Friday, December 28, 2007


We went to the doctor for the first time this week. (I know, I know. Should have been two months ago. But I always procrastinate.) It is nice to hear the heartbeat and be reassured that it is, in fact, a baby, and not a two-month case of food poisoning.

As for how things are going, I suppose they are going better. It's all in what you compare it to. Last week I couldn't move or keep anything down, and this week I can keep most food down if I don't move and breathe deeply and think Beautiful Thoughts and no one asks me about the grocery list. It's good practice for labor. Wondergirl is doing everything, for which we are so deeply indebted we shall never be able to pay her back.

We had a very nice Christmas. D2 got a lot of cars, so he was happy. D1 got to wear her black and red dress and open lots of packages, so she was happy. DOB finished the presents he was writing (a complete history of Burgundy), so he was happy. Wondergirl got everything done as planned and took many pictures of small children, so she was happy. I didn't throw up anywhere embarrassing, so I was happy.

Weird pregnancy dreams continue. Last night's involved porcupines that turned into stray children and a trip to play golf in Florida with the president and my late grandmother.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

"Any agnostic or atheist whose childhood has known a real Christmas has ever afterwards, whether he likes it or not, an association in his mind between two ideas that most of mankind must regard as remote from each other; the idea of a baby and the idea of unknown strength that sustains the stars. His instincts and imagination can still connect them, when his reason can no longer see the need of the connection; for him there will always be some savor of religion about the mere picture of a mother and a baby; some hint of mercy and softening about the mere mention of the dreadful name of God."
~G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Deficiencies in the Christmas Story

We have been enjoying reading The Christmas Story with illustrations from the Metropolitan Museum of Art for our family devotions. Alas, it does not seem to be readily available. Too bad it is not one of the library books we have lost.

Anyway, D2 was quite entranced with the picture on last night's page, studying it in great detail, especially the hillside behind Bethlehem.

"Where is the car?" he kept asking, "I have to find the car."

"There aren't any cars," DOB kept explaining.

"Why don't they have any cars?"

Clearly the Christmas story could do with a few more motorized vehicles.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Duckling Quotes

D1 (while coloring): Are you watching us?
QOC: Yes, it's my job to make sure you grow up into decent and responsible human beings.
D1: I'm not a bean, I'm a person.

D2 (swathed in blankets): D1 is Mary and I am Joseph.
QOC: And where is the baby?
D2 (triumphantly): In your tummy!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Some Important Information

  • The twelve days of Christmas did not start yesterday. They start on Christmas. We're still in Advent, folks. Don't jump the gun, or the party will be over too soon.
  • There is no "e" in Santa Claus. A clause is a sentence fragment, and will not bring you presents no matter how good you have been. (However, if you treat your sentence fragments properly, the Grammar Commando, in the spirit of holiday cheer, will refrain from slaying you with a red marker.)

Monday, December 10, 2007


"It is things going right," [Syme] cried, "that is poetical! Our digestions, for instance, going sacredly and silently right, that is the foundation of all poetry. Yes, the most poetical thing, more poetical than the flowers, more poetical than the stars--the most poetical thing in the world is not being sick." --G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday

I must agree with Syme here, and therefore admit that there is not much poetical--or bloggable--around here right now. I am too brain-dead even to read books worthy of comment. (I started The Canterbury Tales, and found it much easier going than I expected, but it got lost somewhere on the Table of Doom, or perhaps below on the Floor of No Return.) I am counting down the days, with the dreary knowledge that there is no guarantee of feeling better at twelve weeks, or thirteen weeks, or fourteen weeks.

The good thing is, this always makes the newborn phase seem like a piece of cake by contrast. I'd rather be up with someone else's empty tummy than my own.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Drastic Simplification

Christmas is going to have to be very simple this year. This will not be the year of clever handmade gifts, or complex cookie trays, or elaborate parties. In fact, we won't even be attending any parties. The only company we will be having for awhile is the kind that will clean the house when they arrive, fix and serve the food, and then clean it all up. (We do know some amazing people like that.)

What we do have, though, is quite enough:

The Tree: I have to have a tree. A real tree. Having grown up in the rural Northwest, I find it as much a piece of home as a piece of Christmas.

Even our first Christmas, when I was sicker than this and we lived an apartment so overcrowded with furniture for a house that you need never touch the floor, we chopped the bottom three feet off the tree and put it on the coffee table. (This turned out to be cheaper than buying one sized for the task.)

This year the tree is standing (thanks to that helpful company) full-sized on the floor. It smells wonderful and not at all like food. We left off a lot of the ornaments, but it still looks lovely.

Music: Even I can handle popping a CD in and pushing play once or twice a day. We can also sing Christmas songs.

Advent calendar: We have the felt one from my childhood, with an animal or person from the nativity to turn over each day. The ducklings also have a set of nativity blocks made by my siblings. They like to rock the sheep and Baby Jesus. So far no one has turned up the nativity set proper, but maybe someone will before the month is out.

Presents: This is not a great year for presents on the time or money angle, but there are enough things picked up here and there that I'm sure the ducklings will have a great time on Christmas morning. (Although wrapping is still in doubt.) Everybody else will have to content themselves with pictures.

Christmas Cards: I'm still hoping to get these out before the new year. I just lack the address labels now.

Some things we won't have that I will really miss:

Christmas play: We've had to give it up. I would be lucky to even attend it, much less rehearse or perform. And DOB is simply having to spend too much time on his feet. Maybe next year; and then D3 can star as baby John the Baptist.

Advent devotional box: This is entirely my fault. If I had just put it all back together properly when I put it away last winter, it would be ready to use. But it's not, and it's not going to be. I'm going to try to do something simpler and shorter with a lovely book we got from the library that has the Christmas text mingled with gorgeous Renaissance art prints.

Gifts from the kids: I really love having the kids make Christmas gifts for people. Alas, there are very few crafts that can be done successfully by a 2- and 3-year-old without any preparation, supervision, or clean-up.

If I felt well enough to miss Christmas cookies, I would feel well enough to make them. If I felt well enough to miss parties, I would feel well enough to attend them.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Another Odd Symptom

Now this one I've never heard anyone talk about, but it has applied consistently to me. When I'm pregnant I frequently have violent dreams. I'm always beating someone up, usually one of my brothers. (I have four of them, and they are all much bigger and stronger than me and and definitely not people I would even THINK of fighting.)

Last night it was my oldest brother, sporting a full head of hair (which he hasn't had in twenty years, I'm sure). I was trying to roll out cookie dough on the floor of the front porch (despite it being covered in dog hair--eww), and he kept stepping on it. So I beat him up.

What does it all mean? Maternal protective instincts coming out? Or is it just that I'm getting restless at a life limited to eating and sleeping? I have no idea.

Friday, November 30, 2007

You know you're pregnant when . . .

. . . you find yourself tearing up over an article on urban planning and demographic shifts.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


cash advance

When this test was first going around, I suppressed my results in embarrassment. Then I read one person who had tested a blog of C. S. Lewis' writings and found that it was at the elementary level, and one of Chesterton's was at the high school level. (Chesterton himself said that if you could not say what you meant in words of one syllable, you didn't really know what you meant. Though he did not so restrict himself in his own writings.)

So why be ashamed of being readable? Why hang my head when I have merely realized the goal of endless re-readings of The Elements of Style?

I admit with some embarrassment that the deciding factor for me to post my score was coming across a poorly-written blog proudly sporting a badge that said it was a "genius" reading level. (Indeed, there are a lot of blogs out there that would require more than a genius to decipher. This does not mean that they took a genius to write.)

So, the Duchy. Clear, direct and readable since 2003.

That or maybe my first thought was correct, and I devote too much of my content to quoting the ducklings.

Monday, November 26, 2007


This time, I knew what to do. This time, I was going to be prepared. D2's first trimester had gone better than D1's and this time I wouldn't even be nursing. I had meat and bread and cookies prepared in the freezer. For months in advance I took all the wonder vitamins and herbs that were supposed to forestall nausea. I did all my exercises.

In a worldwide deluge, I suppose having an inflatable life raft and a couple of boxes of crackers would seem helpful for awhile. But we are beginning to feel very much adrift. Apparently the illness experienced during D1's pregnancy was not a fluke caused by unpleasant living circumstances. If anything, I'm rather worse this time; only this time, instead of just having me to drag through the day, I also must supervise two very busy ducklings.

I have tried to remind myself that other women undoubtedly have it worse; that some women throw up for all nine months, or throw up so much that they must go in the hospital and get fluids through IVs. Somehow other people's misery does not diminish mine.

Besides, in the hospital, one would not have to cook food. Or smell food cooking. Or think about food. It's astonishing how much time, on average, I spend thinking about food. One meal is not done before I must think of what must be done for the next one, or two . And I have discovered that the only way for me to keep a meal down is to lie down for several hours afterwards and, with all my might, NOT think about food. (How am I writing this post, you ask? It's before a meal right now, and I find it helps to do what must be done before the meal. I don't feel any better afterward, but the muscles are often tired enough to give me a break.)

Other people are very kind and helpful and come in and do the dishes now and again or watch the ducklings for awhile, but nothing, alas, relieves me of the duty of thinking. DOB has a thorough training in most of the household arts, but he needs orders (and can only stand on his feet for so long). Even ordering out (which I am loath to do--why pay so much for something unlikely to be digested?) requires a decision.

The ducklings are doing their best to manage the house on their own. Yesterday D1 had complete Sunday outfits for both of them laid out before I arose; D2 was trying to put his Sunday pants on, upside down over his pajamas. The house has reached a sort of level of chaos where everything that can be dragged out has been dragged out, so at least it's not getting much worse.

Fortunately the ducklings seldom lack for ideas to amuse themselves; most of these involve piling all bedding, toys and clothes available onto the couch, though the name of the game may be "airplane," "hospital," or "fire engine." Then they jump on top, sometimes singing D1's Toddler Power Song: "We are toddlers, and we can jump on the couch!"

All that happy little advice for morning sickness--"crackers!" "frequent snacking!" "lemon water!" is starting to read like common cold treatments when you have double pneumonia. I try to read to keep my mind off food, but it's astonishing how often the people in books eat. And seem to enjoy it, too. Jerks.

In the interests of counting my blessings, a few notes:
  • I'm in no danger of dehydration or malnutrition. In fact, I'm gaining weight at an alarming rate.
  • We can keep the heat on here. (We couldn't at our apartment when I was pregnant with D1; it poured second-hand smoke.)
  • I never *have* been sick all nine months, and while there may be a first time for everything, I think I can still be reasonably optimistic that by New Year's I may be able to contemplate a meal before I eat it.
  • Wondergirl is coming in three weeks and two days. I hope she can get the door open when she comes.

Friday, November 23, 2007

And Baby Makes Three

And then think how long it will take to get a decent family picture . . .

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Even though we still have some luxuriously warm days, and the fall colors have lingered late this year, making up for having summer stretch into October, the shorter days have compelled us to give up our most delightful outside activity. We had thought of many ways and times to go out with the kids; we had made many resolutions. But some things must wait until they just happen.

And what happened, and happened, and happened again was that we could pack up a supper on our chiropractor night and stop by a park on the way home. Somehow if we were already out (and the chiropractor is a sacred appointment with us), stopping somewhere else was not such a burden as the thought of packing everything up when we were already comfortably at home. We tried city parks and county parks, parks with bridges, parks with forest trails and parks with teeter-totters big enough for the whole family.

When it was too hot to eat out (I tried it once at ninety-five and was ill the rest of the week) we went to United Dairy Farmers (which D1 persists in calling Nine-Ten Dairy Farmers), ate our packed supper at their tables and then split a double-scoop ice cream cone to thank them for their trouble. When it was too hot or too dark, we went to the library and played at the train table. By fall, D2's legs had grown long enough that he could handle most of a mile hike, though he persists in the fear-of-slides stage.

I was full of good resolutions this spring to keep the ducklings outside for at least three hours every day. I have fallen far short of that except on the rare occasions when a very beautiful day has coincided with me feeling unusually good. But we have had a lot of fun outside this year. Our own backyard is getting more entertaining--it has some lovely dirt piles now, and a little hole that holds a pond after rain, and increasing areas of it are being converted into vegetable garden. Although I am not fond of the concrete pad left from a torn-down garage, it does make a handy place for riding bikes and cooking imaginary meals.

I never have figured out what to do about the mosquitoes, though. They continued unabated until frost, even though there was a drought and no standing water anywhere where they could be breeding.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

D1 ponders the animal world

Last week I was recounting to D1 her prenatal adventures, and I explained to her that she lived inside me in water.

"Yes!" she said, "And I played with the ducks and the geese!"

I don't remember those. Maybe that explains the nausea.

Over the weekend we visited a history museum depicting life in early West Virginia settlements. D1 duly inspected the sheep's wool piled up for spinning and weaving. In the next building someone had left out a pile of bright pink installation.

"Look!" she cried, "It's pig's wool!"

Civics Quiz

You really should try out this civics quiz by ISI; we were quite impressed with the caliber of the questions. They ask things that are actually worth knowing. I got an embarrassingly high score, but then, it's my subject. Then if you like stressing over the degeneracy of society, you can read about how college students fare on the test. I hope my former class would have done better than average, but I am always plagued with doubt. I certainly tried.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Eight Random Things

I don't think I've actually done this one, even though *everybody* has. But now Amy has tagged me. So. Eight random things about me, plus eight people to tag (if I can come up with that many who have not just been tagged.)

1. One of my lifelong dreams is to live in a remote, quiet seaside cottage on a northern coast, taking long walks, wearing tweedy woolen sweaters, and writing Profound Things. Since I now live in a noisy house in a midwestern city, only wear cotton sweaters (and those seldom), and my writing perpetually declines in profundity, this dream seems rather hopeless right now. (I still take long walks whenever I get the chance.) But I refuse to give up hope.

2. I hate shopping. I hate spending money; I hate making decisions; I hate finding things in a big crowd of Other Things; I hate finding new places to put things. I really, really hate shopping. Even online. Every once in awhile I find a fabulous deal on something I desperately need (I usually have desperately needed things for a long time before I even go looking), and then I feel moderately tolerant of it, but I can still think of a thousand ways I'd rather spend the day. The only thing fun about shopping is mocking the things available for sale, and other people seem to frown on doing this publicly.

3. So far I've shown no sign of having wisdom teeth.

4. DOB and I are trying to further our cultural literacy by watching Star Wars for the first time, but we're finding it painful. The plot is so predictable! The dialogue sounds like it was written as a group activity by the freshman composition class! The acting is terrible! The science so irrational! The philosophy so absurd! Harrison Ford is the only thing that makes it remotely bearable. That and . . . it's fun to mock.

5. I've had two multi-year bouts of chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia type illness, but nothing in recent years. Just normal having babies and toddlers and never getting enough sleep fatigue, which doesn't count.

6. I attended "regular" school for one day in fourth grade and, though I had no particular interest in attending school before then, that certainly was enough to commit me to homeschooling for life. Sitting around waiting for some arbitrary declaration that it was time to move on, long after I had finished filling in all the right blanks, did not impress me as a good way to spend my life.

7. I love cooking if I don't have to stick to the recipe, teaching if I don't have to stick to the curriculum, and writing if I won't be graded on it.

8. I've only worn nail polish once in my life, and it was silver glitter.

And now I tag Carrie, Rose, Wendy, Melissa, Devona, Birdy, and um . . . I'm running out of untagged names here, but if you haven't done it (or you have eight MORE random things), feel free to join in.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

D1 does the math

QOC (to D2): How many mommies do you have?
D1: I have five mommies!
QOC: Oh good, then one can fix lunch and one can go get you guys changed, and this mommy can go take a nap. . . .
D1: That's only three.

Don't worry, D1, I'm sure I can come up with enough work for any number of mommies to do.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Because the Memory Card was Full

The ducklings and their two best friends. I don't know what they are playing. But it was fun.

One bad hombre and his sidekicks.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Bright Moments in Capitalism

It is time for the toy catalogs to appear, which means it is time for me to mock the ideas toy manufacturers come up with in an effort to keep people coming back for more.

Actually we get a few toy catalogs which contain a fair number of toys that even I could see some sense in, given an unlimited budget and space. (Feeling at my capacity for Seeing Toys Get Picked Up, though, I'm not that wistful over them.) There is still always something to mock.

In one catalog, for $9.99, you could purchase for some eager young crafter, ages 3 and up, a paper chain kit. That's right, in case you couldn't guess, it contains paper strips and a glue stick. You don't even get to cut out the paper chains yourself, so no scissors are included. That would probably make it too dangerous. Although there is still the peril of paper cuts--perhaps the edges of the paper are sanded?

It does remind me that D1 is starting to be interested in scissors, and would probably enjoy making a paper chain some rainy day. I already picked up some glue sticks, for fifty cents or so at the back-to-school sales. Now all we need is some colorful paper. I think I have just the thing.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

Lately D1 has been quite intrigued by the intersection of physics and eschatology, or more precisely, by the idea that everything on earth will fall apart but we will go to heaven where everything will last forever. I forget why I brought it up, but I told her that our house would fall apart someday but Jesus was getting one ready for us in heaven.

D1: "What about our car?"
QOC: "It will fall apart, too."
D1: "But we need our car to get to heaven!"
QOC: "Jesus will come and get us."
D1: "Oh, does Jesus have his own car?"

Sometime later that day I heard her trying to convey this idea to D2, who was not interested. She finally called out to me in frustration, "Mama! D2 doesn't want to fall apart or go to heaven." Perhaps, like the child in the old joke, he was concerned that she was getting up a load for tonight.

Today while getting changed she commented, "Pretty soon we will have no house and no clothes."
QOC: "Why not?"
D1: "Because when our house falls apart it will smash our clothes."

I tried to assure her that nothing was going to fall apart any time soon, not that she seemed at all distressed at the prospect. Meanwhile D2 would rather put a blanket over his head and be a monster, until he runs into the furniture. Perhaps the thought of being eternally secure against a bonked head would render him more interested in his future state.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Revenge of the Clothes Boxes

My last post was the thousandth. I should have thrown a party. Or given something away. Anybody want an 18" suncatcher of a bowl of fruit in primary colors?

We had a fabulous weekend of hiking, canoeing, and generally enjoying the absolute pinnacle of beautiful fall weather and colors.

Now it is raining, and raining, and raining. Which means I must face my promises to take the ducklings up to the attic and--shudder--organize the clothing boxes. Somewhere I read advice to the effect that you should just consider the thrift store your attic and donate all your children's outgrown clothes there, and then go buy others when you needed them. Whoever said that could not have had (or planned to have) very many children. That, or they must have loved shopping.

I hate shopping. Even worse than I hate organizing. It takes a lot of time and hassle to assemble a decent-looking wardrobe from hand-me-downs and my very, very occasional forays into second-hand shopping. I certainly don't want to throw it all out as long as there's a possibility I might need it again someday. Truly, if I had tons of money I would just mail-order them a few basic pieces that could all coordinate with each other, and donate them when they outgrew them.

Since I don't have tons of money, I keep piecing things together. This is a messy process. Especially when the boxes have been moved a few times, and winter clothes were shoved in random spots by one fleeing from the summer attic heat, and seasons never change all at once, and children never outgrow an entire set of clothes simultaneously, and the ducklings' very favorite game to play is packing for a trip, and one very foolishly asked certain younger relatives to move the boxes without making it clear that THROWING them was not the proper method.

I sort through the debris and wonder why clothing manufacturers cannot get their act together on children's clothes sizes. Just when I've figured out that 18 months is the same size as 12-18 months, NOT as 18-24 months, and when I've figured out how many pounds that is, some other manufacturer decides to throw an "extra-small" at me. Every once in awhile a European garment shows up to completely throw me for a loop. I can excuse the Europeans, but not the Americans. There is no excuse here like there is for adult clothes, where they must all compete to make us feel as skinny as possible. Toddlers Do. Not. Care. what number is on their clothes. Just set some industry standards!

Furthermore, long experience has taught me that dresses should be put in a size down from what they say, or they're likely to be too short when they come out; and on my kids, at least, pants probably belong in a box up. So um, this is a 2T dress, which means it goes with the 18-24 month clothes, but this 24 month dress needs to go in the 12-18 month clothes while the 24 month pants need to go in the 2T box . . . and meanwhile somebody has fallen down and gotten stuck in an empty box and somebody else is wanting to help by moving things from one box to another, just like Mama!

I got the main sorting done this morning, and if it can just stay sorted until I can get back to it, I'll go through and weed through the clothes until I can easily close the box (paper boxes DOB brings home from work), one box per size and gender. (It seems to me only fair to allow a summer and winter box once they get old enough not to grow into a new size every season, though, so I'll probably keep two boxes of D1's most recent size.) This is when I can get rid of anything with yucky-feeling fabric, or anything that long experience has taught me is too much trouble to put on. Sometimes I look back at things I picked up before D1 was born and wonder what I was thinking. I got a little too desperate when the first few yard sales I hit didn't have much good. I should have just been patient.

So here's my hard-earned thoughts on children's clothes. These are all buying recommendations; I will temporarily take hand-me-downs that don't quite meet up if I don't have enough clothes to rotate in a particular size.
  1. Only get 100% cotton. Anything with polyester will feel yucky really, really fast, if it doesn't already. And 100% cotton is not hard to find anymore. (As to whether you want to pick up wool things, I leave that to your dry cleaning bill.)
  2. Choose a color scheme for a child. D1 pretty much gets pink and purples, D2 pretty much gets orange, red, or sometimes green. (These are colors they like and look good in, for the record. I hate pink.) They both get denim, which goes with everything, right? The more I do this, the fewer odd garments they have that never seem to go with anything and clash horribly with their coats and shoes.
  3. If you're buying an isolated garment, as opposed to a set, make sure it either is neutral (jeans, khakis, simple solid or striped tops) or will go with a readily-available neutral. You are never, ever, ever going to find clever matches in second-hand clothes if they don't come together. For little girls, denim pants or jumpers with a little mixed-color trim can usually be matched to something, so I count them as neutral.
  4. Don't get things you don't like. Children may have clothing preferences when they are old enough to earn their own money and drive to the store. OK, maybe a little before then. But while you can give them choices, you're the one who has to look at it and pay for it. Personally, I shudder at TV characters on clothes, so those always go straight out.
  5. From birth to four months, look for how easy it is for you to put them on. Snapping all the way down the front usually works best for me. Slipping a newborn head through any neck hole is a challenge. Fussing with elaborate fastening procedures on someone who spits up at every feeding is just not worth it.
  6. From four to eighteen months (more precisely, from rolling over to walking very well), look for mobility. Long, loose garments are going to tangle them up and slow them down. Shirts that snap underneath are perfect, since their tummy stays covered and their legs are free. I try to avoid long dresses for girls at this age, except for Sunday morning. All-in-one outfits should be cut pretty tight or have elastic around the waist, or they'll get tangled in them.
  7. From eighteen months on, avoid those snaps underneath, and anything in the overall or coverall line. Not only will you be ready for potty training whenever it occurs, but I've always found it much easier to dress a wiggly toddler standing up than have them lie down long enough for all those snaps.
  8. All clothes for two year olds and up should be purchased with an eye to how easy it will be for the child to learn to get them on and off by himself. I try to stick to wide-neck knit tops and elastic-waist pants, plus over-the-top dresses and jumpers for girls. It is a happy, happy day when your child can dress herself. Don't delay it by stuck zippers and tiny buttons.
  9. Make sure you hold onto a few less-than-perfect things sturdy enough for playing in the mud.
  10. Don't count on sizes--hold the clothes up to each other and make sure they are close. Some manufacturers consistently run large or small. (Unfortunately, I can never remember which.)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Gnus and Other Creatures

Last night I was getting the ducklings' jammies on them. (Actually D1 can now do this almost entirely without assistance, an event whose import of joy on both sides you could only understand if you knew my skills at child-dressing. When I first visited my family after D1's birth, with six months of mommyhood under my belt, my siblings all came down and lined up on the couch while I was changing the baby, not because they wanted to see me or the baby, but because they wanted to be there for the show. They were not disappointed.)

For some reason something reminded me of a snatch of song from an old British comedy duo and I started singing:

"I'm a g-nu, I'm a g-nu,
You really ought to k-now w-ho's w-ho."

Unfortunately that was all I could remember. And according to DOB, I was butchering the melody even on that part. But the ducklings were delighted and insisted on hearing it over and over.

Now, singing the same two lines of the song repeatedly, and getting even those wrong, gets frustrating after awhile. So when everyone was installed in their jammies, I went to Google and hunted up the lyrics. That was all well and good, but my attempt to sing them required me to make up half of the tune, and believe me, I'm no composer. D2 was satisfied, but I was not.

Then I went back to the Google results and great was our joy to realize we could watch the entire thing on YouTube. The ducklings were satisfied, except of course they wanted to watch it a great many more times than was reasonable, what with it being bedtime and all. How did we survive before Google and YouTube?

The gnu featured in a lengthy discussion D1 and I had today on mammals, or rather, Which Animals Drink Milk from their Mamas. Pretty much any topic we approach comes from the food angle. Earlier this morning we counted buttons into bowls and they became soup. On Tuesday we made an apple pie and saw the world. I should just make alphabet soup to round out the course offerings.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Random Thought

Not to slight anyone's denomination, but it struck us while driving past the Deerfield United Methodist Church that if you're a United Methodist, it must be pretty tough to come up with a church name that doesn't have lousy initials. Clearly more thought should have gone into naming the denomination.

Think of the possibilities:

Southern Cincinnati United Methodist
Greater Louisville United Methodist
Boston United Methodist

Monday, October 15, 2007

How Cool

I've been meandering my way to the Norman Conquest, even reading a novel (OK, a YA novel) on the Bayeux Tapestry, and behold, yesterday was the 941st anniversary of the Battle of Hastings.

This is too much fun. I can't wait until the kids are old enough to do all this with me. Of course, the things that interest them already amaze me--we got a globe at the thrift store on Saturday, and it has further fed their obsession with all things geographic. They love finding where they live, and then hunting up random spots and asking who lives there. (In Chad? Umm . . . maybe lions and giraffes?) D2 was initially upset with the idea that he lived on a giant ball, but he seems to have gotten used to it.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Few Things

Fall did come, at last; in fact, the high temperature dropped over thirty degrees in two days. We went straight from mosquito bites to chapped lips. But I am by no means complaining.

Their Majesties came by briefly on Wednesday, perhaps bringing the cooler weather with them from Washington. They were en route to see my youngest brother graduate from boot camp. (He used to be called Rocketboy online, but since he's going into helicopter maintenance and flight, perhaps he needs a new name. Copterboy?)

Wednesday morning I naturally still had considerable house cleaning and cooking to do, but I awoke that morning with an idea for the church Christmas pageant--something that has perplexed me for weeks--and not just an idea, but the entire pageant, every scene, nearly every word, raging through my mind. Naturally that had to take priority over a few gray splotches on the kitchen floor, although in due time nearly everything was done.

(I finished the pageant today, and it's at the stage where, as Pooh said, a thing that was very thingish in your mind turns out to be not so much when it's out where people can look at it. But I shall have DOB look at it and see if it is still thingish enough for him to produce.)

With the cooler weather on Thursday I had to make good on my resolutions to spend more time outside, so I grabbed whatever was in the fridge (one stale hunk of bread, four cheese sticks, and a partial bag of baby carrots) and we went to the park all morning. We got home quite tired, and after brief stories I put them down for their naps and headed downstairs to switch the laundry.

Something smelled funny. DOB's sister (who I think will have the name Cicero on here--pronounce it with the traditional soft C and you will see why it's a natural nickname for the only girl among six boys) was in the attic studying, and I called her down to get her opinion, since I still feel very inexperienced in matters of poisonous vapors getting pumped into the house. She also thought it smelled suspiciously like gas. So we called DOB and he, never one to pooh-pooh dangers, ordered us all out of the house. Immediately.

I woke up D1 and got up D2, and tried to explain to their mystified faces why we were putting on jackets and heading back outside instead of taking naps. I did have them grab their blankets, with vague ideas of setting up camp outside if necessary. That proved to not be necessary, as I saw the neighbor and she kindly let us stay in her living room. D1 was very sleepy but pleased with the idea of a progressive nap, while D2 was wide awake and terrified at the strange house. No sooner had we gotten them settled than D2 fell sound asleep, while D1 wiggled on the couch for the entire time.

I left Cicero with the kids and waited for the gas man. He went in and said he didn't smell anything. However, the machine finally revealed a tiny leak around the water heater, which he resolved by tightening a screw. He still remained skeptical that whatever I had smelled could have possibly had anything to do with that, but I say I just have a more sensitive nose. (And our first landlord said he couldn't smell any smoke in our apartment. Mm-hmm.)

So that was an exciting yesterday. Today I smashed my toe on the closet door frame. I'm not even sure why I was in the closet; it's not a walk-in. And not a walk-out, apparently. The toe is purple and swollen and we spent our outside time in the back yard, which the mosquitoes have happily abandoned.

But, the air is cool. The ducklings are looking very adorable in their slightly-too-big and not-yet-stained winter wardrobes. And life is good.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

How to Politely Drive Your Mother Crazy

At the lunch table:

D2: How was your day, D1?
D1: No, thank you.
D2: How was your day, D1?
D1: No, thank you.
(Repeat without stopping until lunch is over.)

Monday, October 08, 2007

Misery Loves Company

Things that are Miserable:

1. 90-degree weather in October.
2. Teething toddlers.
3. Reorganizing the personal finance files.

Since I can't do anything about 1 and 2, I might as well throw 3 in and get a lot of misery over with at once. Supposedly it's going to rain and cool off tomorrow. And since I can see two-year molars coming through, perhaps D2 will be done with teething altogether soon, putting an end to the ever-flowing river he's had since five months old, and he won't have to spend next winter dressed like this:

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Fairer Sex Heads Afield

In my quest for things medieval this year, I decided to pursue the stories of Charlemagne's knights, who don't get out as much as King Arthur's anymore. To my surprise, although Charlemagne is a more historical character than Arthur, his knights are just as legendary, and their adventures are, if anything, more fantastic. All that battling the Saracen gives them a more international flair, and their adventures include trips to or visitors from India, Cathay, and the moon (where everyone's lost wits are kept in tidy little vials).

My guide on this quest has been Thomas Bullfinch, who wrote up a lengthy volume with all the mythology he thought it might be useful to anyone to know. Although he's not the most enthralling storyteller in the world, he does passably well, and it's handy to have everything in one volume which (Bullfinch being a good Victorian) can safely be left within the children's reach. I will definitely be watching for my own copy at Half-Price Books.

One surprising thing about Charlemagne's knights is that some of them are girls. The most prominent is a doughty maiden named Bradamante, who falls in love with a Saracen knight named Rogero. She spends a lot of time rescuing him from various enchantments of his foster-father, who is trying to keep him in idle seclusion from the dangers of battle. Rogero's a good fighter, but not much against enchanters.

In due time it is revealed that Rogero was in fact the child of Christian parents who were slain by the prince he is now serving, and he eventually sees his way clear, despite knightly codes, to abandon his past creed and commander and convert to Christianity, join Charlemagne's forces, and, not incidentally, marry Bradamante.

Trouble is, while Bradamante has been riding knight-errant around the countryside, her parents have been more-or-less betrothing her to the son of the Byzantine Emperor. They don't think a landless knight is an adequate substitute. Upon hearing this news, Bradamante proves she really is a girl and goes to her room and cries. Rogero rides off to challenge Prince Leo himself, but when Leo saves his life, Rogero winds up vowing to serve him. Prince Leo, who, though he means well, is a poor fighter, finds in his anonymous new friend the perfect champion to secretly substitute for him when Bradamante vows she won't marry a man who can't beat her in a fair fight. And Rogero is too much the loyal knight to refuse the request.

It's an exciting and complicated tale, and all ends happily, which is a rare ending for Charlemagne's knights. Another girl, named Fleurdelis, is always following the knight Florismart around, but since she's no fighter she always has to beg some other knight (once Bradamante) to rescue him from the trouble he gets in. When he dies, she thinks regretfully that if only she had been there, she might have screamed at the right moment. There's a moral in there somewhere.

The curious thing is that of the few girls who are knights (Rogero's sister is another), nobody seems to make a big deal about it. Clearly it's not common, but neither is it treated as shocking or improper by anyone. Of course, none of the bad guys are too thrilled when they find out they've been beaten by a girl.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Yet again

Anne Shirley once reassured Marilla that although she made many mistakes, she never made the same one twice, and therefore would have to come to the end eventually.

I lack that consolation. I make the same mistakes over and over. At least some of them. I never have confused the salt and sugar in sweet bread again, but then you have to have an awfully large container of salt on hand to do that. And I did finally, after many years of stinky yellow biscuits, stop confusing the baking soda and powder. Or rather I just gave up on having both in my kitchen.

If there is a saturation point on mistakes, I still haven't reached it on leaving the salt out of bread entirely. It is disheartening to come to the end of a hard day's work and realize you have wasted your labors and the last of the honey on a half-dozen loaves of tasteless bread.

The bread is not entirely ruined. Having made this mistake many times before, I also have many alternative uses where salt can be sneaked in through other ingredients: french toast, creamed tuna, bread pudding, breakfast strata, breadcrumbs. But that was not the goal. No little grain of wheat aspires to grow up to be a breadcrumb.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

A Year's Difference

Almost a year ago I tried babysitting three other small children, plus the ducklings, for a few hours. At the end of the day I was reduced to a mass of quivering jelly, and actually had to order pizza for dinner. (That is not something we do at the Duchy, unless we just moved. I was very much moved.)

This week, I've had two of those small children over twice for three hours at a stretch. It was lovely. I read, did housework, gardened, and had fun playing with them. We'll have to do it more often.

Some of the differences are mere flukes. Our thermostat is still stuck on August, so we played outside for a couple of hours in the morning and ate lunch on the back patio: move the table and let the squirrels clean up the mess. And, of course, four children is a power of ten less than five children.

Still, it was amazing how much of a difference the increased age of the kids made. Everyone who was still being potty-trained last year was done this year. (And fortunately nobody else has given up diapers yet.) Everybody could move under their own power. Everybody could communicate enough to alert me to any serious problems. Everyone's movements and grasp of rules were predictable enough to allow me to dash inside for a Kleenex.

The girls (3 and 4) could keep themselves busy for hours with little intervention, writing with chalk or cooking or playing some incomprehensible thing that involved scarves on the heads and climbing over the couch. The boys (2) could keep themselves busy tagging along or just riding bikes back and forth.

I like this growing-up thing. So far.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

God of the Teeny, Tiny Holes

I'm reading a fascinating book called Rare Earth on how the precise combinations of everything necessary to sustain complex life appear to be exceedingly rare in the universe. I was rather amused, though, to come across the following line:

"If some god-like being could be given the opportunity to plan a sequence of events with the express goal of duplicating our 'Garden of Eden,' that power would face a formidable task. With the best intentions, but limited by natural laws and materials, it is unlikely that Earth could ever be truly replicated."

Now I realize this statement is just trying to express the uniqueness of earth, not attack God. But while intelligent design theories are frequently (and inaccurately) being ridiculed for creating a "God of the gaps" who does the stuff too hard for us to figure out, it amuses me that these authors seems to think that the design of the universe is too complex even for God to handle.

If you are going to bring God into the question at all, you ought to at least hypothetically let Him have the attributes He's commonly claimed to have. An omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being is the 200-lb gorilla of the universe: He can do anything He wants.

Friday, September 28, 2007

D2 at Two

The Day is not until tomorrow, but as far as he's concerned, he's already Two. And being Two is good. It's a number, and he likes numbers, though he generally starts counting at three. Freeforfisix.

The thing everybody says about him is, "Wow, he really can talk, can't he?" Why yes, he can. Looking back at posts from a year ago, I realized he's talking even better than D1 was at this age, and she was no laggard. No doubt it's from always having someone to talk to.

For all that talking, though, he's also quite a loner. I don't panic when I realize he's been quiet for fifteen minutes, because nine times out of ten it just means he's busy reading a book or building with Duplos or lining up his cars. Sometimes I say it's a pity he wasn't younger in the family, because it's so easy to keep him busy, but then perhaps he would have gotten lost in the shuffle.

Like all parents do and like I vowed we wouldn't, we draw and redraw the outlines of the ducklings' personalities. D1 tends to get categorized as the one like DOB: the Grand Marshall, analyzing events, keeping track of contingencies, ordering everyone else around. D2 is, admittedly, more like me. He can recite any piece of information that has passed by him, but he'll wander around the house in despair because he can't find the toy he's holding in his hand. He's smart and analytical and spacey and a little too charming for his own good.

He likes to sing songs and read about Mike Mulligan and Christopher Robin and drive Matchbox cars. He was kind of a tough baby, but he's an easy toddler. (The key is, now he can put most of the food in by himself.) I don't think there will be anything terrible about having him be two.

The birthday plan is to visit the fire engine museum and make him a cake shaped like a train. And hold him a little bit extra, because he won't be small and cuddly much longer.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


I'm very sore today, because yesterday's Grand Project was digging up and mulching the back flowerbed so we can plant vegetables there next year. What really needs done is the front flower bed, but I'm not sure how to do it, since I do want to save a few of the plants there. I'm not very good at selective work; I'm more of a slash-and-burn gardener.

While digging, I found a full-grown turnip. I have no idea how that got there. We do not eat turnips, and I don't remember planting any. Perhaps a stray turnip seed in the lettuce packet?

Somewhat connected, the following breakfast table conversation:

QOC: I'm very glad we're going to the chiropractor this morning, because it means I won't start any big projects today.

DOB: You could just exercise some willpower.

QOC: I cannot. I am helpless against the lure of big, overwhelming projects.

On the way to the chiropractor, DOB was pulling up to a stoplight with a green light and noticed a car idling still at the green light. He gave a bit of a toot on his horn, nothing rude, just a "Go, dogs, go, the light is green now!"

This highly perturbed the youthful inhabitants of the car, the one in the back turning around so we could see how vigorously he was cussing at us. They did move forward, however, so DOB just grinned broadly.

Our paths continued to coincide, down the on-ramp onto the freeway, and then we realized that the inhabitants had moved on from cussing and were trying more direct methods to avenge themselves. As near as we could tell, they had ripped open a pillow and were holding it out the window, trying to get the fill to blow in our direction. Wind currents were not in their favor, and in the meantime they were so absorbed in their vengeance that the driver apparently failed to notice she was about to run down a semi until the last minute.

Alas, I fear we remain unrepentant. We laughed for several miles.

Today the ducklings and I were singing "Amazing Grace" and we got to the part that is supposed to go, ". . . that saved a wretch like me."

Only D2 was singing it " . . . that saved a wretch like Mama."

I don't know whether to be pleased about his ability to transfer pronoun meanings, or distressed at his lack of personal responsibility, or just worried about what he thinks of me.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Five Friends Every Young Mother Needs

Actually it's more like five categories: fill to as many friends as you have capacity for.

A Friend without Children: To talk to about things besides kids. To tell stories to without being immediately one-upped.

A Friend with Kids the Same Genders and Approximate Ages: To have playdates and commiserate with.

A Friend with Kids the Same Gender, but Two Sizes Bigger: To provide hand-me-downs. Preferably this friend should have generous grandparents and good taste. This is actually a category that almost certainly needs more than one friend, especially if you have boys.

A Friend with Preteens or Teenagers: To hire for yard work and babysitting, and to remind you that it's really not that long before your children will be wiping their own noses.

A Friend with Grown Children: For advice, and to reassure you that your children may still grow up into sane, emotionally-stable adults even though you lock them in their rooms for two hours while you take a nap.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Sometimes it's better not to ask

I was trying to admire D1's coloring page in the Approved, Nonjudgmental Manner.

"Oh, what a lovely cat! I like how you colored the front green and the back black. And the colors underneath him--it looks like he's sitting on a nice warm rug."

I noticed a look of disapproval on her face.

"Oh . . . what is that he's sitting on?"

"A potty."

In Which I Do Windows

It came upon me that today was the day to wash windows.

I have not washed windows since the autumn D1 was a baby. We moved twice in there, though, so I've been able to take advantage of windows freshly washed by other people. The downside to not having moving boxes to pack and unpack is that I must now wash my own windows.

The sirens were not singing in my head--I don't care how often other people wash their windows--windows are not important in the Grand Scheme of Things. But when you cannot open the windows without immediately thereafter washing your hands, the time has come even in my book.

My enthusiasm for the task doubled when DOB introduced me to this modern innovation of tilt-in windows. Ignorant, yes, but I grew up in an old farmhouse with old windows, and when we wanted to wash windows on the upper stories (which was almost never), His Majesty had to hang halfway out of them over a twenty-foot drop. How he could stand it, I'll never know, except that he fell on his head when he was a baby and has repeated it regularly since. Equally exciting was when I tried to clean my own skylight in the attic, clinging to the side of a steeply-pitched roof, hoping the window frame wouldn't break off in pieces under my grasp.

I'm not sure how the windows at the former Duchy residence were designed to work, but how they actually worked was to fall out of their frames entirely at the least provocation. That was easier than ladders, but still very inconvenient.

The windows were not too dirty when we moved in, but they've served for more than a year as the Family Resort Destination for flies. I'm sure if I could shrink down small enough, I'd find some of those black smears were little brochures saying, "Visit the Scenic Duchy Windows this summer!" The summer crowd has backed off, though, and it was cool enough to have the windows open in the morning, so today was the day.

Since D1 wanted to help this time, I gave her her own personal spray bottle (which contains a non-toxic but potent-smelling blend of vinegar, lavender oil, and water) and tried to point her towards things that wouldn't suffer permanent water damage. Finally I directed her out to the front steps, which would have worked great except that D2 joined her--with a non kid-safe spray bottle because his hands aren't big enough to spray yet--and they both figured out how to get the lids off and poured the contents of D1's all over D2's shorts.

Even with tilt-in windows, it turns out cleaning windows is a pretty arduous undertaking, and the windows shouldn't be tilted too far, and when they are it can be kind of tricky to fix. There's only one I couldn't get to go back right, and since it will shut OK, it just won't stay open, I'll try not to be too concerned.

After a few windows I realized doing all the windows in the house was not going to happen today, so I conducted triage. The dining room windows are mostly obscured by sheer curtains, anyway, and the bathroom window is always hidden by the shower curtain. Those can wait. Indefinitely. Meanwhile, I can look out of some clear windows at the bright September sky.

Except there's a straggler fly on them. Be gone! We're closed for the season!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

With or without a moral

Yesterday I should have felt pretty smug about all the wonderful outdoor playtime the ducklings had been having, after a weekend of picnics and reunions. It certainly compared well with my mental personification of the Modern Mothers whose children spend endless hours watching television or running from one class to another. It even compared well to our own July and August of hiding out in the basement.

Alas, yesterday was also the day I read a whole blog carnival inspired by Charlotte Mason's teaching on young children, and suddenly found myself face to face with a new mental personification of Nature Mothers who rearranged their whole lives to give their small children four to six hours outside in exotic settings (not mere playgrounds and backyards!) every fine day. I have tried, I really have, but somehow I can't figure out how to make that happen and still get supper on the table. And it's a long walk to any exotic settings from here.

There we all were, sitting inside on a beautiful sunny afternoon. We had gone to the park in the morning, but that was not even two hours. D2 was sitting on a pile of things on the loveseat, singing his way through The Wheels on the Bus. D1 was sitting on a pile of things on the piano bench, playing and singing a song of her own composition. I was sitting at the computer, contemplating my inadequacy. Supper was at a place where I could turn it off for awhile.

"Let's go outside," I said.

They were not overeager, but neither were they distressed. They do like to go outside. We coated ourself with the plate mail necessary to visit our yard without getting mosquito bites.

I stepped outside and realized I had made a mistake. It was past my temperature limit. All life drained out of me. I sat down on the front steps--the hottest place around, but also the only seat--and told them they would have to amuse themselves.

The proper activity for late afternoon excursions is riding bikes. D2 rode his little four-wheeler blissfully, swooping down the driveway and then planting both feet down for brakes just as he reached the sidewalk so that he wouldn't shoot out into the road. D1 wanted to ride her bike, but the trouble is she can't ride her bike, at least not pushing the pedals properly, and if I refused to help her life would be an unbearable wasteland of misery, which it continued to be for some time.

Then they both got distracted from bikes and tried to pull the wagon. This required more cooperation than they were capable of at the time. Soon they were howling for the benefit of all the neighbors.

It was time to finish supper anyway, so I took them back inside. Their former occupations attracted them not at all. Their howls continued for various reasons at increasing decibels until they were smothered in spaghetti sauce.

So pick a moral:
1. Do not pursue activities based on guilt and comparisons.
2. Do not go outside when it's too hot for you to stand it.
3. The last hour before dinner is bound to be miserable no matter what you do.

Today we went to the park in the morning when it was cool and had a lovely time. This afternoon they are happily piling things inside.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


I'm sure you will not be quite as relieved as we were to hear that the library of origin *did* take the book back. The librarian thought it still looked quite a bit better than many books they still had. Now maybe I will have the nerve to ask them to check their shelves for the missing book.

Since returning it took us most of the way across town, we made an outing of it and had lunch at a nearby farm that is part of the park system. The farm itself is free, but you have to pay for things like pony rides and the indoor play barn. So of course the lines for the pony rides and play barn are long, but hardly anybody is looking at the animals. Another benefit of being cheap.

D1 reminds me a lot of Frances the badger, though she's shown no interest in the books yet. A recent conversation:

DOB: Are you a princess?
D1: No. I don't want to be a princess.
DOB: Why not?
D1: I want to be the king!

And a Song Against Cannibalism, heard from the back seat:

Mama is a girl
But she doesn't like to be eaten
So please don't eat her.
And now I'm almost to the end of the song.
It's not nice to eat people.

D2 has developed a fascination with delivering a maniacal laugh at random points. We wonder what he's plotting.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Mea Culpa

I am having relationship troubles with the library. What was once a source of unmitigated joy has become a source of guilt, resentment and dread. I think we need to go in for counseling.

The central issue is a book that got a little wet at the edge on its way to being returned, due to a leaking water jug in the car. Unfortunately I didn't notice it until it was on the return stack, when I exclaimed in astonishment, "Oh dear, it got wet!" A librarian in the vicinity must have taken note of it, because she tracked me down later and explained the book was irreparably damaged and I would have to pay for it--$22--but it was good of me to be so honest about it. We didn't have cash on us that night, so she checked it back out to us. And DOB pointed out that if I had thought not to say anything, we could have taken it back home and seen how well we could dry it out before we talked to them. But I don't have quite the radar for Not Getting In Trouble that he has.

It seemed worthwhile to take it back and see how it dried out anyway. So we carefully dried it, pages fanned, and then I carefully ironed each page with a dry iron. The end result was pretty good--it looked about as good as any book from the library that's been read a half-dozen times.
If you carefully examined the back pages, you could see a little wrinkling, but that was all.

Unfortunately, the same librarian was in the next week. And she was certain--even before she looked at the book--that it would not do. No, the whole book would have to be thrown out, and we would have to pay for it. Understand, there's no mold or stuck pages or blurred words involved. The back pages are very slightly wrinkled. That's all. If this is the standard for replacing books, it must have been implemented very recently, because I have often checked out books with crumpled pages, scribbles, and even ripped-out parts. Or they just penalize honest people.

Maybe not so honest~I'm going to iron those pages one more time and we're going to take it to the branch it originally came from and hope for a more merciful, or less picky, librarian. A fine for damaging the book would be one thing, but we didn't destroy it!

Meanwhile, there's a book the library shows me as having checked out that I am all but absolutely certain that I returned. I keep renewing it, hoping it will turn up on their shelf or mine. I keep checking places to see if the ducklings pulled it out of the return bag and lost it somewhere, but I'm about out of places to look. It's not a small book that can easily slide into obscure places. I know there's something you can do to claim you returned the book, but I'm not very optimistic about a positive outcome after the other experience.

And on top of all this, I just realized I forgot to renew books on Monday, which is the day I always renew everything for the upcoming week. So there's five days of fines on a dozen books that are absolutely, unquestionably, irrevocably, completely my fault.

Now I dread even going to the library and I hardly dare reserve any new books. That one librarian is going to start haunting my dreams soon.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Some Further Rambling

That link from yesterday about people's beliefs about soul mates gave me a few more thoughts. (Don't worry, I'll be done soon!) The beliefs in the core idea of soul mates--that it is the most important factor in marriage, that there is only one who truly fits the bill, and that this person will appear when the time is right--are so widespread, that it is obvious many Christians must believe them, too. Not only does my experience verify this, but it seems to me often the Christians who are the most adamant at rejecting any whiff of worldliness in their mate-finding habits are most likely to endorse a Christianized version of this idea.

"God will bring the right person in His time." and "Wait for God's best."
Now, we could get into some detailed debates on the revealed and sovereign will of God here, but although we are given many general statements that God will be guiding the steps of those who follow Him, I have yet to find the verse that says God has a One Right Person picked out for us--much less the undoubtedly implied belief if we just wait for this "right person" we will have a better marriage than any alternative.

Actually about the only case I can think of in the Bible where God flat-out told someone to marry a particular person (once there was an open field, of course) it turned out quite badly (see Hosea). And although we can see God directing many marriages in the Bible, He usually works through the perfectly humdrum means used by people who have decided they need or want to find a spouse. (Isaac, Jacob, Ruth.)

In other words, it's not so much that this statement is wrong on its face, it's that it usually seems to be applied in a way that trusts God to work like the mystical fate that leads us to our appointed Mr. Wonderful. Which God never promises to do. He's busy working on our immortal happiness and his immortal glory, which may or may not involve a deep and lasting connection with another mortal.

"It's better to be single than to be married to the wrong one."
Now, if by this it's meant that it's better to be single than to be married to someone who is abusive, unfaithful, or chronically irresponsible, then of course it is true. And if it's meant as consolation for a relationship that didn't work out, it's unarguable.

But if it, as seems more likely, means "it's better to be single than to be married to anyone less than your soul mate," I'm not so sure. Both the Bible and statistics suggest that the bulk of marriage's advantages come simply from having a reliable warm body at your side, to sleep and work with. Unless you're called to singleness, it's probably better to be married to someone reasonably nice than to hold out hope for perfection; who knows--you might wake up some day and realize you married your soul mate after all.


After a few days of tumultuous but still hot and muggy weather, we finally awoke to a cool, gray morning. The ducklings begged for their jackets (which still fit, hooray!) before we left for the park. They were, of course, wearing shorts and sandals--it wasn't that cold.

A few rain storms haven't entirely cleaned the air, but I do feel as if I could breathe again. And the forecast doesn't show any temperatures above 81.

I can live with this.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Cynic Gets Married

Although I was not included in the sample when this survey was taken, I was a never-married single between 20 and 29 at the time. Had I been asked, I would have been in a miniscule minority (6%) that did not endorse the statement: "When you marry, you want your spouse to be your soul mate, first and foremost."

What exactly they meant by "soul mate" is unclear, since it apparently has nothing to do with the person's religious beliefs (only 42% thought those matter) and sexual activity is by no means reserved for such persons. Apparently it's just one of those things you know when you see it, an emotional connection divorced from the spirit or body.

Meanwhile, my young, cynical self was keeping an eye out for someone with similar religious beliefs and lifestyle preferences, someone capable of intelligent conversation and laughing at a good joke. Someone who could be a good friend and a good father. That narrowed the field down amply; insisting on a deep, mystical connection just seemed like it lowered the odds too far. Alas, I did not share the unshakable faith of over 80% that there must be One Right Person out there and that I would find him when I was ready.

What I did find was DOB, a good friend with a similar background, who was willing to marry me. So we proceeded forward, with little concern over whether we were truly "soul mates" or not. As it turned out, when you spend a lot of time around a good friend who gets your jokes and shares your deepest beliefs, who also happens to be a reasonably attractive member of the opposite sex, feeling a deep connection often just happens anyway.

And it takes time to find out things. Many areas of deep connection we didn't even realize until we'd been married a while. Other things we thought we had in common have been dropped on one or both sides. Some areas we'll never fully connect on: I'm never going to love baseball that much, and he's never going to be that thrilled about Shakespeare. But we'll still watch ball games and Shakespeare together. We read different books, but we talk about them together.

A feeling of deep, mystical connection can happen. But it's an awfully flimsy thing. A few sleepless nights, a misunderstanding in a stressful situation, or just the difficulties of profound conversation in a house with children can leave a couple feeling, well, not so soul-matey. But we'll still be living in the same house, paying the same bills, raising the same children, and sitting in the same pew (until the next potty run or tantrum, at least)--sooner or later, we'll make time to connect again. Being soul mates is wonderful, but being able to count on each other is so much better.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Someday We'll Have Flowers

And then how will we make these sumptuous weed banquets? (Note for the squeamish and vegans: It's all from plants.)

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Mindless Eating

This is an intriguing book whether you have the slightest interest in losing weight or not. It's about the psychology of eating, how much stale popcorn people will eat, how to make bottomless bowls of soup, and what people taste when you dye lemon Jello red.

DOB wished he could have learned more about the tricks to get people to eat more without thinking about it, since he has the metabolism of a humming bird and hates eating. Majority interests being what they are, though, the book does focus more on how to eat less, not more. (Though some people are interested in tricking people into eating more: not fast food joints--who only care what you buy, not what you eat--but the military.)

I am finally interested in slowing down my eating a bit (which is hard when you eat with someone who eats a lot--see chapter 5). While pregnant and/or nursing, I had to force myself to eat a lot more than I wanted to, or I'd be passing out before I got the next meal made. Now I need to unlearn some of the habits I learned to trick myself into eating more. Especially reading while I eat. But it's so hard not to.

We've decided playing card games while we eat is a good compromise for both of us, though. It gives DOB an excuse to linger at the table and eat a little more, but it gives me something to do with my hands so I don't eat more just from watching him. So even though it seems quite barbaric and is hard on the cards, we carry on.

Speaking of weight, we were both astonished to find this Stupid Internet Quiz on How Much Do You Weigh? was in fact dead-on right for both of us. Especially since it never asks about your height. But we're not posting the results.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


The first two rules of having happy toddlers are:

1. Don't change anything.
2. If you do change anything, talk about it for days or weeks in advance with great enthusiasm.

I'm not very good at following these rules, but I do know them and I try. Nonetheless, we decided rather on the spur of the moment to move D2 out of his crib this past weekend. It was getting to be a hassle to lift him in and out, he sleeps soundly enough that we weren't worried about nighttime wandering, and we just thought it might be time.

So, trying to follow Rule #2, we asked him if he would like to have his mattress on the floor like D1's. Indeed he would. They have a great time jumping and playing on D1's mattress, which is why we've never bothered to set up actual beds for them.

We pulled the mattress out shortly before naptime on Sunday, and they played happily on both mattresses for awhile. Then it was naptime. He asked to go back into his crib. Apparently he had not realized that moving the mattress out meant no more place to sleep in the crib. So DOB dealt with this oversight by gently setting him down on the springs left in the bottom of the crib. Sure enough, he decided that sleeping in the crib was no longer a good idea.

He slept well that naptime and bedtime, so when DOB's family showed up for Labor Day, we asked the boys to take apart the crib and put it in the attic without a second thought. In the busyness of the day, I didn't notice an immediate reaction. A few hours later, though, I was discussing the change with someone else in his hearing, and he suddenly said, "They bwoke my cwib!" and began to cry. I tried to reassure him that it was only taken apart, like his Duplos, and could be put back together again.

He settled down then, but at lunch he started to cry again over his broken crib. Fortunately by that time the boys had taken the crib upstairs, so at least the carcase wasn't lying around to distress him. I took him in on his new bed and told him a long story about a little boy named D2 who started out as a little tiny baby and slept in a crib and then he got bigger and bigger until he was too big to sleep in the crib anymore so they took the crib apart like Duplos and put it up in the attic until some new little tiny baby might need it.

So far we've heard no more about the broken crib, although he did take an awfully long time to fall asleep yesterday. Now we must deal with the new realization of the ease with which he can get more toys in bed with him. Just because you can take your bike to bed with you doesn't mean you should.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Rephrase That

QOC: It's time for D1 and D2 to come unload the dishwasher!
D1: I don't want to.
QOC: That's not what we say. Let's try again. It's time for D1 and D2 to come unload the dishwasher!
D1: D2, you need to go unload the dishwasher.

* * * * * * *

D1 (running out of her room with the perennially broken piece of unidentifiable doll furniture):
Mama, we have a protein! Can you fix it?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Next Question

The proverb about doctors' and shoemakers' wives do not apply to the spouses of life insurance agents. This, no doubt, is due to premium credit. Anyway, I've been through the interview process more than once, and the past couple of weeks had to do it again.

If you never have experienced this (have you not? Call DOB today!), in addition to figuring out all the financial questions and how much money your grieving family will need to still put dinner on the table (a lot to replace me), they also must figure out if you are strong and healthy, since if you're about to keel over they'll have to charge you more.

The medical part is called a paramed, and is done by a nice lady or gentleman who comes to your house at a time when it's convenient to you to have not eaten for twelve hours, and they take your blood and weigh you and squeeze your arm and all that stuff. That does not bother me. I have been through two pregnancies, and I can be bled with the best of them.

It's the questionnaire that throws me. No, I haven't smoked or chewed tobacco in the past ten years and I don't plan to take up sky-diving. But at a time like that, little details like dates and names of doctors flee from my mind. I see a chiropractor every week. It's just for maintenance. I'm not going to die from anything. But I can never remember his full name. He's Doctor Matt! Matt! (Chiropractors are the social butterflies of medical professionals and always go by their first names and greet you like their long-lost cousins.)

And then there's trying to explain the details of medical personnel in a way that fits into the nice little boxes. My primary care physician would be Dr. X, but I haven't actually seen her in three years because I only go for babies and she stopped doing obstetrics and just does family practice now, so I went to her partner Dr. Y but I don't go there now because we moved but Dr. X moved her practice too so if I did need to go to a doctor for anything BUT babies, she's the one I'd go to even though I've never actually been to see her at her new office and does that answer your question? And no, I don't know the address. And I don't know WHAT tests were done the last time I saw a doctor, I had a newborn baby and a toddler with me, I could hardly remember my own name!

Once this agony is over with the nice lady, sometimes for quality control you have to call someone at Home Office so they can check all your answers, presumably to cross-check them. I tremble. I am sure my answers do not match at all, although I still haven't taken any illegal drugs or broken any laws on purpose. And although as soon as the first lady left I could remember the chiropractor's name, once again it escapes me as soon as someone picks up the phone. For me a phone is a instantaneous brain wiping device. Anything I might have known or remembered is gone at the word, "Hello."

So I muddle through the interview, confusing the poor soul on the other end even worse than I am confused. Of course I should write things down. If I did, I would lose the paper the instant I answered the phone. I gave up ordering things over the phone because the instant someone connected, my credit card would vanish until I hung up again. This is disconcerting.

At last the interviewer was satisfied, or exhausted, thanked me and hung up. I went downstairs to change the laundry. Unbidden, it floated into my head: Hakes! It's Doctor Hakes!

I'm glad the lady on the phone can't measure my blood pressure now.

Children's Museum

The Cincinnati Museum Center hosts a free Friday several times a year, when the standard exhibits are all free and open several hours later than usual. The price and time are both right for us. Unfortunately this is the only one we'll get to go to this year, but now that I know that you have to look on the press release page, not the calendar, to find out when they are, we should be able to take advantage of more of them next year.

We went last year and, although it was fun, it was overwhelming and the kids mostly played with things they could do just as well at home. This year they really got into some more complex areas. D1 put some new ideas from her recent doctor visit to use treating the animals at the vet clinic, and D2 and DOB built a giant arch (out of soft blocks) a dozen times over, recruiting a new group of bigger kids to help them each time.

Of course, they still have a perverse desire to play with things they have at home. D1 mostly played with the shopping carts and the toy food. It did inspire me to start saving her empty cans and boxes to use in her shopping cart in the basement. Maybe then she'll get over her unquenchable love of dumping all the smallest toys into the cart, mixing them together, and trailing them all over the basement.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Fall Housecleaning Survey

Which you're welcome to take even if you don't get inspired to clean house in the fall. Right now, it's anything to help me pretend cooler weather is coming even though it's supposed to hit 102 today.

Rate your house's current cleanliness on a scale of 1-10.
5. It can look decent with a little bit of work, but there's always a lot of stuff piled around the edges.

Rate how clean you would like the house to be on a scale of 1-10.
7. I don't expect a house with children to be toy and fingerprint-free, but I would like to know everything had a place and it was reasonably easy to get it there. I would also like the ducklings to be more frequent at picking up their own toys, but we are making good progress.

Homemaking means balancing a lot of different priorities. What are your top three?
Enjoyment~that we all enjoy living here together
Frugality~that we spend no more than is needed
Simplicity~that we spend our time and space and money on things we really care about

Biggest mental block to better organization?
Feeling guilty over getting rid of anything that was a gift or handmade. I don't feel *quite* as guilty if I can trade it in for money or re-gift it, as I figure at least I got some good out of it. But that 18" stained-glass fruit basket sun catcher is still waiting to be broken in the attic, since I can't figure out who on earth would want it. Or how to get it to them.

Biggest logistical block to better organization?
It's just hard to move things up and down stairs to wherever they go, because something with lungs usually wants to be carried instead. It's getting easier though. Progress is being made. Someday those little lungs will be attached to legs that can navigate stairs while carrying things and then watch how we go!

Biggest weakness in stuff-accumulating department?
Books, of course. Plus anything else with remotely educational/artistic value.

Deep cleaning job you most anticipate?
Washing windows. Maybe it's just the prospect of opening the windows again.

Deep cleaning job you most dread?
Files. The files. Office files. (There's a poem that starts that way. By Kipling, I think. Mocking Poe. Very funny.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Cleaning Up, Clearing Out

The approach of (or despairing wish for, as the temperature shoots back up) fall brings out my urge to organize. It's probably the fear of being stuck in this house all winter and if I don't get rid of some of this mess I'll go crazy ahhhhhhh!

Yesterday it rained, so even though it was hot we were able to go up into the attic and whack out a good-sized area where it is now possible to walk without stepping on anything but carpet. I cleaned the last of DOB's clothes out of the buffet up there and put my tablecloths and place mats in their place. I transfered the random piles of stuff for the thrift store into plastic bags. The ducklings were very happy carrying stuff around and piling it up in their own mysterious configurations. Next time we go up there I'm going to tackle the outgrown and to-be-grown-into clothes and move them into a more accessible part of the attic.

Today it did not rain, so we descended to the basement instead and the ducklings splashed in the pool while I unpacked at least one box that hadn't been touched since we moved in and cleared off the Stuff Accumulating Table. (Supposed to be a folding table, but I hardly ever fold clothes in the basement. In fact, I don't really fold clothes, except my own.)

What I really need to get back to is working on the filing cabinet, but it's so much more fun to work on almost anything else. It's always good to have a really loathsome job that you really ought to do--it makes you so much more productive doing everything else.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Things to Do With Tomatoes

My drying tomato experiment resulted in about five successfully dried tomato chunks. The rest burnt in some spots while mildewing in others. I think I have the wrong kind of tomatoes; too juicy and not pulpy enough. Perhaps next year I will try growing some Romas.

In the meantime, Her Majesty informs me that you can just toss them in the freezer (inside a Ziploc) and they will be perfectly good to pull out and make salsa or soup from later. So that is what I am doing with the surplus this year.

Also, as DOB was beginning to look askance at yet another platter of sliced raw tomatoes, I tried making broiled tomatoes for supper last night. The recipe was a little too greasy--next time I will cut down on the butter and probably use olive oil instead. And the tomato halves were hard to eat, so I might go with my initial instinct and slice them. But there will definitely be a next time. Seriously yummy.

We picked a few more tomatoes today, in between trips down the street to watch the men working on the sewer line. The plants seem to be slowing down production, though, which is perhaps just as well. Or maybe the squirrels are getting more of them. I suspect the squirrels of evil designs on the pepper plants, too--I don't think I'm getting as many of those full grown as seemed to be budding. Maybe next year I'll plant hot peppers. That will teach them.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Because I Finally Unearthed the CD

These are some of the fabulous pictures taken by our friends from Blue Castle Photography while we were out in Washington. If you have any pictures to be taken in the Corvallis, Oregon area, I can heartily recommend them. Unfortunately that's hardly ever where we are.

Monday, August 13, 2007

You Say Weed, I Say Native Plant

I proudly exhibited my tomato plants to DOB the other day. He then looked over at the weeds towering over the patio. "The tomatoes look good," he said, "But it's like investing in tech stocks in the nineties. Everything goes up."

Being new to this garden, and not wanting to waste anything that might already be happily growing, I went easy on weed-pulling this spring. Some of those unidentified leaves might prove to be flowers. Some of them did. The others just got larger and weedier.

Next thing I knew, they were too big to be pulled by hand. I needed clippers. I forgot I owned clippers. Turns out there was a set ($2 pink yard sale tag still on the handle) in the basement. This morning I finally ventured forth to use them.

Too late, again. Clippers were not what was called for; I needed a hatchet. Little George Washington could be happily and productively occupied under our patio for quite some time. Unfortunately I haven't come across a hatchet at a yard sale. So I hacked, snapped, and mangled until I at least lowered a portion to within a foot of the ground. I caught an enormous yellow grasshopper and the ducklings watched him, fascinated. D1 tried to get him to jump on cue, but he did not catch on.

The tomatoes are doing very well. They have passed our ability to keep up with eating them; they have passed even the ability of the squirrels to keep up. I don't think I have quite enough plants to ever do a canner load at once, though, so perhaps I shall have to look into freezing them. Or drying them. (Can anything sun-dry in this humidity? I have an electric food dryer, but everyone always talks about sun-dried tomatoes--do they work any other way?)

I'm excited by the success of this year's garden. It is very small still. In a few more years, I shall have more helpers and be more ambitious. I was chatting with an elderly lady who grew up in the neighborhood of DOB's office, reminiscing about the huge garden she and her parents grew in their back yard. So did my grandparents, though it was long before I was born. People used to grow food (and even raise animals) in the city and suburbs as a matter of course. Now we all drive twenty minutes to the organic produce section of the nearest megagrocery.

The search for a simpler or more authentic lifestyle seems to send most people to the country. It brought us to the city. We were tired of driving fifty minutes one way for work, twenty minutes another way to church, and knowing no one nearby because they were all driving different ways, too. Here, we can spend our time living instead of driving, and we can still grow tomatoes and watch bugs. And if everyone who cares about homegrown tomatoes leaves for the countryside, what will become of the city?

In this line, there's a wordless picture book I came across at the library, called Home, by Jeannie Baker. It depicts what time and love and work can do for a place, even in the city.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Three Years

Three, I'm sure, is positively infantile from the perspective of a mother of teenagers. But it's as far as we've gotten, and it's a very long way from the floppy newborn with which we began. And despite the undeniable challenges of this age, I like it.

D1 just discovered drawing this week. She covers page after page with little huts with doors, and sometimes adds a sturdy capital A for good measure.

She has learned how to set and clear the table--some mornings, she even starts setting it just to get breakfast moving along faster. (Other mornings, she fights with D2 for lap space. She has not yet reconciled herself to the fact that thirty-five pounds of squirming little girl is hard to hold.)

She can almost (almost!) dress herself. She asks "why?" a thousand times in a day, and sometimes she even wants to know. She remembers why mosquitoes bite, and what we were going to do today, and she can tell when the big hand gets to the seven.

She invents long and complicated games, incomprehensible to adults, but utterly absorbing for D2.

I'm sure I'll like four and five and six even better. But three is pretty good.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Off the Road

There's been a lot of fun links over at i have to say's Back to Homeschool week as people tell various things about their homeschooling journey. Today's topic is getting out and about, which reminds me that we do not.

Yes, the ducklings are small. But it seems like even people with very small children have them enrolled in music classes or gymnastics or second language programs. Or they have zoo and museum memberships. Or they schedule frequent play dates. Or all of the above.

The very thought makes me tired. Especially right now, when the only activity that sounds fun is lying on the basement floor, pouring ice water over my head. But even in more clement weather, loading up the diaper bag and strapping everyone into the car is usually a long way down on my list of Fun Things to Do.

It's probably a warped view from my childhood. My mother had narcolepsy, so she did not drive if she could help it. We had twenty-two acres to play on, and we had each other to play with, and if we were bored there was a very long list of chores to do. Taking a trip out was reserved for the dentist and the doctor once or twice a year.

We tried doing story time at the library. First we went to the active-song time for 18-36 month olds, to which all the Hip Young Mamas go. It was fun, and it did inspire D1 to try some novel things like jumping. (She was not physically adventuresome when she was smaller. Now she likes to climb eight feet up.) But there were usually more than thirty kids, plus parents, and it was crowded and overwhelming. The ducklings love playing with a couple of other small children; they do not like large crowds of small children. I don't blame them. Small children and large crowds don't mix well.

The other story time was smaller, quieter, attended mostly by grandmas, and involved actually reading books. The ducklings liked it, mostly because they were allowed to color with markers. I did not like getting the marker off of their clothes (which is why they use crayons and colored pencils at home--also better for finger strength). The book selection was usually not too impressive, either.

Anyway, the whole matter was settled several weeks ago when we sold our second car and decided to just do without for a while. Now I don't need to worry about whether I should be taking them out for more Stimulating Events, because I can't. We take an evening out as a family to a park or library once a week, and we go to church.

There is still the park to walk to, and if we can't watch the animals at the zoo, we can learn a lot about the habits of squirrels and rabbits. We may miss out on group classes, but maybe we'll have the chance to get to know the kids who live on our street. (It's hard, though, because they're not home much. But someone has to be available.)

We still don't know the names of all the weeds that grow in our backyard, or the kinds of birds that hide in the bushes. We can't go to a farmers' market, but we could grow more things ourselves. They are missing out on high-energy-tons-of-kids social opportunities, but they are getting lots of chances to learn to play well together.

I'm sure there's lots of good things we could be doing, and probably someday we will, but I think for now we'll do just fine as it is.