Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Odyssey

After my long struggle with the Iliad, I almost spiked the Odyssey. I'm glad I didn't. Part of the reason I enjoyed it more may have been switching versions,* but I think it had more to do with the story itself. The themes of war and vengeance and bloodshed are never dull, but I found a lot more to identify with in the Odyssey: a tired wanderer trying to get home, a faithful wife waiting for his return, a son trying to grow up into the reputation of the father he cannot even remember.

Every modern adaptation of the story I had read put the emphasis on the wanderings of Ulysses and the novelty of his adventures.** But Homer opens the story just as Ulysses is about to return home. All of his really dangerous adventures are past, and are only told as tales around the fire. Suspense was not an important value in Greek literature, perhaps because everybody already knew the plot. Homer creates ample dramatic tension without it, as Ulysses returns home in disguise and grows more and more enraged at the insolence of the suitors.

The homecoming of Ulysses is frequently contrasted with that of Agamemnon: Agamemnon's wife has taken up with someone else in his absence and they conspire to slay him just as he returns home victorious from the Trojan War. Ulysses has been driven off course many times, but he's come close enough to home to hear this tale and knows to approach carefully. Not that he wouldn't have anyway. The man is a congenital liar--he simply can't imagine giving himself away by initially telling the truth to anyone. Yet for all that he's rather a charming fellow and I can't help liking him.

And although O Brother, Where Art Thou? of course completely mangles the story, "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow" is the perfect soundtrack for the Odyssey.

*The only trouble was, the new version used the Latin names for the characters, whereas the other version used the Greek, so now instead of Pallas Athene guiding Odysseus, I was reading about Minerva guiding Ulysses. Rather confusing, and the Greek names are so much prettier. Pallas Athene sounds like something high and shining; Minerva sounds like a bony Yankee spinster.

**I have since found that Padraic Colum's retelling of the Odyssey better duplicates the emphasis of the original story, and in general his books of Greek legends seem to me to come closest to reflecting the way the Greeks approached their own stories.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Mosquito problems

We have a little house in a flat little neighborhood on a flat little lot of clay, and in the back yard there's a place where that clay is just a teensy bit lower than the neighbors' yards, and in that place the water catches. This, naturally, provides a honeymoon resort for all the mosquitoes on the block, who leave behind thousands upon thousands of baby mosquitoes happy in their little mosquito nursery, who grow up into hungry mama mosquitoes. (It's the mamas that bite you. Apparently pregnancy cravings for mosquitoes are even weirder than for humans.)

Being sentient beings, we don't appreciate being at the bottom of the local food chain. I have a two-bite limit before I go back inside. During the summer, that gives me about ten minutes in the front yard or one in the back. The ducklings, who don't notice the problem until afterwards, do not like these rapid retreats. Neither do I, for that matter. I'm fond of the out-of-doors, and I had been very much looking forward to having a real back yard. Instead, we spent all of last summer and fall at the park, where mosquito bites were rare. But I don't trust the sandboxes there.

So we have been pondering the best plan of attack. One idea is to fill it in with dirt, but that sounds difficult and expensive and we're not sure how well it would work. That water still has to go somewhere and this neighborhood is flat. We can't exactly dig a drainage canal all the way to the Ohio River, and we don't really want it in the basement. Another idea is to plant a tree to drink up all that water, but we're not sure the tree would remember we want it to pull water from the top of the soil. And large thirsty trees probably aren't cheap either.

Right now I'm leaning towards trying this. Forget the relandscaping--let's go for biological warfare. All naturally, of course. I just wonder how often it has to be repeated. And if it really works. But I need to settle on something before the last frost.

Monday, February 26, 2007

No Contest

A decade or so ago, when my next-younger brother was at the peak of adolescent energy, the father of one of his friends commented that his son and my brother considered everything in life to be a contest as to who could "run the longest, climb the highest, and spit the farthest."

I smirked at their testosterone overload. But now that adolescence is a rapidly-receding memory, I realize that I'm not so different after all. Instead of comparing myself to a real person, unfortunately, I tend to compare myself to that mythical composite mother who is homeschooling her eight children under ten in ancient languages while she operates a thriving business, feeds them all a whole-foods diet, and runs three miles every day. (I'm sure I came across her blog once.)

No doubt it's a good thing, then, that I get reminded every so often that not only am I not winning this imaginary competition, I'm not even entered. Not only can I not do it all, this week I can't do any of it. The ducklings are at Grandma's house, the church is bringing dinner, and I am under strict orders to ignore the dust gathering on the unwashed dishes and rest. No exciting symptoms to report, I'm just very, very tired after a long, cold, sick winter.

I hate resting. Laziness is seldom among my faults or virtues. I hate sitting around in my pajamas (for the record, I'm not). I like to read, but only for a limited time. I want to Do Things. Clean the house. Play games with the ducklings. Write profound books. Instead, I'm ready for another nap. And I feel like a wimp.

So no doubt I need this time as a reminder that life is not a contest to see who can cram the most in. That it's OK that I didn't go for three kids under three, or that I struggle to walk around the block while others run, or that I hardly ever can get the kitchen clean before I go to bed. There's no prizes for doing the most, just for doing what you have faithfully. Today, that's going to take another nap.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Daniel and the Empires

Carrie is hosting a linky-thingy (surely there's a better word?) for reading one book of the Bible each month and commenting on it. I'm actually working on reading books of the Bible through twenty times in succession, which has rather an overachiever smack to it, but I'm taking longer than a month on most of them.

For the past month or so (and I've lost count but I think I'm only about halfway through the twenty times) I've been reading Daniel. It had a vague image in my mind of a book divided into the part suitable for tales for small children and the part suitable for wild-haired prophecy enthusiasts and not much left for anyone else.

But I've been studying ancient history this year, and I felt myself oppressed by the weight of history. All those people living and dying--all those forgotten cruelties and vanished empires--so much human sorrow and suffering. Was there really a design behind all of it? What did it all mean? And what was the use of studying it?

"Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to Him. And it is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men, and knowledge to men of understanding."

Daniel, more than any other book of the Bible, looks at the whole sweep of history, the big wars-and-empires history, and tells Who is behind it all, and why. God is setting the stage for His Kingdom. The Stone cut without hands is coming, and before Him all the powers of the earth are chaff in the wind.

Yet the empires are not meaningless, since it is God who gave them their powers and their places. Studying ancient history and legends for awhile has at the least helped me better understand the Bible and what it meant to the people who first read it. For instance, what would it have meant to hear of God's "only begotten son?" To a Jew, surely, it must have been quite a mind stretch to see God as having a son at all. But to the Greeks hearing it, it must have called to mind the legends of Perseus and Hercules and Zeus's interminable philandering that populated the heroic age with enough heroes to battle all the monsters. But there is only one God here, and only one Son. One hero for one monster who has been back of it all.

All these things were the prologue, and the play is more meaningful with the prologue. The answer makes more sense once you have read the question. Your mystery religions, with dark rites to resurrect the dead god? Your fairy-tales of ancient heroes and fearsome monsters? Your long-awaited Messiah to deliver you from all enemies? Your philosophies of truth and order? He is alive, He is here, He has come. The desire of all nations has come.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Playing Games

You know how desparate the cabin fever has become around here when we confess that this weekend we actually resorted to downloading and playing computer games.

Not that there's anything wrong with video games. I just don't usually have the patience for them. To start out with, my reflexes are slow, so any game that involves quick response times only annoys me. If I liked strategy games, I would earn wifely brownie points by playing more of them with DOB.

I do occasionally like a puzzle-type video game, but it only takes a few minutes before it starts feeling tedious. Once I know what I need to do, why should I drudge through the endless clicking necessary to accomplish it? And if I get something almost solved and mess something up and have to go back and start over . . . well, it doesn't take too long for it to start feeling like washing the dishes. At which point, I might as well go wash them. Or read a book, where missing a word on a page doesn't send me back to the beginning. (OK, so maybe my real problem is a lack of attention to detail.)

Anyway, we really are feeling much better. And it's supposed to get warm this week. The ice has already melted off the trees and soon the snowdrifts should be rehumidfying our basement. Yippee!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

And So It Goes

DOB did have a headache yesterday, but then it resolved itself into the flu, and now his flu is almost gone so he has a headache again. I martyred my way through yesterday and spent today lying on the couch and whimpering. So the ducklings--who are still in good health and excellent spirits--have been running the house themselves, and doing a fine job of it, considering their lack of experience and height.

D1 trots about carrying Kleenexes and glasses of water and empty dishes to wherever they may be desired. D2 trots behind, only sometimes he trips and falls on all the strange things that have grown out of the floor in the last few days. They have both found plenty to amuse themselves, whether it be baptizing their blankies in the toilet (fortunately I caught that one just in time) or throwing tomato cans under the couch.

The only real trouble is with food. They tried raw potatoes out of the pantry, but I really didn't approve of that. However, neither DOB nor I can bear the sight or smell of most actual food. Many foods in theory sound good--I'm craving Bisquick pancakes with cheap syrup, myself--but in presence they seldom live up to their potential, and anyway, we can't stand up for that long.

So the ducklings have been living on hard-boiled eggs and bread with peanut butter, and other things that the cook doesn't have to smell long, and they've been eating unsupervised, which makes for a kitchen that doesn't bear description. The server sits shuddering in the other room, waiting for the dreaded, "Mo? MO!" or the equally fearsome, if more polite, "I would like some more, please."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day

I have no thoughts for you on romantic getaways. We're iced in, although I'm sure DOB will try to brave the roads and get to work sooner or later. Right now he's in bed with a monstrous headache. At least our power hasn't gone out, unlike most of the city.

I further have no thoughts on making a romantic dinner at home, because tonight we will be lucky if I manage to fix any food at all. I was hoping for a 24-hour-bug, but it seems to want at least 48. About all I can get down is applesauce and yogurt. I'm just waiting with bated breath for the ducklings to come down sick.

I was going to at least make a card, but that would require going upstairs to where the card-making supplies are, and I'm not sure I'm up to the trip.

Love is when everything goes wrong and you still can't imagine anywhere else to be or anyone else to be with.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

This Bodes Not Well

Last week we had bad colds and a snowstorm.

This week, it's shaping up to be the stomach flu and an ice storm. Oh, and yesterday, two flat tires.

I'm not sure I want to know what next week will turn out like.

Monday, February 12, 2007

In a galaxy far, far away . . .

On any personality test that measures how abstract one's thought processes are, mine are always at the far abstract end of the chart. I have heard there's a planet called Earth, I may have visited there once, but I really couldn't tell you how to get there.

So when I read a discussion awhile back about Mommy Time (which is too far lost in archives for me to bother digging up, as usual), one commenter's thoughts really resonated with me--it's not the children themselves an abstract person gets tired of, it's having to be Right Here, Right Now. Little children aren't much for abstract discussions. They're always having their heads bonked, their feelings hurt, and their pants wet, right here in the concrete.

And thus Mama, who only really knows how to live with her head in the clouds, is always being jerked back to earth. Every thirty seconds, all day long. Jerk, jerk, jerk. It hurts. It's tiring. What I need to recover is not necessarily to be away from the children--I do love hearing their happy little voices and watching their little wheels turn--it's being free from the constant barrage of decisions and interventions that small children require, and instead having some time to think. Or read. Or write.

Fortunately DOB is kind and understanding, and although he is abstract enough to listen to me, he's also concrete enough to change lanes safely. Or notice when the squabbles have reached a fever pitch. So yesterday, when he saw I was completely lost in a fairytale, he kindly dealt with as many problems as he could himself, and was remarkably patient with my distraction every time he had to contact me for information.

"Earlier, while you were in Russia . . . " he would explain and update me on what was happening in our little duchy.

I do hope this situation improves as they get a little older and better able to care for their more immediate needs themselves. I'm even hopeful that D1 will continue in her current role as The One Who Knows How It All Should Be Done and thus mediate between my dazedness and subsequent ducklings.

For D2, I'm not so hopeful. I see him pause in his play, a blank expression on his face, as he stares off into the distant galaxies. Before too long, perhaps, he'll talk well enough that we can compare notes.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Strange and possibly, though not creditably, Unique Thoughts

* That whole business about the little house not being able to be sold for gold or silver? That had to violate the Rule Against Perpetuities.

* This week I had a library book that was so absolutely and forlornly lost, even after six weeks of searching, that I simply had to up and pay for it. Fortunately, it was only four dollars. Unfortunately, it wasn't one I particularly would be thrilled to own, if it ever does turn up. But the occurence did put a thought in my head. Suppose I find a book at the library that I really, really want to own. Suppose further that this book is rare or out of print, and even further that it looks like something the library is going to ditch soon in favor of more shelf space. Of course, the chances of me happening across it at just the right library sale are very slim indeed. How evil would it be to, ah, "lose" the book and pay for it, and then "find" it again but decide not to bother about getting my money back? Evil, evil, evil. I blot the thought from my mind.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


D2's movement into D1's room meant more than just more sleep for me. It also focused them as siblings--them on the one hand, and us, the grownups, on the other. We hear them there chattering after they've been put to bed or before we go get them up in the morning. (This is completely fine with us as long as there's no yelling or getting out of bed.)

Maybe it's also that they've had so much time lately to interact primarily with each other, mostly, I'm afraid, because I'm suffering from such a bad case of cabin fever that I would rather not interact with anything closer than the sky. Anyway, they're busy with their own invented games and plays, into which I am only occasionally invited to enter.

Brothers and sisters of a close age, growing up together, spending all day with only as much supervision as a tired mother can spare, have their own world in a way I doubt any other people can have. No one else has so much time or so much curiosity. I set the boundaries of their world; I provide the raw material. But the world is their own.

I don't mind being a grownup to awfully much, but I am a little jealous.

Monday, February 05, 2007

This Day Had to Come

D2 came into the world with a ride in an ambulance. He has "accident waiting to happen" in big black and blue marks across his forehead. So perhaps the only surprising thing about last night is that it took him sixteen months to take us to the ER with an injury.

The scenario was the same one that happens about once an hour: slip, fall, bang head. Only instead of the relatively forgiving wood floor or door frames he usually encounters, he hit the brick corner of the fireplace. We immediately dropped our so-far fruitless attempts to get the borrowed TV to show the Super Bowl and began working on keeping his head still enough to bandage it. He was not helpful in this endeavor. In fact, he screamed non-stop from the moment it happened until a nurse kindly brought him some applesauce, which allowed us to answer in the negative with complete confidence when asked if he had lost consciousness.

D1 was perfectly calm about the whole thing, once it was explained to her, and went about getting her shoes and coat on to go visit her friends while we were gone. She would be a much easier child to take to the ER, but that is why she is much less likely to go there.

D2 was reasonably happy from snack time through playing with some bowls of water until people actually started working on his head again, whereupon he resumed his former song. Because he was so young, the nurse had me apply the numbing solution to his head. We were struggling to hold him down and put it on, as the nurse had told us to "Hold it there as long as you can."

"How long exactly should we try for?" I asked.

"Fifteen minutes," she said. Fifteen minutes! I was feeling pleased that I had held it on for fifteen seconds. She finally put some tape on it, which allowed us to devote our attention to keeping his hands away.

While a later nurse was washing out his wound (with plain water, no fancy antiseptic stuff), she jerked the syringe too hard sucking in the next batch of water and managed to knock the bowl of water all over the floor and the doctor. He was, fortunately, an exceedingly nice fellow. We opted for glue instead of stitches, thinking it would involve less holding him down. They were going to swaddle him for the actual stitching, but they couldn't find the necessary contraption, so we had to once again resort to our finely-honed Toddler Restraint skills.

Meanwhile DOB's family, who were coming over to watch the Super Bowl, arrived, let themselves in, got the TV working, set out food, and fetched D1. DOB did get to watch most of the second half after we got back. Not that he was highly concerned about it at that point, but still, he was glad to see the Colts win.

D2 continued in unabated misery until we put him to bed, but he slept soundly last night and has been quite chipper this morning, except for a cough not helped by the running around in the cold last night. So far he hasn't re-bumped his head, which is amazing, considering how many times he's fallen down, once about five inches from his scene of triumph last night.

The nurses said they hoped not to see us again too soon, but they didn't sound too confident.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Colds and Colder

That's why I say, "Duckie!
Don't grumble! Don't stew!
Some critters are much-much,
oh, ever
so much-much,
so muchly much-much more unlucky than you!"

There are indeed much-much more unluckier creatures out there, such as those who must be Out in the Cold today, whereas we, who have sniffles and such, have holed up like bears for the winter this weekend, except for a brief trip out for me yesterday to stock us up on movies and butter for popcorn (popcorn is essential sore throat food) and a brief trip out for DOB today to get a car we left behind a few days ago.

Our haul at the library proved quite productive: we had a Rudyard Kipling adaptation to watch yesterday and a Dickens for today, plus a few extra comedies if we have enough time. Which is not too likely because DOB is awaiting a TV to arrive so that he can watch the Colts tonight.

The ducklings are alternately happy as larks and miserable sniffling wretches, according to how long it has been since they slept. We had chicken and dumplings yesterday and hamburger and vegetable soup today. It's so cold we have to put our coats on to go to the basement; it's so cold we gritted our teeth and turned the heat up to seventy (which has nothing to do with the temperature of the house anywhere within six feet of a window) so that the children wouldn't freeze if they pulled the covers off, which they always do.

It's cold. And we do not have a dog that needs walked, or groceries that need shopped for, or a furnace that keeps breaking. Yes, there are critters ever so muchly more unlucky.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Forecast

Snow had fallen,
Snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter
Long ago.

I have just discovered Accuweather, and I wish I hadn't. Before I could blithely go from day to day, thinking the cold would surely lighten up in a day or two and we could go back outside. Not that DOB didn't warn me that it's a bad sign when birds go about their daily activities as if everything wasn't frozen solid. Maybe the birds were wrong.

Anyway, now I've looked at the official forecast, and it shows ice and cold continuing for weeks and deepening in the next few days. After the first glorious play-in-the-snow day a week and a half ago, I was satisfied. After a week of intermittent snow to no purpose and uninterrupted cold, I was done. Add some runny noses and another week, and I'm running close to desperate. (Oh, Accuweather forecasts health, too. High chance of colds, very high chance of flu. Lovely.)

Actually, it's not been too bad. But it does seem like this will be easier when the ducklings are a little older. If they were older, we could read The Long Winter and Snow Treasure and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. We could construct a city out of old boxes or make ingenious little paper toys or decorate elaborate cookies or get ahead on schoolwork so that when the weather does warm up we would feel no guilt about spending all day at the park.

We do have books to read, we just have to read the same ones over and over. (Yesterday it was Kitchen Words. Cup. Spatula. Whisk.) Playdough remains popular, and so does coloring. I think I'll move the picnic table up from the basement--even there is too cold to play these days--to the living room, so they can color without imperilling their heads in falling off the dining room chairs. I have been making progress on the filing while they play in the attic.

The good news is, the washing machine has been fixed. It turned out to be a hose plugged with lint. That sounds like a problem even within the reach of stick-poking, so perhaps we will learn how to fix it ourselves in the future. Anyway, now we have clean laundry again, although I am even more convinced of the value of wearing clothes multiple times, when possible. It's difficult when one of them is potty training and the other's drool is a major tributary of the Ohio River, but every once in awhile there's a salvageable garment that can serve as one more day's insurance against a laundry catastrophe.