Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Childhood Reading Meme

From Semicolon

1. How old were you when you learned to read and who taught you?
I was four; I was looking at the pages of Go, Dogs, Go and suddenly saw the connection between the letters and the sounds. I recall it as a solitary moment, but I suspect my mother had already given me some basic sound/letter lessons from a comic strip phonics course she had cut out and pasted in a notebook.

2. Did you own any books as a child? If so, what’s the first one that you remember owning? If not, do you recall any of the first titles that you borrowed from the library?

As far back as I can remember, I had a few shelves of books. I don't know what came first, maybe the Bible I got when I was about four. (One of those little ones with Jesus Feeding the Five Thousand on the cover--I think they still make them.)

3. What’s the first book that you bought with your own money?

Me? Spend money? It probably was some battered paperback copies of the Federalist Papers and the Wealth of Nations, but that wouldn't have been until I was a teenager. Long before then I had earned books through our Bible memory program and through my mother's scheme to get us to finish our schoolbooks by the end of the year by giving us a book apiece.

4. Were you a re-reader as a child? If so, which book did you re-read most often?

Of course. When you've read everything interesting in the house, there's nothing to do but go read it again. (Not that our holdings were small, mind you.) I have no idea what I re-read the most, but Alice in Wonderland was probably way up there, along with The Phantom Tollbooth, Anne of Green Gables, and, well, pretty much everything else.

5. What’s the first adult book that captured your interest and how old were you when you read it?

If Lord of the Rings counts as an adult book, then I was about ten when I read it.

6. Are there children’s books that you passed by as a child that you have learned to love as an adult? Which ones?

Not on purpose. There are some I wasn't allowed to read as a child that I've since come to like, but that's a separate topic.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Mattress Testing and Other Adventures

We spent the two days after Thanksgiving making a pilgrimage to Nashville for a family gathering. That’s ten hours total in the car, which is a lot easier to do with two small children if you only take one of them. We actually took both, but D1 rode in the other car, with Grandma and Grandpa, and D2 rode with us along with a couple of extra uncles. This worked out to the satisfaction of all. D1 had fun talking with Grandma, D2 got plenty of sleep, and we got halfway through the BBC dramatization of Lord of the Rings without having to filter out “Pop Goes the Weasel.”

I will skip over the standard family-gatheringish events of the afternoon and evening ("What was your name again?" "Wow, you sure have grown!" "You are so going to lose this game.") and proceed to the moment when I was trying to settle down to sleep. In a negotiation which we turned out to have taken the wrong side of, DOB and I had bartered with his parents that we would sleep on the floor if they would tend to D2 in the night. As it turned out, D2, in spite of a dreadfully snuffly cold, slept like a log.

It didn't take me more than a few minutes on the first air mattress to discern that the air was leaking out at an alarming rate. By spreading my body out completely flat, I could manage to float a few millimeters above the carpeted cement basement floor. However, since I only had one quilt, this was a chilly option. If I curled up, I went straight through to the bottom and got cold that way. Before too long, even spreading out flat made no difference.

So when DOB at last tore away from his late-night revelry of Uno games, he went back upstairs for a different mattress. Two of his brothers had already claimed the queen-sized mattress, so he returned with two mattresses of sub-twin dimensions. This naturally made huddling together, for warmth or other purposes, impossible, as we would then fall through the crack onto the iceberg below. So we waved goodnight, each grabbed one side of the quilt and tried to make the best of it on our separate mattresses.

Soon my mattress followed the first mattress's example. I tried alternating positions, but could find none that would simultaneously conserve body heat and maintain an air cushion. I then suggested to DOB that we see if we could both fit on his mattress. Now, neither of us is particularly rotund, but the mattress had apparently shrunk to about six inches across by this time. No possible contortion could keep us both on the mattress and still breathing, although we were a lot warmer from the exertion.

Finally we gave it up and took the twin mattresses upstairs, bent on conquest. In our state of chill and sleeplessness, the sight of B3 and B5, sleeping soundly on a plump mattress a few feet from a roaring fire, would have incited war in even the most docile heart. We are not very docile. We immediately persuaded them to take the twin mattresses and scooted back downstairs with our plunder.

This mattress held. We could stay close enough together to stay warm. At last we slept. Of course, by this time it was three in the morning and the children awoke only a couple of hours later, but we were by now grateful for our exchange and dozed on while Grandma found them dry clothes and took them upstairs.

On our way back we wanted to stop at Mammoth Cave, and indeed we did stop, but we didn't have time to take a tour. Instead we went to a little trail off at the edge of the park and managed to fulfill D1's expectation of seeing a cave (she's a devoted fan of Henry the Explorer). We didn't go inside the cave--even if it had not been expressly forbidden, the little tale told on placards of the explorer who had been trapped inside to his death would have been sufficiently deterring--but we did have a lovely walk through the woods, as still as winter and as warm as summer. D2, of course, thinks himself now equal, unassisted, to any task of rock-climbing or spelunking, so he was a bit of a handful. They had the most fun picking up leaves on the boardwalk and throwing them over the edge.

Just before we entered Cincinnati, weary, late for supper, and entirely out of clean clothes, we stopped at a rest stop and discovered that D2 had had one of those diapers, which naturally I had to change single-handed (curse those single-sex restrooms!) and then put him in D1's pink jeans, as it was the only garment left that was even remotely clean.

D2 had his promised night of being unable to sleep horizontally that night. They still both have terrible colds, but I am mixing raw garlic in their scrambled eggs and hoping for progress soon. In spite of it all, it was a good trip and it is better to be home.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Further cuteness


D1=Fashion plate

But they're still so cute

We plow the fields and scatter

Preparing for a holiday, of course, means work. There is still the ordinary work of life to do, so that makes for double work. There is the ordinary work that would have been done on the holiday to do, so that makes triple work. With small children on hand, however, the work starts muliplying geometrically or even exponentially, while available resources do not multiply at all.

A mother with much work to do, you see, is a distracted mother. Small children have three ways in which they can respond to a distracted mother. They can use the opportunity to go engage in various forbidden activities while her back is turned (such as the incident with the water bottle, the stacking cups, and the master bed). They can cling to her skirts and describe the years of psychiatric care it will require for them to recover from her emotional neglect. Or they can be bribed into happily playing and working alongside her.

The only trouble is, option three is the messiest and most distracting of them all. Under these circumstances, only the most chaotic of activities will hold their attention for even a moment. So, while I was trying to do my week's baking, D1 was busy helping me by pouring flour all over the cupboards and D2 was kept happy only by a pan of soapy water, of which I'm pretty sure he drank a fair portion, but dish soap is non-toxic, right?

As I let the mixer finish kneading the bread, started mixing muffins while preventing D1 from scooping all the dry ingredients straight into the cups, answered the phone and tried to minimize D2's soap ingestion, it seemed to me that there was something not quite right about the bread. Bread is as much of an art as a science, and it seemed like this bread didn't have quite the right feel to it. Not soft and spongy enough. It stretched and smoothed as it kneaded, but there just wasn't that springiness one would expect.

I had switched to a new bag of wheat, so I double-checked: yes, it was the right wheat for bread. Perhaps I'd simply added too much flour; I added a little water. Still something seemed wrong. Finally I gave up and set it to rise while I finished the muffins, made gingerbread, and started cleaning up, a clean-up which now involved a large pool of mixed water and flour on the floor and a two year old who mistakenly thought that now would be a good time to plead emotional distress and leave without cleaning up.

They are, after all, both tired from colds, though for some reason they haven't thought that sleeping in would help. It's the first thing that would occur to me. Anyway, in an attempt to lighten the mood, I proposed a brief trip outside and even turned the oven off and let the gingerbread cook as best it could. Going outside posed a new challenge, as D2 now believes that since he can walk unassisted, all points of the compass should be open to him.

Finally we came back in for lunch. I went to check the bread. It hadn't risen at all. I felt it again. I was suspicious. I smelled it. I was sure. I had left out the yeast.

We really need bread. (We try not to buy bread because DOB is allergic to soy, and the only bread without soy is that peasant bread that only nobles of richer kingdoms than ours can afford. The modern American diet has avenged Marie Antoinette.) I considered the possibility of declaring this week's festivities the Feast of Unleavened Bread. I did not consider throwing it out and starting over. Finally I did my usual half-baked Scheme for Remedying Matters and dumped the dry yeast in and kneaded it a little more. In retrospect, it probably would have been a better idea to dissolve the yeast first. Anyway, all the right stuff is there, so perhaps if it sits there long enough it will work.

I haven't even started on my Thanksgiving Dinner contribution yet. I think I'll put it in the crockpot overnight and hope for the best. This afternoon, we're going to the park.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A few steps forward

Thanks to a tutorial at Mommylife, D1 can now put on her jacket with little to no help. After the first few demonstrations, the amount of help required is, as usual, inversely proportional to her eagerness to accomplish the goal. But, since she's almost always eager to go outside, she usually has ample motivation to do it All By Herself. This is an exciting moment for her, and for me. Only two jackets to take on and off every time we go in and out!

Last night DOB decided that D2, who has been taking very short walking trips unassisted and very long ones with the minimum of assistance (such as the hem of my skirt or D1's eager but unsteady hand), was ready for a little coaching. So we sat on opposite sides of our narrow living room and coaxed him into walking back and forth, about ten steps. Half the time he stumbled midway, but he was crowing with delight whatever the outcome. This morning we did something similar a few more times.

Then suddenly this afternoon, it clicked. He let go of the front door and staggered over to the top of the stairs, with no one coaxing him on and nothing to catch him. (Fortunately he didn't go headfirst down the steps, as he tends to do.) And now, he walks. Set him down and off he goes, pivoting from side to side still, but on his own two feet.

The fascinating thing about teaching, or raising children, is finding just that moment when a little--a very little--bit of encouragement or a pointer in a particular way opens up a new world. Too soon, and it wouldn't have effect. Too late, and we'd miss out on being a part of it--and with skills less basic than walking, they might miss out on it altogether. Too much, and it would grow tedious. But just right, well, that's what makes this job all worthwhile.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

This is not a happily-ever-after book. It is not a book where love conquers all. It is a book where people make choices, some of them dreadful, and deal with the consequences, not always graciously.

I usually find such books depressing. But this book is not depressing, because through all the sin and sadness there is always the light of God's grace and goodness that reaches us even as we are busy messing things up again. And though all human loves are touched with sin and selfishness, yet through them we catch a glimpse of that divine love.

The book, which I got as one massive tome, is really a trilogy that follows the life of a woman in medieval Norway from birth through death. The medieval setting is vividly real, not a fantasy land but a place where one can imagine human beings enjoying living. The title character is in no danger of achieving sainthood, yet she never loses sight of God entirely, either.

"It seemed to her a mystery that she could not fathom, but which she knew most surely none the less, that God had held her fast in a covenant made for her without her knowledge by a love poured out upon her richly--and in despite of her self-will, in despite of her heavy, earthbound spirit, somewhat of this love had become part of her, had wrought in her like sunlight in the earth, had brought forth increase which not even the hottest flames of fleshly love nor its wildest bursts of wrath could lay waste wholly. A handmaiden of God had she been--a wayward, unruly servant, oftenest an eye-servant in her prayers and faithless in her heart, slothful and neglectful, impatient under correction, but little constant in her deeds--yet had he held her fast in his service, and under the glittering golden ring a mark had been set secretly upon her, showing that she was His handmaid, owned by the Lord and King who was now coming, borne by the priest's anointed hands, to give her freedom and salvation--"

The other characters--her devout father, her dashing but weak-willed husband, her steadfast brother-in-law, her rowdy bunch of sons--are all well-drawn, full, real people. And there is plenty of action--indeed, my only regret over the book is I was often in too great of a haste to find out what happened to stop and savor and understand it. I shall have to read it again sometime. Probably many times.

Many thanks to Semicolon for recommending it.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Lord, Help Our Crazy Mother

D2 doesn't sleep particularly soundly at the best of times, and this week apparently is not the best of times. He scheduled a dirty diaper for right as I was going to sleep Tuesday evening, and that just got him warmed up for the rest of the night.

So yesterday I was feeling sorely sleep-deprived. It's probably more psychological than physical, the fear of facing the day on little sleep is worse than simply facing the day would be if I had no idea how much I'd slept. But since I cannot erase the memory of how little I slept the night before, there I was, struggling through the day.

At last I collapsed in exhaustion on the children's floor, whimpering slightly. I was next to D1's mattress, which we never get around to putting in a frame because they're having so much fun with it on the floor. D2 came and stood next to me and practiced standing up and sitting down. Then D1 came and sat next to him, and she folded her hands and said, "Let's pray!" So D2 folded his hands, too, and they both muttered some suitable words which I couldn't quite make out.

I'm not sure what they prayed for, but it wasn't that they would sleep better, because last night not only was D2 up just as much (if he had to wake up for something last night, surely he needs to wake up for it at the same time tonight), but D1, who usually sleeps like a log, kept waking up and wanting to go potty, something she never cares about in the night. (And also with little evidence of proper timing.)

Maybe they just prayed I'd have more strength to endure, because I do feel a little better about things this morning.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Making a List

It is the time of year to make a Christmas plan. So I did yesterday, although I used my pretty green weekly calendar book instead of the Sacred Yellow Notepad. (My mother always used a yellow notepad.)

The final plan astonished me with its blankness. We're not doing a Christmas play this year. Not organizing a Christmas party for any group (well, DOB is at work, but that involves me little). No plane tickets (alas) to visit elsewhere, requiring all other activities to be scooched up. So far in our married lives, we've had the Christmas of the Morning Sickness. (Actually I was feeling much better at that point. I only threw up every other day.) Then there was the Christmas of the Sick Baby, when D1 awoke us at 3 a.m. Christmas morning vomiting across the playpen. (That was also the year we drove for hours in a blizzard to make it to the airport.) It was followed last year by the Christmas We Moved, which did have the advantage of the house being clean, but had the disadvantage of being immediately after starting potty training, an activity on which excitement of any sort has a very bad effect.

Of course, we're not guaranteed health or the avoidance of bad weather, but still, what's left seems quite manageable. The ducklings as yet have no Christmas expectations, so they are easy to satisfy. My sister, known online, for good reason, as Wondergirl, is coming out, which means days of dreaming up Grand New Ideas, and with her around, actually getting them done. And maybe, just maybe, this Christmas we can finish potty training. At least, that's my Christmas wish.

Friday, November 10, 2006

A Great Yawn

That strange gurgling noise you hear is the Duchy's collective yawn of indifference over the election and its aftermath.

This is not a normal state of things. We have both been running ourselves ragged on the campaign circuit since long before we had drivers' licenses. In fact, I did my practice driving going door-to-door. Even the year my mother died of cancer the day before the election, I spent October evenings at the phone bank. (This was as she wished it. She personally made sure to send in her absentee ballot in plenty of time, just in case.)

After our marriage, although our efforts in total quantity diminished, proportional to time available they continued unabated. I made phone calls when laid low with morning sickness and staffed party headquarters while rocking a baby with one foot. Last year, admittedly, we didn't do much, but then we lived in a one-party county and there wasn't anything to do come November.

This year, there might have been something to do, had we cared. But we could not bring ourselves to vote for any of the national candidates, not even with the House and Senate at stake. We rather hoped the Republicans would lose them, as they do a better job when they've been out of power for awhile.

We did vote, of course. Just because a duty is unpleasant doesn't make it any less a duty. Unpleasant it was, because by the time we made it to the polls the wait was an hour. A good part of the problem must have been the ballots, which have gone from punch card to fill-in-the-blank, and a very large blank it is, too. I haven't scribbled so much since the bar exam. No wonder people took so long.

So it is over. Now we can watch the Democrats to see if they can figure out anything to do for the next two years. It should be entertaining, but it's unlikely to cause much harm. Checks and balances are a beautiful thing.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Jiggity Jog

For a November trip, we had astonishingly balmy weather, and although the Prime Leaf-Viewing time was past in the hills of Kentucky and the mountains of West Virginia, there were still plenty of leaves to view, and plenty more to walk through.

Our departure was somewhat delayed by the usual combination of things taking longer than planned and the occasional non-functioning ATM machine. By some, shall we say, enthusiastic driving on DOB's part, and by giving the ducklings most of their lunch in the car (fortunately it was rolls and cheese and cucumbers, and nothing with mustard) we still managed to make it to the Blenko Glass Factory while they were blowing glass.

It was worth the extra drive. The true measure of a successful excursion for small children is whether they are more interested in the object of the expedition than they are in climbing the stairs and flushing the toilets. The ducklings were. They were engrossed in watching the molten blobs of glass be blown, molded, cut and smoothed. We finally had to drag them away because it was closing time and we were getting tired of holding them on the railing without letting them fall in. Taking them through the gift shop, however, was a nerve-racking experience.

We spent the weekend with friends who had a large family of older children (who delighted the ducklings immensely) and a large and friendly dog (who was not quite so well received). We did nothing in particular, and did it very well. We played at the park and had hot dogs and ice cream and I introduced DOB to The Absent-Minded Professor (the old one). On Sunday, we attended a Russian Orthodox service--or at least part of it, because we thought we were lost when we weren't and wound up arriving rather late.

On our way home yesterday, we stopped at the Hopewell Culture National Historic Park. It seemed like it was a quiet little place and we only stopped to eat lunch and poke around a bit, but we wound up spending three hours there. We're fascinated by ancient civilizations, and this one operated in our own back yard. I doubt the ducklings had the faintest idea what it was all about, but we had a hard time persuading them not to climb the mounds.

There are pictures somewhere, and if I ever get through with the mountain of laundry and luggage remaining, I might post some.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Why the Ducklings Get Hungry and Bored

We really don't set out to be weird. We do things the way we like to do them and are happy to let everyone else do things the way they like. Every once in awhile, though, we bump up against more normal people and realize we are aliens.

This weekend I realized that normal people keep their kids well supplied with snacks and drinks. I never remember this. If I'm heading out on a very long expedition, or if DOB is along, I will remember to supply them with water. We have a snack at the kitchen table in the mid-afternoon, to help us survive until supper time. Other than that, I prefer not to think about or mess with food and dishes more than the, oh, five hours a day I must anyway.

As far as I can tell, this regime does not bother the ducklings. But many small children seem to need a constant supply of goldfish crackers and juice to survive. I wonder when they ever have a chance to make the delightful transition from being genuinely hungry to being comfortably full. Of more concern, I wonder how they can learn to distinguish between being hungry and being bored.

Then again, being bored is also a pleasure many small children seem to be denied these days, as they have something to watch at all hours of the day, and in every room or car they might enter. Now, I'm hugely fond--probably too fond--of video-based entertainment forms. But anything that runs all day every day is hardly going to be much fun any more. I would hate for the ducklings, when their brains are old enough to handle videos, to have the fun drained out of movies by never having the chance to anticipate watching them.

So, I'm a mean mommy. At five-fifteen in the afternoon, I am often an overrun-with-hungry-and-bored children mommy. But I stick to my guns, because I like space and time and rhythm in my day: a time to be hungry and a time to be full, a time to work and a time to play, a time to think and a time to be entertained.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Daniel Boone I Am Not

We are planning a little weekend getaway to visit some friends in West Virginia, with a scenic drive along the Kentucky side of the Ohio River. I'm supposed to find a park to stop at for lunch.

I am totally clueless. I keep finding suitable parks and then discovering they would take us in the opposite direction. The humps of the different states don't seem to fit together quite the way I thought they would. Then when I do find a park in the right spot, it looks boring.

The West Coast is so nice. All those lovely big states that fit together at right angles.