Monday, January 31, 2005

Your vote needed for the Best of 2004

I want to enter the 2005 Erma Bombeck Writing Competition in the "humor" category. Basic parameters: 450-word personal essay, previously unpublished. Deadline is Feb. 18. Prize is $100.

Since my blog is the only place whereby I now remember my life (before blog, I relied on email and random battered notebooks), I have been skimming past months for material on which to write a humorous essay. Then it occurred to me that perhaps asking my readers would be a good idea. I don't promise to operate on majority vote, but I think the insights would be helpful.

The following have struck me as possibilities. Which one do you think has the potential to make the funniest essay for a broad audience? (Not necessarily the one you find the funniest right now, although it would be interesting to hear that, too, if it's different.) Feel free to make your own suggestions, as well.

Marital Strength Test (In which we try to clean out boxes)
On the Line (An encounter with telephone support for telephone lines)
Nomenclature (The difficulties of describing ties)
Confession is Good for the Soul (diaper changing adventures)
Eating with Baby (what it sounds like)
Amazing Facts about DOB (the powdered sugar story)

Happy Anniversary to Us!

No, it's not our wedding anniversary. (Unless you're allowed to celebrate seventeen month anniversaries with a whole week of celebrations, but aren't we supposed to be beyond such sappiness at this point?) It's our one-year house anniversary! A year ago today it was -17 degrees and our soon-to-be pastor, his son and son-in-law, a few old friends and all available family members were trotting back and forth across town, moving us from a very crowded and smoky apartment to a house that is only crowded in the closets and where the only smoke comes when dinner boils over.

I was four months pregnant, and still had very little energy. (I think a lot of what I chalked up to morning sickness was really poor air quality--I felt remarkably better once we moved here.) My kitchen was packed up and moved entirely by a sixteen-year-old boy, who did a fantastic job at it. I just laid around and watched all the action for the most part. I also ordered pizza when the work was done.

With the inclement weather of the last month, let us not forget to mention the blessing of an attached garage. Last winter it was such a treacherous business for DOB to get to the car and get it cleaned off that he called me once he was safe inside the car to let me know he wasn't lying bleeding on the ice outside. Sometimes it was half an hour after he left the door that he finally called.

So, hooray for one year in our home, sweet home.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Random thoughts

  • Just heard an advertisement for Advil Liquigels--"With real liquid!" As opposed to those competitors, who only have fake liquid in theirs.
  • His Majesty has started taking a preventive tonic for high blood pressure: high-proof cayenne pepper in a vodka tincture. Now there's a manly drink.
  • Why do I get more woken up by the alarm not going off on the weekend than by it going off on weekdays? Lying wide awake at 4:45 am on a Saturday is just not right.

Friday, January 28, 2005

My great wisdom

Yes, after a grand total of seven months of parenting, I think I'll benefit the world with my theories on child-rearing.

That's not enough time to learn much of anything. Still, I've been a parent as long as D1 has been in the world, and she's learned quite a bit in that time. Even if she hasn't learned much of substance, she's learned what kinds of things there are to learn: how to communicate and how to move. I think, like her, I've at least learned what it is I need to do.

I need to love her.

Don't I already? Sure, I get warm fuzzy feelings when I look at her (when she's clean, happy, and I'm not too tired). That's not love.

Love is ministering to her needs when I don't feel like it. Love is training her when I don't feel like it. Love is incredibly hard work.

I think this is where any book of advice on parenting, or any system of parenting, runs aground. Any system of parenting can be turned into a vehicle of parental selfishness. I could easily schedule D1 (who really is very compliant) to stay out of my hair most of the time so that I could do what I want to do. I could just as easily ignore her until she demands my attention, then give her what she needed to shut her up. (I fail in one or both directions practically every day.) I personally am not the sort to do it much, but there are others who will instead hover around, creating emotional neediness in their children so that they can have the gratification of meeting those needs. Any of the above could find books of good advice to justify their approach.

And the only way to avoid it is to love her like I need to. I do think parenting needs to be child-centered--not child-run, but child-centered. The parent is there to serve and train the child; the child isn't there to serve and gratify the parent. Of course, this means training the child to be obedient, to work hard, not to demand attention and all that--but it has to be done for the child's good, not the parent's.

I do have a fairly structured approach to D1's day, and I do want very much to train her not to fuss to get what she wants. But I keep revamping the structure with the primary goal of anticipating her needs, so that she doesn't need to fuss to get what she needs. (As she gets older, she gradually has more chances to learn to wait for the things she wants.) It's hard for me to do this--especially with giving her attention. But when I do, we're all so much happier.

The goal in parenting is not some middle ground between authority and love. It's the extreme of both--authority that, when asserted, is absolutely consistent and just; mingled with love that is incredibly delighted in the child and shows it every minute of every day.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Socrates is mortal

In my quest for thoughts on education, I decided to first try Plato's Republic, as it seemed old enough to start with. (Yes, I know I should start with the Bible, but I was already reading it.)

It's much more entertaining than I expected. For one thing, it looks like the Socratic method was just as irritating for Socrates' friends as it is for modern law students:

"Yes, he replied, and then Socrates will do as he always does--refuse to answer himself, but take and pull to pieces the answer of some one else."

And in filtering children's reading material, homeschool parents have nothing on Socrates. He wants to expurge any references to, say, great heroes bewailing the dead in The Odyssey, so that the young future warriors won't get the idea that death is something to be feared. Even references to the heroes or the gods laughing too hard is bad, since we don't want the youngsters to ever lose control of themselves like that.

One would be inclined to think that this is, at least in principle, a wise course: only expose children to the ideas and behavior you want them to emulate. But the Bible takes quite the opposite tack. It shows the heroes of the faith doing dreadful things, and accuses God of actions that Socrates would find quite blasphemous--ordaining evil events and deceiving people.

But then, Socrates is trying to find a way for us to achieve human perfection and explain the gods, whereas the message of the Bible is that we cannot do either.

Random list time

Things we own that have broken down in the past year:
Hot water heater
Rocking chair

Household items we are collecting for toys for D1:
Plastic vitamin bottles
Those flat plastic thingies used to close plastic bags
Film canisters (even though we only use digital!)
Old cds
Scrap paper

Items on my to-do list left from last week:
Install operating system on old hard drive
Write Christmas thank-yous (gasp!)
Get wedding present for friend
Baby-proof house
Get Christmas boxes out of D1's room

A long-awaited catastrophe

Last summer, I bought a rocking chair for D1's room. It was at a garage sale, and even though I thought $30 was a bit much for an unfinished, slightly rickety rocker, it was as far as I could talk them down, and I really, really wanted a rocking chair.

What with one thing and another, I never did get around to refinishing it or strengthening it. The front cross-piece kept falling out and it felt kind of wobbly. Every time DOB came in to rock D1 before bedtime, he would comment, "I know this thing is going to fall apart sometime while I'm sitting in it."

I thought he was exaggerating the danger, perhaps overly-influenced by The Patriot.

Last night, as we were rocking through the last lullaby, a loud crack rang through the nursery and DOB and D1 were suddenly sitting at a very strange angle. I sheepishly extricated them. Sure enough, the chair had given way altogether.

I will look at the chair later today, but DOB thinks it will require paternal intervention for him to trust it again.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Growing up too slowly

Time magazine had an article on what it calls "twixters" (don't you hate attempts to coin trendy new words for societal phenomenons?): i.e., twentysomethings who still don't have a steady career or a family of their own, who enjoy the privileges of adults without wanting to take on any of the responsibilities. There is much debate on why this is, whether it's a good or a bad thing, and what to do about it if it's a bad thing. (DISCLAIMER: Following discussion pertains to society as a whole, not to any reader's particular actions. If the shoe doesn't fit, don't cram it on.)

Yes, it's a bad thing. The generation is very much like Susan of Narnia: "Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one's life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can." As adolescence gets pushed down younger and younger and stretched out for longer and longer, there is little room for the innocence of childhood or the responsibilities of adulthood.

So what's wrong with that? People were never designed to have pleasures without responsibilities--they were meant to go hand in hand. A stable society cannot handle a large group of people entirely devoted to their own self-actualization. Society requires a willingness to sacrifice for others, especially for the next generation. But in our age, those best equipped to bear and raise the next generation are doing their best to dodge the bullet, or at least put it off another decade, when they will find it a much heavier burden. Nor is their current lifestyle preparing them well to care for their own parents in later years. Not to mention the moral consequences of encouraging people to put at least two decades between the onset of sexual ability and the onset of sexual responsibility.

But there are good reasons why people are choosing this route. For one thing, they've been raised to believe they can be and do anything, and that the only measure of a lifestyle's validity is whether it makes them happy. With all those choices, of course it's harder to settle down than it was when your life path was mapped out for you from birth. Although social mobility has many advantages, one of the great benefits of traditions is they save so much time.

For another, education takes a long time in our society. An unjustifiably long time, in my opinion. Sure, our society is more complex than it was 150 years ago. But it's not that complex. Maybe great-great-grandpa only learned how to read, write and cipher--but he learned it in six years, and he learned it better than most people who have spent twelve years in our current education system. Maybe we do need longer to prepare ourselves, but sixteen years of full-time schooling should not be considered the bare minimum for a living-wage job. That information could be processed in a lot less time.

People also talk about the cost of living and how folks can't afford things starting out like they did in the 50's--but I suspect it's more the expectations of livings that have gone up. If young couples nowadays were willing to live in 1000-square foot houses, with a single tv set, one car, no cable, no internet, and no cell phones, I bet they'd find they could afford it, too.

All the trends indicate that this prolonged adolescence is likely to continue, however. So, the next question is, having gone ahead and grown up ourselves, what do we do to make sure our children do--and get out of the house before we're entirely feeble?

Monday, January 24, 2005

Me Neither, Said the Little Red Hen

We had DOB's youngest brother over for the weekend in celebration of his birthday. At lunchtime on Saturday the following conversation occurred:

QOC: I'm making roast for dinner. Do you guys want mashed potatoes or baked potatoes?

DOB: Oh, mashed potatoes!

B6: Yeah, mashed potatoes!

DOB: QOC's mashed potatoes are the best.

QOC: Well, I'm getting tired and mashed potatoes make more dishes than baked potatoes. So if we're going to have mashed potatoes, I'm going to need you guys to help me with the dishes.

DOB: Hey, baked potatoes with lots of butter and salt and pepper are really good--why don't we have baked potatoes?

B6: Yeah, let's have baked potatoes!

Actually I wound up being really, really tired by nightfall, and thus they wound up helping me with the dishes anyway. But there were less than there would have been.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Bar hopping

Being a member, albeit inactive, of two bars allows me to compare their various services. California is definitely the superior at member service, probably due to its having ten times as many members as Washington, and therefore, presumably, ten times as much money. To wit:
  • Both bars' annual fees are due on or about February 1. However, California doesn't start charging you for being late until March 15, while Washington cracks down on anyone postmarked February 2.
  • California only charges $50 for inactive status--and you can reduce that $10 more in optional deductions. Washington charges $117, and you can only reduce it by $1.13. (This may also suggest that the California Bar spends a lot more time on things entirely unrelated to law, such as promoting the legality of topless beaches. The Washington Bar doesn't do this because their beaches are too cold. Actually I suspect it's just that the Washington Bar, emboldened by the example of the WEA, is less honest about its lobbying activities.)
  • California's fees statements are much better organized and more attractively laid out.

I discovered today that it is not too late to elect inactive status for DOB and thus drastically reduce his dues and spare us the trouble of him having to spend the entire day tomorrow doing CLE. So, hurrah!

D1 and the hallway, which looks ever so much better since DOB's mother finished painting the trim last week.

Snowy day, as viewed from the playpen.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Why I can't get stuff done

I was bemoaning to DOB last night about the slowness of my progress at such tasks as organizing the house. Just keeping up with the bare minimum of chores fills all my time; I can't imagine having a hobby or going out except for grocery shopping. Why did I have so much less time than everyone else?

Then he reminded me that I do have a part-time job. For some reason it never occurs to me that this factors into my time. I do it at home, and I do most of it before D1 even wakes up in the morning. And I do it for DOB--doesn't every good wife spend a few hours every morning doing data entry for her husband? But it's still time I don't spend on other things. So. It's OK.

I do sometimes remember to mention it to people who ask if I work. Which makes me wonder: why does it make me feel more significant to tell people I work part-time for DOB's firm--a job for which I am, with all due humility, vastly over-qualified--than it would to tell people I am a full-time housewife and mother, a job which I could study for my entire life and not begin to master? Why does our society place value only on activities which lead directly to monetary remuneration?

I think the slighting of the contribution of housewives is just a symptom of a value system that equates productivity with money and leisure with amusement (i.e. mindless self-indulgence). We need to revive an appreciation for leisure as a means by which we can become better people; and a definition of success which only has a small place for money and much larger places for health, good relationships, and a capacity to appreciate what is excellent.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Difficult question

Last week I gave D1 the stuffed Noah's Ark I found for her at a garage sale last summer. We had been reading about Noah in our morning Bible reading, and she had reached the age where she would enjoy putting in and pulling out small squishy objects.

We were playing with it yesterday and she was chewing enthusiastically on the lions when I noticed that one of the lions was losing its mane.

"Mommy needs to repair that," I remarked as I set it aside.

Then I thought about it some more. The animals in the ark should be one male and one female of each. Female lions don't have manes. Shouldn't I therefore remove the mane from the lion altogether and designate it the mama lion?

Then again, maybe that would make it more difficult for D1 to match the two animals. Plus, she loves the orange fuzzy mane. So maybe I should sew it back on.

The lion is left in limbo while I loiter.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Missing Papa

DOB is working late tonight. And we are not sure what to do without him. D1 doesn't seem to think the usual daytime routine of "play quietly on the floor while Mama works" is adequate for the evening. I am wracking my brain to remember what all those things DOB does with her in the evening that terrify me and set her squealing with delight. But I'm not very good with them. And if I had never watched DOB do them, I'm sure they never would even occur to me. Yet I'm equally sure they're important for her learning and growing.

On the other hand, I don't think she'd get a very well-balanced raising if DOB tried to do it alone, either. (I'll let him figure out what would never occur to him to do.) Just goes to show that a child needs a mama and a papa. Not just any assortment of adults who happen to live at her house. Not two adults who happen to want to raise her. Each parent--each gender of parent--brings something unique and important to the mix of parenting that's very hard to duplicate when they're gone.

Sometimes tragic circumstances mean children can't have both. But no other combination should ever be held up as an equivalent to having a mother and a father.

The Bible and Everything Else

Jesus is Lord of all things. There is no division between the sacred and the secular. God is the source of all truth. God's Word is the ultimate in revealed wisdom, and all human experience must be subjected to it.

I agree with all of these. So why do I so often find myself squirming when I look at curricula that take these ideas seriously, and purport to relate all of learning to God and His Word? Is the problem with them, or with me?

Let me try it from another angle. The Bible says we are to eat and drink to the glory of God. Jesus also instituted the Lord's Supper, ennobling the act of eating to become a way in which we have fellowship with God. Now, suppose that devout theologian combined these two truths and taught that every meal should be the Lord's Supper. Every child sitting down with a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich must comport himself as if he was partaking of the bread and the cup. Every time we ate strawberry ice cream, we should meditate on Christ's sacrifice as symbolized by the red of the strawberries.

This new practical theologian would be taking things a little too far. And in his zeal, I think he would be undermining the Lord's Supper. It does take us from the human need for physical nourishment to the human need for divine nourishment. But if it were not a special and sacred occasion, if it were simply our ordinary meals, we would cease to see it as a vehicle to Christ and start to treat it as simply a way to get full. (Seems like the Corinthians might have had a similar problem.)

Similarly, if we get too carried away with insisting that every scrap of human knowledge must be extracted from, tied to, or analogized with Scripture, we run the risk of treating the Bible as simply a vehicle to the knowledge we need to function, and not as it was primarily intended, a means to reveal God himself to us.

I have also seen this ideal carried into dishonesty. For instance, a teacher script for introducing the alphabet I saw once had the teacher essentially instructing the children that God had created capital letters. Now, even if I had assurance that writing was a matter of direct divine revelation, I would be a bit perplexed as to why God only revealed the truth about capital letters in the last millenium to the scribes of a handful of alphabets.

Worse yet is the area of history, where it is far too easy to turn every twist and turn of events into an illustration of this or that Biblical principle, ultimately leading us to the conclusion that if we're doing fairly well (and if we can afford all these books, we probably are), God must be on our side. Presumption, pride and dishonesty are not honoring to God, however much lip-service they may pay to him.

Besides, if there really is no distinction between the sacred and the secular, then we have no need to convert every topic by pasting a Bible verse on top of it. If everything has been created by God, then that in itself is reason enough to study it. I think we will find more and more of God's character as we delve deeper and deeper into whatever we study--but the connections are often subtle and hard to tack onto a third-grade text.

This is not to say that we shouldn't hold all learning accountable to God's Word, and reject anything that contradicts it. Or that we should relegate Bible to a distinct study and keep it out of all our other subjects. It's right and proper to make God the focus of all our life. But seeing God reveal himself through all his world needs to come naturally, not be forced to increase the "spiritual" appearance of our schoolbooks.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Disturbing evening

Friday evening D1 and I opened our January books from the book-of-the-month club conducted by my family for small grandchildren. (The book designated for me did not seem to be quite at my reading level, but it was distinguishable from D1's by being non-chewable.) After D1 had crumpled the wrapping paper and chewed appreciatively on her book for awhile, we took her into her bedroom to get her ready for bed.

Suddenly DOB started whacking her on the back and fishing in her mouth. "What's wrong?" I asked.

"She's got something in her mouth!" DOB exclaimed.

I pried her mouth open and looked in horror. "No, she doesn't, but the roof of her mouth has turned blue!" My mind raced, trying to think of what loathsome disease would turn the roof of the mouth blue.

"No, it hasn't," DOB exclaimed, and indicated I should try fishing in there myself. I stuck my finger in and sheepishly pulled out a piece of sky-blue wrapping paper.

A little bit later, I took her wet diaper into the bathroom, glanced at myself in the mirror, and gasped in despair. DOB came to see what was the matter.

"I've got wrinkles!" I declared, pointing at tiny lines on either side of my mouth.

"Oh, those are no big deal," DOB said, "I have them, too, see?" He pointed to his mouth, and then realized that his moustache covered any applicable evidence.

I do find it somewhat consoling, however, that I've never had a gray hair, whereas DOB has been having them since he was eleven. I guess we'll just spread the aging around.

Monday morning review

Household items, Good: DOB's dad fixed the vaccuum cleaner, so I should be able to keep D1 from wallowing in grime today. He also fixed the iron, which had broken last week as well (he's not sure how, but he took it apart and put it back together and now it works). I got a new sponge for my mop.

Household items, Bad: The screw in our evil bathtub drain has rusted out entirely. Home Depot workers could not identify the screw type to replace it, and the fittings are so different from normal bathtub drains that I'm not sure the whole shebang can be easily replaced. I'm not sure what to do next.

Organization, Good: I only have last night's and this morning's dishes to do this morning, less than usual on a Monday.

Organization, Bad: I still haven't finished putting away Christmas presents--I have a whole box of books still to deal with.

Schedule, Good: I've been up and dressed and had breakfast before D1 wakes up every morning for a week.

Schedule, Bad: Owing to a church business meeting and then how long it takes us to eat supper on Sunday nights, we got to bed two and a half hours late last night. We've come to the conclusion that we're going to have to have popcorn night some other night of the week. It just takes too long to chew.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Seismic shift

While D1 was playing on the floor this morning, everything suddenly clicked and she realized: if I roll over, I can get other places. All day long she's been rolling back to front and round again, trying to get new places and crowing with delight at her own cleverness.

The change is almost as dramatic as having her born (though significantly less effort on my part). She's got her own ideas and her own means of locomotion. She's a person.

She's a person who wallows on the floor a lot. True to Murphy, today was the day my vaccuum stopped sucking and the sponge disintegrated on my mop.

Annoying parental post

So, what cute and clever things about D1 can we drone on about?
  • She finally rolled over from front to back! She still seems to find the whole process a bit mystifying, though. We need more playing on the floor time.
  • She has started babbling. Not only is she babbling, she even seems to be learning Spanish. She said, "Hola, mama" quite distinctly the other morning. Not sure where she's learning it, since I don't even have Eres Tu Mi Mama? to read to her, and my Spanish doesn't go much farther than that.
  • If you show her that you've hidden a spoon under a cloth, she knows that she should be able to pull the cloth aside and find the spoon.
  • She can pick up her squishy blocks now, whereas a month ago she could only bat at them in frustration.
  • She has a variety of laughs, including the uproarious being-tickled laugh and a special malevolent cackle that probably means she's plotting something sinister.
  • She's developed a very healthy appetite in the last week or so, and so far hasn't turned up her nose at anything offered, except when not hungry. (I appreciate my mother-in-law's advice to mix all the food together from the start; that way the baby never has a chance to notice she doesn't like something.)
  • Also, she looks incredibly cute in this hat:

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Chesterton (of course) on education

"Education is only truth in a state of transmission; and how can we pass on the truth if it has never come into our hands?"

"Education is violent because it is creative. It is creative because it is human. It is as ruthless as playing on the fiddle; as dogmatic as drawing a picture; as brutal as building a house. In short, it is what all human action is: it is an interference with life and growth."

"Obviously, it ought to be the oldest things that are taught to the youngest people; the assured and experienced truths that are put first to the baby. But in a school to-day the baby has to submit to a system that is younger than himself. . . . Many a school boasts of having the last ideas in education, when it has not even the first idea; for the first idea is that even innocence, divine as it is, may learn something from experience."

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Resolutions and goals

According to the people in my life who pay attention to such things, resolutions are the more vague, general ideas, while goals are specific, achievable things. Here are some. (Yes, it's late, but so is everything right now. See Resolution #1.)

1. I resolve not to get annoyed because I did not accomplish today everything I hoped to accomplish in the upcoming week, year, or lifetime.
2. I resolve not to worry about problems that cannot possibly occur for at least five more years.
3. I resolve to enjoy what I have instead of saving it all for some unattainable future.

1. Always use decorative notepads when writing grocery lists. I keep receiving these, and is anyone likely to hope for a giant collection of carrot notepads when I die? I think not. Might as well use them up now, and if I run out, I can use the plain paper then. (See Res. 3.)
2. Get out some of the new dishtowels I got for my wedding instead of continuing to use the ragged ones I've been using for the last five years. (See Res. 3.)
3. Learn how to fry an egg. I can boil them, poach them, scramble them, and fling them against the wall, but I can't fry them. Time to learn.
4. Clean out all the closets in the house. (And not get annoyed if it takes all year. See Res. 1.)
5. Get published somewhere new.
6. Get a working internal-day schedule and working monthly/quarterly schedule for less regular household tasks.
7. Create adequate processes so that the desks get cleared off and stay cleared off.

Monday, January 10, 2005

We start with a bad example

Here is an example of education which is not serving good ends, on two fronts. If you're not a clicker, the article concerns a Korean practice of sending the mother and children to the US for years so that the children can get an American education, while the father remains in Korea working to pay for it.

The original problem is with the Korean education system, which is so oriented to achievement on a narrow range of topics that children have no time to develop in other areas, sleep, or do anything but cram from kindergarten to university. Keep that in mind next time you hear about US math scores being low. Our schools could certainly do better, but there is more to life than high test scores, and in trying to fix our problems we had better remember that.

I don't think the parents of these families have found an acceptable alternative, however. In an effort to get their children English and an education that leaves room for development of the whole human being, they have taken away the most key ingredient to a whole human being: a whole family. This is probably rarer in America, but it certainly happens, especially where the children have special athletic or performance abilities. I don't believe any educational end justifies tearing apart a family. You don't make whole people by breaking families.

The end of education

I have been rather displeased with myself over the last several months because I lacked the focus to learn anything of much substance. I read few books, because I couldn't decide which ones were worth reading. My thoughts were dull and scattered. So I decided I needed to pick something to study and study it.

I considered making this topic financial planning, which is what DOB is about to embark upon further study of, but acquiring a CFP didn't seem nearly as useful to me, and the required studies were not intriguing at all. So, although it would be fun to study things together, I decided to pick something different.

I finally decided on the topic of education. This is a topic that is relevant to my life as a homeschooling mother. (A career I consider myself to have already embarked upon. After all, today we will have lessons in Bible, pre-reading skills, music, physical education, and eating bananas with our fingers. On the last we still have a lot of work to do.) But, given sufficient freedom it can encompass almost anything of interest to me and provides lots of room for abstract philosophizing.

It's ironic, because the part of my former job I generally liked the least was doing research on education. But those were specific, concrete topics, like "How effective is value-added assessment at determining teacher quality?" or "How is No Child Left Behind being implemented in Washington schools?" Way too practical for me. Plus, immensely frustrating because I just felt that the whole system was wrong from stem to stern, so there was little point in finding miniscule areas for improvement.

Now I can start at the very beginning. Education really boils down to two questions: What is the end goal of education--what kind of person do we want education to produce? What is the means of education--what are the best techniques to achieve that kind of a person?

Lots of room for abstract theorizing there. Some of which will probably make its way here, so please bear with me.

The screaming you hear . . .

is me opening the property tax statement.

Sometimes being a grownup really stinks.

Sleep, blessed sleep

For some reason, D1 had a hard time sleeping after we got home. Actually, I can think of several reasons: change in time zones, being up all night with sickness, being hungry because she lost weight while sick, sleeping in strange places. She was convinced that if she awoke at, say, 2 a.m. and found herself bored, sufficient squalling ought to bring several adults to entertain her.

It took us nearly a week to convince her otherwise. But last night, apparently, she finally got it. And I finally got a decent night's sleep for the first time in two and a half weeks.


Et tu, Brute?

You believe in doing the right thing, but aren't
always sure what that is.

What is Your Shakespearian Tragic Flaw?
brought to you by Quizilla

Friday, January 07, 2005

Messes of varying degrees

The house is a mess. But the degree to which it is a mess makes a huge difference when it comes to how traumatic that state is. I have identified three degrees of messiness:

First Degree Messiness: The mess is shallow, consisting of things that have an obvious place to go and can be put there without much thought. Examples: one meal's worth of dishes; a pile of already-read newspapers; a bunch of toys that all go back in the same box. On the day after a party, the house tends to be in a first degree state of messiness (unless you have friends like my aunt's and they throw jello in the heat registers): a quick pick-up, and you can enjoy the Especially Clean pre-party state all to yourself. First degree messiness really isn't troubling, as long as one has a reasonable amount of physical energy to deal with it. No brainpower required.

Second Degree Messiness: This is a deeper mess, consisting of things that may have a place to go, but it's not entirely obvious or they have to be sorted out before they can get there or there's just so much it's overwhelming. Examples: a pile of bills; one weekend's worth of dishes; the still-packed luggage from a trip. Any first degree mess that sits around past your tolerance level (for me, about a day and a half) automatically becomes a second degree mess. Second degree messiness is probably the most depressing messiness because it is at once highly visible and requires both mental and physical energy to deal with it.

Third Degree Messiness: This is the mess that has dug in its heels and sits defiantly sticking its tongue out at you. The mess that has taken on a life of its own. It is a mess that has no legitimate place to go, until you make one for it, and usually it's sitting in the way of you making it. Examples: Boxes never unpacked from the last move; a pile of magazine clippings; whatever it is that's in the back of that closet you never look in. Everybody (except Martha Stewart) has a spot of third degree messiness somewhere in their life. Third degree messiness can be more easily ignored than the other two, both because it usually is somewhere outside the normal lines of vision and because you've adapted your life to ignore it. The downside is, third degree messiness tends to spawn greater second and first degree messiness, because it takes up space that belongs to something else. And it tends to grow on its own volition.

Most of the mess I'm annoyed by right now is a second degree post-trip messiness. But it's reminded me of all the third degree messiness that I've been wanting to deal with for months and been making very little headway on. What I should do is either deal with it or go take a nap. But it's so much more fun to analyze it.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

The more presentable aspects of the trip in pictures

This should have been Christmas morning, but wasn't. Oh well, we still look sharp.

DOB demonstrates to the niephlings how to build a train out of my grandparents' colored blocks.

D1 models the traditional reindeer antlers, which are getting a bit battered after three Christmases. Note how well she sits up now.

D1 reads the newspaper while waiting for her parents to finish packing and go. (This picture was not staged. Honest.)

Smart women, hard choices

Another study on the obvious has come out, confirming that smart women have a harder time finding spouses than smart men do. (Thanks to Amey for the link.) I know the problem full well, having had many spurts of mingled despising and envy of those big-eyed airheads who somehow won the hearts of guys who apparently saw me only as a nicely-accessorized brain. Fortunately that did not last forever and I found an intelligent guy who actually wanted an intelligent wife, etc., etc., happily ever after.

Except even then it's not quite that simple. People will blame men for being misogynists and feeling "threatened" by smart women, and no doubt that is sometimes true. But the smart men are probably smart enough to realize something, at least instinctively, about the nature of marriage: marriage is meant to be a union, and union cannot survive two separate life focuses. If the husband is off having his great career and achievements and pursuing his goals, and the wife is off having her great career and achievements and pursuing her goals, they aren't really spouses anymore, they're just two people who sleep together fairly often.

No wonder a smart man doesn't want a woman who will simply pursue her current life course without any reference to his. So instead he finds someone who doesn't really have any particularly grand goals and will support his. Even if she doesn't have a clue about quantum physics, they're happy, because she's helping him quantumize better. They're in it together.

One could theoretically imagine a parallel universe in which smart women could generally do the same thing, and find a domesticated house husband who would cheer them on. One occasionally finds a situation in which it works even in this universe, but in general, a man who will simply support his wife's goals and ambitions is a wuss. No self-respecting woman would want to marry him.

The ideal situation, however, is neither of the above. It's one where both husband and wife have the same goal and work towards it together. A smart man and a smart woman, working towards a goal that they both share, is a beautiful (and dangerous) thing.

But it's still going to require some sacrifice on the woman's part. At some point, she's going to have to deal with some hard questions: Am I willing to just be part-of-his-thing, or will I always wish I was my own thing? Wouldn't I accomplish so much more without being weighed down with kids and all the things that accompany marriage? What if he shifts focus--do I go along with him or strike out on my own?

Sometimes a woman must choose between "greatness" and goodness, between success and happiness. All the media coverage goes for the successful, but I still think I'd rather choose happiness.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

I don't have any of our pictures downloaded yet, but Jeremy captured a great set of pictures while we were visiting them. They're all here.

We are home

We got mostly better; we saw some of the people we wanted to see, though far from all; we made our return journey; we are home. The only excitement on the trip home was when we were driving from the airport and I was trying to figure out how to apply sour cream from the squeezy package to my Wendy's baked potato. I aimed inaccurately and wound up shooting sour cream across the windshield, instrument panel, steering wheel, and DOB. In his fatigued state, DOB was most perplexed as to why cracks started appearing across the front of the car and simultaneously I started laughing hysterically.

It's good to be home. It's even better to be able to look forward to being home. Last Christmas, neither of us wanted to come back. The only thing that made us do it--besides the threat of wasting plane tickets--was the hope that perhaps we might be able to buy this house and get out of the apartment. This time, we had much to anticipate upon coming home: a house, a church, our family out here. I realized while out there that I was even a little homesick. I even missed the corn fields. It seems like there were a few too many trees in Washington.