letting D1 push the laundry basket down the hallway instead of carrying it myself. Part of it has to do with how the chores are structured, whether they are allowed to own a task and deal with the consequences, or micro-managed in procedures and time. Part of it has to do with giving them the exhilerating feeling of being in charge, of knowing that their work is essential. I'm sure that's not all the pieces, but we'll start there.

Monday, September 12, 2005

I'd just like to announce

That I beat DOB in mini-golf this weekend!

DOB would probably like to add that he beat me by much more on the first round. Maybe it was the salmon I had for lunch between the two rounds.

We would also jointly like to brag that we both played two courses for only $4.75, thanks to a two-for-one coupon and the after-Labor-Day special.

However, a two-for-one discount on ice cream is not such a good deal if you have to drive over three counties looking for a UDF. (There is one several blocks from our house, but we can't get ice cream with D1 watching.)

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Grand entrances

Last night our chiropractor was kind enough to stop by to give DOB an adjustment, since he has been working too late to go to the office. He brought his family with him, which was all to the good since we had been wanting to make their acquaintance.

Our house is set up so that the front door is visible through a window from the kitchen sink. It being a fine evening, the front door was open but the storm door was latched to prevent a sudden escape by D1. ("Hat? Out?!") So when they rang the bell I could see them (and vice versa) from where I was washing dishes, and came around through the dining room to unlock the door.

As I passed by the table, three of my toes caught on a chair leg. Suddenly I found myself airborne, landing sprawled full-length in the living room, putting a rug-burn on my face and jamming my right hand. All this was, of course, fully visible through the storm door.

At least it was easy to get my hand adjusted.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Insights from magazines

In one new baby magazine, one poor soul confessed that she and her husband thought that right after the baby was born, while she was on maternity leave, would be the perfect time to go to Europe. After all, the baby wouldn't be on a regular schedule yet anyway, so it wouldn't be bothered by the time difference! They didn't actually go. But I can't believe anybody was that naive. Have they never encountered a newborn? Did they never read their own magazines? On the other hand, there were a few times immediately after D1's birth when I pondered whether a quick move to China would be the easiest way to solve the day/night issue.

Also saw an ad for a new TV program that, in response to research showing that people who face their problems with humor and a positive attitude do better in life, is going to try to teach preschoolers this skill. It reminds me of how people, hearing that babies had the ability to distinguish all speech sounds in all languages, would start playing them tapes of foreign languages to give them an edge. Then it turned out babies only paid attention to talking when it was a real person talking to them.

So before you all bother with the research, let me tell you right now: Preschoolers will not learn good attitudes from TV programs. They will learn them, or not learn them, from other people.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Letting Go

For weeks now, we've been trying to communicate to D1 that she doesn't need her props anymore. The one finger she clings to is not providing her with balance or stability. It's just there for reassurance. She could let go.

Yesterday, she finally did. I was sitting on the floor of her room, reading, and she was standing at her table when she suddenly walked three steady steps across to me. None of that coaxing business that is supposed to accompany it. She just realized she could walk, so she did.

Unlike her past milestones, she didn't do it once and then refuse to repeat it for a week. She took several more steps under various circumstances during the course of the day. On the whole, she seems quite pleased with herself.

So are we.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

After all that rock-throwing, one works up quite an appetite.


Some things are so primordial, so instinctive, so deeply-rooted, that they compel everyone, from the youngest baby to the oldest geezer. Food is one, of course, and sleep. Music. Then there are rocks. Most specifically, rocks thrown in water.

While visiting her great-grandpa's farm, DOB and brothers introduced D1 to the essential activity of Throwing Rocks in the Creek. One splash, and she was hooked. She spent the next half-hour crawling back and forth, hauling rocks to the water's edge and tossing--or, if they proved too large, shoving--them in. She learned a new word: "Rock!" (Actually, it's said, "Ahhck," which sounds just like "sock," but they rarely arise in the same context.)

I am happy to report that I managed to throw a rock all the way over the bridge and land it clear in the sandbar on the other side. Also I found a very nice fossil shell half.

D1 was so dirty by the time we got home I had to give her two baths in a row.

The famous duck. Yes, the anatomy is dreadful. I think it must have been made on a teddy bear machine, they just sewed a bill on. But it can quack just fine.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

An Anniversary Tale

From time to time, I have received requests to tell how the Duchy came about.

There isn't much to tell from the external perspective--our courtship would make an exceedingly boring movie. And I'm not given much to blabbing my emotional vagaries all over the internet (or anywhere else, for that matter). So what is left to tell?

Somehow DOB and I never managed to meet in person early on, even though we went to the same law school and can even document having been in the same room at the same conference at the same time. After our first debate, in the fall of 2000, we chatted occasionally, DOB still under the impression he had gained during his "opposition research" that I was a middle-aged married woman. Mostly we talked about politics and public policy. Sometime in late 2001 my real age happened to come up, much to DOB's astonishment and my amusement, since I had no idea he had been so misinformed.

I had meanwhile decided that there were no guys out there who would meet my specifications (I only had a few, but they were mutually incompatible). Also I had never been overtroubled with suitors--or even troubled at all. Not being short on self-esteem, I attributed this to my excess of intelligence, or perhaps an unconscious skill at sending off stay-away vibes, rather than to any personal deficiencies. But the result was the same. As I had my dream job and a comfy living situation, it didn't trouble me for too long.

Then DOB challenged me to coach a debate opposite him again. DOB's side won again. But this time I could blame our failure on the debater, who didn't listen to me much anyway. I spent a lot more time chatting with DOB. Somehow, by around the end of the debate or shortly thereafter, I had come to realize that (a) he actually met my incompatible requirements and (b) I wanted to devote the rest of my life to making him successful. Executive assistant or perhaps Vice President would do if nothing else offered itself, but as his wife I could also see that he was properly fed and went to bed on time. However, he gave no signs that he had considered the latter possibility.

So I spent the next several months offering such help as was suitable for an upperclassman to offer, such as proofing his senior paper and offering bar preparation advice. He was absorbed in a political campaign and the final months of law school, but we still had time to become very good friends in a political and philosophical kind of a way. Such good friends that my parents, who were getting a pretty good idea of the extent of my interest, at least, thought it was high time things either progressed or we stopped wasting time.

In May of 2002, His Majesty introduced himself to DOB by sending out an email with an ultimatum: come meet in person, or stop talking to her. I was not pleased, not being at all sure how DOB would receive this. Fortunately he decided our friendship was worth the cost of a plane ticket. At least of a cheap one. Also, to his surprise, his parents thought he should come meet me. At this point we had never given any indication of personal interest, had only spoken once on the phone, and had only seen very grainy snapshots of each other. (The one DOB had seen of me, I was wearing my 250-lb brother's full winter gear. Not a flattering pose.)

So after he finished the bar exam that summer, DOB flew up to visit my family for the weekend. (Internet Safety Tip for Young Ladies: When first meeting in person a guy you've met online, take along your father and a few brothers who spend the summers bucking hay and the winters chopping wood.) It was a short weekend and there was always a younger sibling or two around. It was enough. DOB apparently didn't pick up any of those stay-away vibes, and he had never found me too smart. Just smart enough.

But we still didn't say anything to each other. DOB flew home and discovered things were in order for him to pursue matrimony much sooner than he had thought. He gave His Majesty the chance to check him out for a few months. His Majesty finally ran out of ideas and suggested we start actually talking to each other. We did so. His Majesty later had cause to regret this suggestion, as the phone line was unavailable for the next several months.

There wasn't much suspense after this point, which is what makes for romantic tales. We both knew we would marry each other, and it was simply a matter of working out the logistical details, specifically finding a job and a place to live. Also it was nice to see each other a few more times. All that kept us busy up until a surpassingly beautiful summer morning two years ago today, when we got married in a wedding that was far more romantic than one would expect.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Saving the planet

Our city has finally started a curbside recycling program. I found a packet announcing it on my doorstep this week, complete with my first specially-marked recycling bag. I can mix all my recyclables, but they all have to be in these special blue bags.

The brochure enclosed lists three places I can buy these bags for future pickups, for $1.50 apiece.

So, let's see. I can think of two reasons why I might recycle. One is thriftiness. Apparently in addition to my regular garbage fee, I could pay $1.50 for a single, special plastic bag--when I can spend little more for a whole box of bags that size. And all this while my life is clogged with more free plastic bags than I have room to handle. No, don't think so.

Or I could do it out of concern for the planet. Except I'm not sure the damage to the planet inflicted by me making a special trip to buy plastic bags, plus the waste created in making all these plastic bags, would really be outweighed by the things I might have to recycle. (Recycling stuff costs energy too, remember.)

I understand that they need to be readily able to identify the recyclables. I wouldn't mind spending $5 or $10 on some reusable, specially-marked bin to identify them for the garbage men. (The very weak garbage men who couldn't lift my can this week, so I have two weeks' worth of garbage piling up and stinking, about which I'm still rather annoyed, in case you can't tell.)

But until the recycling program actually starts with conserving things, I don't think I'll participate.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Choosing Hell?

Yesterday I passed a church sign that said, "No one in their right mind would choose hell over heaven." Passing over the grammatical problems for the sake of pondering the theological ones, I asked myself whether this was true.

I think all of us know people who are, day by day, choosing a living hell over a better life that is within their grasp. People who cling to self-destructive habits, to deep bitterness, to their personal idols, even though it is obvious to everyone else that these things are destroying them and ruining the lives of those they love. Even a tiny toddler, screaming in defiance instead of relaxing into the sleep she desparately needs, shows this desire to choose misery over happiness.

Indeed, when I've had painful moments of self-revelation, I have seen that deep down inside, I would rather have hell than heaven. I would rather live in torment at the center of my own universe than live in joy and peace in a universe where all glory went to God. I don't doubt that this desire would hold true even in the face of ultimate realities.

Apart from the grace of God, none of us would even want to go to heaven. Not if we really understood what it entailed--not just a place of pleasantness or endless life, but a place where God is everything and there is no more room for our self-will and self-centeredness. I think we would, quite rationally and calmly, prefer to go to hell. There will be many very small universes in hell.

I suppose, stated like this, the position does seem insane. You could say the whole human race is not in its right mind. Perhaps that's what the board was supposed to mean.

But I hope not. Because deep in my heart of hearts, I enjoy looking down on people who post bad theology on church signs.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A Proposal

After pondering Ben's mom's comment below, and my own annoyance, I have come up with a simple solution. Here it is, all you people who ever have occasion to make small talk with the parents of a baby or toddler. Instead of asking whether they have passed this or that developmental milestone, potentially annoying parents of a child who is taking his own time in some area, why not ask: "What does Baby like to do the best?"

Every baby, no matter how small, has preferences. The parents will be thrilled to talk about them. You might get a cute story out of the deal. You might have to listen to more than you want to, I suppose, but that's part of the perils of civilized conversation. Especially with new parents.

Animal Magnetism

The obsession with ducks and quacking has progressed to an interest in other animals and other sounds. D1 has a set of animal magnets which she plays with on the fridge. At first they were all "quack, quack," but now the sheep is starting to baa and the lion is starting to roar. I don't know what noise to give her for the turtle.

Even more fun are her stuffed duck and lamb, which she generally plays with on our bed. They will often take turns in lengthy conversations. "Quack, quack." "Baaaaaa." "Quack, quack." "Baaaa." Sometimes the sheep says quack or the duck says baaaa, but I guess they're bilingual.

Last night we initiated a new drama with the following plotline. Sheep, duck, or both, discover themselves fallen into the deep valley. The sheep baas pitifully, while the duck takes a more pragmatic approach. After some commiserating, they climb back up to the top of the mountain where they quack and baa triumphantly. This was repeated several times, to enthusiastic encores.

Why do people making conversation about babies always ask the same questions? From birth to about 8 months, it's "Are they sleeping through the night yet?" After that, it's "Are they walking yet?" Why doesn't anyone ever ask me if D1 can identify animals by their sounds or if she has an appreciation for drama?

Monday, August 29, 2005

Fighting parents

I have on occasion heard of someone commenting that it is good for parents to fight in front of their children, so that the children will be prepared to fight properly in their own marriages without freaking out that something is wrong with them if they fight. On the other hand, I have more often heard that parents should never fight in front of their children, in order to present a united front.

Then there is the Miss Manners view, which is that you should fight in front of them, but in a foreign language, to increase the educational value.

I'm a bit skeptical of the former view, but can't quite put my finger on what is wrong with it. I would think it would be pretty hard for a husband and wife to fight publicly in a way that showed proper reverence and love, but I suppose it's not theoretically impossible.

We do expect to frequently disagree in front of our children, on such matters as public policy or literary interpretation, and indeed to encourage them to stake out their own positions as well. However, I suspect this is not what is meant.

Naturally we don't want to omit an important part of our children's education. But it would be difficult. First, we'd have to find something to fight about. Then we would have to want to fight. (I'm a middle child. I don't fight, I manipulate.) And if we had to do a foreign language, too--I suppose pig latin doesn't count. Perhaps our children will just have to miss out.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

End of summer

Yesterday school started. Kindergarteners with brand-new backpacks marched down the sidewalks with both parents in tow. Moms were lining their kids up against the fence for the first-day-of-school-picture.

And yellow buses everywhere. I need to change my morning routes.

School supply sales are hard to resist. I limited myself to crayons for D1's Christmas and a few essentials I needed in the office.

The first shock of leaves on the sweet gum tree has changed color.

It's been below ninety for several days now. Sunny and dry. I can live with this.

Is it possible to eat too much of fresh tomatoes and sweet corn? I consider, then refill the salt shaker and decide against it.

I'm really starting to crave apples. Of course, it's hard to complain when peaches are still 77 cents a pound.

What to do with dry beans

Adult version:
Soak in water overnight.
Cook on low for several hours.
Season and serve.

Toddler version:
Pick them up.
Put them in the film canister.
Dump them out of the film canister.
Put them on the chair.
Put them in your mouth.
Find out Mama doesn't like them in your mouth. Protest.
Put them in the egg carton.
Throw them on the floor.
Ooops, Mama doesn't like that either. Drop them on the floor.
Drop them in the cardboard tube.
Drop them down the little holes in the box.
Pour them all over the floor.
Wallow in them.
Stick them between your toes.
Pick them up? Why?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

By the book . . . whichever one that is

Every once in a while I will stumble across another this-baby-management-book vs. that-baby-management-book argument. And they all can cite statistics and studies and personal examples about how this book works and that book doesn't. But hardly ever do they seem to get the point.

Every baby is different. Every mom is different. Some moms freak out every time their child cries and need to be reassured that they aren't going to be warped for life because they had to wait a couple of minutes. Some moms think life can be scheduled to the minute for the next five years and need to learn to relax and go with the flow a little more. Some moms (like me) have their heads so lost in the clouds they need a lot of routine or they draw a blank as to what, exactly, might be a good idea to try next. (Diaper change? She needs a diaper change? Oh, yeah, it has been five hours, hasn't it?)

Some babies need to eat every two hours around the clock for months. On the other hand, I met one mother who had one baby (out of eight) sleep for 10 hours a night starting at birth. I'm sure no one would advocate that as a standard for any other baby, but he survived just fine. Some moms have to nurse frequently or they lose their milk supply. Some moms have milk for years after weaning. Some moms really need uninterrupted sleep at night. Some are going to have it more interrupted by not nursing than by nursing.

Not that books can't have good ideas, and some have more good ideas than others. I like my mother-in-law's standard advice: "Look at all the books. Then look at your baby." If you're putting books above your baby's health or long-term happiness, then you have a problem. Otherwise, why worry?

If someone reports that they and their baby are happy under Plan Y, why do some people feel a need to go around telling them Plan Y is evil and dangerous?

Monday, August 22, 2005

Taking steps

So here it is, D1's 14-month birthday, and she's still not walking. Not even taking tentative steps. And I've had enough.

It's not that I'm concerned about her suffering from some sort of delay, or not keeping up with Little Johnny. I don't fear it reflects on her intelligence or future life or my ability as a mother.

No, my motive, if equally selfish, is at least less sinister. My back hurts. I can't carry two babies all the time. Since I have no choice on the one, the other one is going to have to learn the fine art of self-transportation.

It's not as if she's far off from walking. She can stand quite steadily and let herself down when she's done. She can walk with only one hand on the wall. She only crawls as a means to get to the other wall or piece of furniture. She can virtually run if she has some fingers to hold on to. She just doesn't want to let go yet.

That's fine. (The stories tell that DOB could only walk at first when he was carrying a chair around with him.) But I'm not going to enable her anymore. When we go down the hallway, she can push her walker or hold onto the wall or my finger or crawl. I'm not carrying her.

Barring the usual possible interruptions, we have plans this week to go visit her friend Chase, who is a very mobile little fellow. It was only a few days after visiting him last time that she decided to sit up for the first time and get serious about crawling. So maybe seeing him run around will give her the idea that this, too, is a possibility for people her size.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Technology has gone too far

Today I answered the phone.


First there was an electronically charged silence, then a recorded woman's voice came on and said, "I'm sorry!" Then silence again.

The only thing I can conclude is that it was an automated wrong number dialer.

Police Blotter

I had forgotten how much fun the local police blotter can be to read. Here's a sampling from yesterday. I thought it would be improved by a few subheads.

Trying for a free bath?
An officer was flagged down and told a naked man was near the dog kennels by the Mason Car Wash. Officers checked the area, but no naked men were seen.

And I can talk with the animals!
A Tuesday evening report of a suspicious person sent officers out to the Lowe's Drive area. A man was found who told police he was just playing with raccoons.

Those out-of-towners hit too hard
An East Ruby Avenue woman reported 1:05 pm she was assaulted on A Street by a non-local woman.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The importance of unimportant things

At this stage in the pregnancy, the two most important activities are eating and going to the bathroom. Both are remarkably difficult with a 14-month-old clinging to one's legs. I'm starting to pray that D1 will learn to walk soon.

The eating had really been a problem on Tuesday, and by evening I was really, really craving lemon poke cake (that's where you poke holes in a yellow cake and pour lemonade over the top). But it was late, I was exhausted, we were out of ingredients, my kitchen appliances have all migrated back into the dining room, and making one was out of the question. Besides, we didn't need lemon poke cake. So I tried, not too successfully, to dismiss the thought from my mind.

But yesterday, even though it was shopping day and everything went nearly wrong, and D1 took an extra short nap, I decided I had had it. We didn't need a lemon poke cake, but I was going to make one anyway!

At the end of the day, it was late, I was exhausted, my back hurt, and my kitchen appliances were still scattered all over the dining room. But we had lemon poke cake. And I felt much better about life.

Maybe today I'll cut out that jumper I've been wanting to make for D1.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The waters come over my soul

Sunday night as DOB was putting D1 down to bed, he commented, "Her shirt is kind of wet."

I didn't worry about it. Her shirt is always kind of wet, between drool and learning to use a cup. And it's August, so it seems more likely that it will contribute to coolness than to pneumonia.

But a few hours later she started bawling in her sleep. I went in to check on her and discovered that her shirt was soaked--front and back. I changed her and she settled right back down. I still can't figure out how she got the back of her shirt wet.

The next morning I was trying to rouse DOB. He's pretty incoherent until he's had a glass of water, so I sat him up and was holding his glass up to his mouth, trying to get him to drink it. Unfortunately, I overestimated the angle needed and misunderstood his hyperventilation. The next thing I knew the water had dumped over his t-shirt. Within a fraction of a second, he had ripped the shirt off and thrown it at my fleeing figure with deadly aim. You would hardly believe he had been sound asleep a few moments before.

The moral of the story, I suppose, is that wet shirts are good for waking people up, but bad for the person responsible.

Monday, August 15, 2005


How could you resist this plea? Even if it has just been repeated for the fifteenth time, interspersed with "Up?" (which, if already up, means "Down?") She worked out this sign on her own, at the same time as she learned to say the word, which is her usual habit. The sign is so cute that DOB will often try to coax it out of her even if she's said the word in plain English half a dozen times.