Monday, December 27, 2010

On the Third Day of Christmas

I am hiding out in bed, but the ducklings are still pretty occupied with new toys.

It looks like the ducklings finally did get over The Stomach Flu That Never Leaves. Then we got it. The good news was, it wasn't on the Friday that Ron had three court hearings (all of which he won) and I had an interview for a new contract (which I got). The bad news, it hit both of us at once all weekend. Their Majesties took the ducklings out to get a Christmas tree and D1 and D2 decorated it. D1 put all the glass balls in one spot, and D2 decided to add the packing peanuts. But they are happy with it.

We got a little better on Monday, enough to get out of bed and try to face the world. But not a lot better. D1 wrapped most of the presents. There's no tape left in the house, but the presents were good and covered.

Her Majesty did the Christmas baking I had promised to do while I stayed in bed all Christmas Eve, fighting a relapse. We made it up for Christmas, very very late.

DOB points out that we have a lousy Christmas every three years. Three years ago, the twins were on the way. Six years ago, we woke up Christmas morning at 3 a.m. to the infant D1 vomiting all over her pack'n'play. (And that was after driving hours through a blizzard to make it to the airport and then flying standby to get here.) By contrast, this was pretty tame. It's hard to have a really cruddy Christmas when you have kids old enough to participate and young enough to get excited over opening boxes, let alone what's inside.

I really hope it doesn't take us another four weeks to fully recover from this and get back to just being regularly exhausted. Now that I have two ongoing contracts, we are really hoping and praying we can hire someone able-bodied in here to help out soon. Umm, today maybe?

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Uphill Both Ways

So about a month ago we had a little stomach bug run through the kids, not a huge deal although it did seem a bit much coming right on the heels of a big legal-education-project thingy for the grownups.

Then just as everyone was getting better from that and I was all set to get things back to normal, we had a big snowstorm that knocked everything out of commission until Thanksgiving. Then D1 had a regression of the stomach flu. Then we thought she was better.

Then she was suddenly much worse again, and got dehydrated to the point of complete listlessness, which if you know D1 is a shocking sight indeed. But she finally started to improve again, and then it took me several more days to begin to feel human again. Tending to sick children takes out of me all the things I don't have enough to spare of anyway, especially when it's administering tiny doses of fluids around the clock.

So Monday was the first day I started to feel decent, started to work and do school with the kids again. We've had a few social/professional events I've managed to sneak away and attend in all this. I was still pretty tired, but things were beginning to come back together.

Then today D4 started throwing up again. I have NO IDEA what is going on. The doctor we took D1 to thought it might be her system still unbalanced from the former illness and prescribed probiotics. I don't know where it's going to hit next or if that was the end of it. I do know I'm very, very tired of holding one cranky small person while trying to keep the other three fed and occupied.

I don't even want to THINK about how close Christmas is.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The White and Drifted Snow

I probably shouldn't have chosen "Over the River and Through the Woods" as our folksong to learn this month. Repeatedly singing about the joys of an old New England Thanksgiving seems to have brought the appropriate weather out to the Northwest, where the proper Thanksgiving weather ought to be gray drizzle.

The adventure really started on Sunday after church, when we noticed a few flakes of snow. How charming, we thought. It will soon turn to rain, we thought. Or clear up and get cold. And so Wondergirl and Bookworm and I continued with our plans to take the ducklings to the zoo on Monday, since we had yet to make a second use of the zoo passes Wondergirl got for us back in July, what with car problems and busy grownups and all.

On Monday it looked a bit less promising. There was actual snow on the ground. But surely, it wouldn't stick to the roads, would it? Not the real roads that more than three cars use? Besides, Wondergirl used to live in the Northwoods and knew how to drive in snow. So even though it defied all expectations and kept on snowing, we ventured forth, confident that the roads would improve as we got further into civilization.

The snow kept coming, and the roads did not improve, but we were well bundled up and had lots of food in the car in case of emergencies and made it all the way to the zoo, at which point it seemed silly to give up and go back. So we went in. We were half an hour past opening, and the first people to arrive. We decided to stick with the aquarium, which had the advantage of being interesting AND indoors. It was really quite lovely to be able to browse at leisure without having to constantly worry about losing children in the crowd. According to their preferences, D3 stood and watched the same window for nearly the whole time, while the others ran around three times over. There was only one other family there the entire time.

Which was not a very long time, because a zookeeper came out and informed us they were closing the zoo. But we could take our time and head back out when we were ready. Since I was trying to get home for an online class at one, this gave us about as much time as we had planned on. We emerged from the aquarium to find the snow had progressed from powdered sugar sprinkle to cream cheese icing thick.

The good news about the return trip was that there was no danger of injury, because everyone was traveling so slowly. The bad news was, I was in serious danger of missing my class at one. However, we all remained in good holiday spirits and sang all the verses of all the Thanksgiving songs we know, which is quite a few. And I parceled out lunch in slow sequence so that the children would have something to munch on or at least look forward to for the entire long trip home.

We did arrive in one piece and I raced inside to start my class only to discover it really started at three. Which was a pity, because the snow got thicker and thicker and the wind got higher and higher, and it became evident that a class started at three was probably not going to get finished. But I tried anyway.

DOB was at the office and thought, when things started closing down and they started sending everyone home, that he'd just wait for everyone to get off the road and then proceed home himself. He decided against it, though, and therefore arrived all the way home a short while before the power winked out for good. The next morning he thought he would venture forth and discovered a very large tree across the road, pulling down the power lines. He tried to go up the hill on the other side, but gave up when he went more back than forward. It was just as well, as just over the next crest was another tree down.

So we were marooned. Fortunately Their Majesties are well stocked with wood stoves and flashlights and even a generator (except they'd forgotten to get gas) and it really was only a modest inconvenience. Once the wind had died down we went out and inspected the damage to all our favorite climbing trees and climbed on them horizontally instead.

We figured it was a bad sign when Her Majesty called the power company and in the message about the outage it said, cheerfully, "Did you know that if you are without power for more than 120 hours, you qualify for a $50 rebate?"

By Tuesday afternoon the roads were reasonably clear, but there was no sign of light. We had finally persuaded D4 that the power being out was not the end of the world, and that a man would come in a big truck to fix it, a thought which gave him much consolation although he continues to be afraid of the dark.

On Wednesday Her Majesty and I had the bright idea of doing a Christmas present craft project for the kids, which it was great to have done, and I was reminded that the reason I am not the sort of mom who does elaborate, creative crafts to build warm memories with my children is that the warmth in those memories would derive from the increasing vehemence of my feelings and the creativity would be primarily manifest in the language used to describe this paper backing of lamentable heritage and dubious prospects that won't just come off the recalcitrant fabric already. I think we'll stick to memorizing a lot of holiday songs.

Anyway, the power came back on Thursday afternoon, and since all the baking parts of Thanksgiving were taken care of by people whose power was already on, everything went fine. Except that D1 came down sick and we had to leave early. But still, we had much to be thankful for.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Assorted Craziness

1. DOB is learning to be a trial lawyer, so he took a class in it for a very intense weekend last month and then this past Saturday they did a mock trial in a real courtroom with a real judge and real objections (though not enough of them). I got to practice my evidence-fabricating skills by making up pictures to go with the fact scenario: D1 and D3 posed for childhood shots of the plaintiff, and I painstakingly modified a picture of "Mugsys Sports Bar" to become "Chuggies Sports Bar." (No apostrophe--what do sports bars know of apostrophes?) I also got to be a witness. We won, slightly. We learned a lot and had a lot of fun and then met up with some good friends for dinner and got home very, very late indeed.

2. The difference between the first and the fourth baby, as observed with our friends--people who have had their first baby find it turns their life upside down and they can't do *anything* for awhile. People who are on number four realize that they can pull extra babysitting and household help credits and take advantage of that quiet, portable newborn to get out for once.

3. Sunday morning after all of that, we were almost ready for church when D3 threw up all over our new carpet scraps. We decided not to go to church.

4. Carpet scraps--it turns out almost all of DOB's extra feet/ankle/knee problems over the past several months, which we thought were *car* related, were actually *floor* related. (The floors around here being tile, a variety with much value as, for instance, when people throw up all over it.) A quick trip to the carpet outlet and his feet are feeling much better and he can drive again. If only, if only . . .
However, it's very good to have him able to function again.

5. The illness has gone around at least with the kids, but the symptoms are so intermittent and mild it's hard to know when it begins or ends.

6. I'm progressing on taking my online courses, but not so fast as I wanted to. They don't always download so well--especially, some theorize, when it's windy. Or something. Anyway, only nine hours to go. I'm also getting to draft a whole motion for summary judgment. (Which is basically a paper explaining to the judge why you shouldn't bother with a trial because the other side couldn't possibly win.)

7. We also had a windstorm, power outage, and earthquake this week. But I didn't feel the earthquake.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Just In Case You Needed It

Or perhaps I'm the last person on the Interwebs to discover it, but we just found a new way to waste time this week: Wolfram Mathematica Demonstrations. I came across it looking for a way to demonstrate the tides (after we nearly got sloshed by one that was coming in faster than we thought) and we quickly got hooked on all kinds of cool little free doohickeys where you can change This and change That and ooo! See what it does!

And it's got "Mathematics" right there on the top, so it's got to be educational, right?

Friday, November 05, 2010

Synacisms

For many years I've been subject to a particular variety of slip of the tongue which as far as I know is an as-yet unobserved and unnamed phenomenon.

The situation is this: There are two words that have essentially the same meaning, and so your mind is unable to choose between them. Instead of one or the other, out comes a mishmash that combines half of each, which just happens to be another, quite unrelated word. Awkwardly, you grasp for the correct term--and instead produce a second mishmash with the remaining elements, which turns out to be yet another unrelated word.

The first time it happened was when I was much younger, driving about with my siblings, and observed a heavy-set woman working in front of her house. "There's someone working in her lard," I said, and then on further reflection corrected, "No, no, I mean her yawn!"

When I first studied corporate law, I spent a lot of time pondering what exactly happened when a corporation issued shocks--er, that is, stares.

And recently I was telling DOB about how the children went out in the puddles and got their shoots--that is, their booze--soaping, that is, socking, wet.

So I propose a term for this phenomenon: a synacism. Have you ever met one?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Final Results


From left to right: D2 as a dangerous green and yellow dragon, D4 as a cowboy turned workerman at the last minute when the other cowboy hat vanished, D1 as a medieval princess, and D3 as a cowgirl with a lasso. Guess which parts of the costumes I was carrying within five minutes of arriving at the carnival, along with four balloon animals, the water, and DOB's shoes.

A good time was had by all, and the following morning as they sorted out and compared their candy, D3 composed the following song:

"I see mine! It's all mine! It's all mine! I love that it's mine! I can see mine! ..."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Into the Woods


Fun: Building forts and climbing in the giant maple trees on a sunny fall day.

Not so fun: Clearing out half an acre of nettles in order to get to the trees.

As Long As It's Gray

So the big kids have been thinking a lot about costumes this week, and about the AWANA carnival coming up next week. Actually they've been thinking about it a lot for the past two months.

D1 has remained unvarying in her choice: a princess. However, she's been designing her own costume, including making a headdress loosely inspired by Griselda in The Court Jester which consists of a piece of purple gingham in an embroidery hoop, with purple butterfly charms sewn onto it. (Yes, she did them herself, with some help threading the needle.) I'm not sure what will wind up being on the rest of her, but you can be sure of one thing: She will not look like she got a Disney Princess costume off the rack.

D2 initially varied between being a robot and being a knight. No problem, I said, and made sure his fall wardrobe included a pair of gray sweatpants and a gray thermal shirt. Robot or knight, we're covered with the base, and he already had the knight accouterments, whereas a robot merely required a cardboard box spray-painted silver.

But "indecision" is D2's middle name. As the time drew near, he started thinking about other things. I got worried. DOB suggested a dog or a wolf. "It's OK," I said, "Dogs are gray. Wolves are gray. All it takes is a pair of ears. I can do that." Other ideas came up. D1 made a long list of possibilities (and an equally long list for herself, all variations on Girls Wearing Fancy Dresses), then asked me to correct the spelling and recopied it twice. Most of them could be done in some variation of gray, if not just regular clothes.

Unfortunately, what he finally seems to have settled on is Dragon, after some concern over whether it would violate the carnival's ban on scary costumes. (I pointed out that some dragons are non-scary, like the one in The Reluctant Dragon.) And what kind of boring dragon is gray?

I did dig up an old but not impossibly small bright yellow hoodie that I can sew felt spikes and a tail on. But I'm still kind of hoping he'll switch back to knight before I do it.

And I have an uneasy feeling that whatever I sew, he'll wish at the last minute he'd picked something else.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Picture from D2's Birthday


Impressed by my glamorous cake? He asked for a house. It was a house. He could help make it. We actually got it made. Someday D1 will be old enough to make fabulous complicated cakes like I used to make before I had kids to make them for.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The State of Things

After being absent all summer (and spring, and winter), the sun has finally come out. When it gets high enough to shine over the trees. Not entirely coincidentally, I recently decided to scuttle school in the mornings in favor of going outside. I needed more fresh air. The twins needed more activity in the morning, or they failed to fall asleep until 4:30 in the afternoon, and then had to be woken for supper, and it went downhill from there. The hard part has been persuading the big kids (OK, D1 mainly) that the great big world out there is in fact equally if not more interesting than that of books and drawing.

The main culprit in the aversion to outdoors has been the spiders. This has been an unusually good year for spiders, and for most of September one could hardly take a step outside without getting entangled in a web. Cars parked overnight would sport webs in the morning, sparkling over the slug trails.

As a counterbalancing measure, we read Charlotte's Web and Spiders by Seymour Simon and learned to identify and distinguish them, but academic interest could not entirely overcome the icky sensation of an unexpected face full of web. But the spiders are starting to die off with the advancing fall, and there are compensating activities: raiding the last of the raspberries and huckleberries; making stone soup; spotting rare squirrels, heron nests, and gopher snakes giving birth.

At the same time, the Washington Bar rule change finally became effective and I can qualify for active status again if I take 45 hours of continuing education; half of that has to be live. Then another fifteen hour class for good measure. Fortunately webcasts count as live classes for the first requirement, but even so getting it all in over the next two months so I can be active at the beginning of next year will be daunting. It also looks like the legal research I've been doing will be picking up, for another 15-20 hours a month. Which doesn't seem like that many hours on paper, but it does when someone wakes up early from naptime.

And school? Well, they taught themselves to read last year, so we're already ahead of the game. Why rush matters? They have their whole lives to be chained to desks; best to get them out and running while they still can. Besides, I still hold the best and simplest method of education is to leave a child idle in the presence of heaps of books. It worked for C. S. Lewis and Samuel Johnson. And, less illustriously but more practically, for me. Why not the ducklings?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Give me Five

Someone turned five today, at 8:30 this morning Pacific time, as we discussed in some detail, since it was 11:30 and Eastern time where he was born. Someone likes discussing time zones and looking at maps. And listening to stories. And reading stories. And coloring elaborate abstract designs.

Someone likes to pretend to be a small, cuddly version of a large, ferocious predator. Or dressing up as a hero of old. Someone is so busy inside his own head that it's hard to guess what's really going on in there.

Someone has a whole world that lives inside his stomach. Maybe that's why there's not always room for much dinner. But he still likes cooking meals and eating them. Or at least talking about eating them.

Someone doesn't fit the "typical little boy" profile at all, but is very, very happy being himself. And we're very, very happy to have had him with us for the past five years.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Journey North

So we've decided to sell our current van to eliminate the car payment. We'll be driving Their Majesty's old van instead. This, although it doesn't sound very simple, is much more complicated than it sounds--first, because DOB now uses hand controls to drive upright vehicles, and second, because a day or two after we decided to do this, I backed into my grandpa's old Dodge truck. (I don't know if the truck was damaged--it was hard to tell. But the van's bumper was done for.)

Step one, then, was taking both vans into the shop to get the hand controls switched. Not just any shop does this, of course--and the place we go to have it done is on the far side of Seattle, an hour and a half north if you're lucky about traffic. We originally chose this particular place--they are all pretty far away--because it is close to some good friends of ours. Unfortunately, their kids were getting over something involving vomiting, and our kids were getting over something involving coughing, sore throats, and mysterious rashes, and an exchange of germs seemed ill-advised. So we missed out on the hoped-for visit.

Wondergirl kindly agreed to help out with the driving, though, and we set out with the ducklings parceled out among us to allow both of us to use the carpool lane. I had hoped that stuffing breakfast in their hands (french toast and dried fruit in little baggies) as I buckled them in would make for a quiet ride up, but D3 decided to scream for the first twenty minutes, "I don't want you to drive!" This is going to be a long day, I thought. But after awhile D4 and I started chatting about the fascinating sights of the interstate and she quieted down to eavesdrop.

After the controls were removed from the first vehicle, we were free to go and found a couple of parks to explore and eat lunch at, which more than satisfied the ducklings as to the value of the expedition. On the way back to the shop, we spotted a pair of thrift stores and at Wondergirl's suggestion I seized the opportunity to take the big kids in to try on tennis shoes without having to occupy the twins at the same time.

I figured to time returning right at nap time. (Wondergirl waited for the second car and returned at her leisure, after braving the germs at our friends' house.) Understand that on our usual 10-minute drives back from town right before or after lunch, it is a heroic undertaking to keep D4 from falling soundly asleep, whereupon he wakes up when we arrive and never takes any more nap. But though I played soft music and spoke to no one, and though everyone else fell soundly asleep, D4 remained alert and chatty all two hours home.

At our usual exit there is an intersection that backs up severely in the late afternoon. I figured to avoid it, as is our usual custom, by getting off at the exit before and going around. Which I did--I got off at the exit, went around the roundabout, and got right back on the highway. It had been a long day.

We got home with everyone tired and cranky and I tried pulling out my latest secret weapon in the maternal arsenal: back rubs. I've been teaching them all how to massage each others' backs, and even the twins like to join in, tiny fists pounding. While it didn't make for perfect harmony (mostly on the question of whose turn it was be rubbed or rub), it was a lot better to have consensual pounding on backs instead of antagonistic pounding on heads.

Yesterday we did the only slightly less onerous undertaking of emptying the car of the landfill's worth of detritus that accumulates after about three minutes of buckling in kids. And we took it to a much closer shop to get the bumper replaced.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Laws of Children's Clothing

1. If you want the weather to warm back up, just complete the seasonal clothing switch.

2. If you allow a young boy to choose his own clothes, with or without the assistance of his father, the results will be as follows:
a. If the day's plans are staying at home or playing in the mud with his cousins, the clothing selected will be a nice sweater and a pair of corduroy slacks.
b. If the day's plans are church or going to town, the clothing selected will be a pair of ripped jeans and an old hoodie.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Comes Round the Year

It's one of those times when I get nostalgic and read back through the posts from a year ago, two years ago, three years ago . . . Goodness, there's a lot more history than there used to be. I really should learn how to do a more manageable archive.

Somehow--the revolution of the earth around the sun likely being responsible--the duchy has arrived at seven years of existence. A result that has often been in some doubt, not because we might set off without each other, but because we might just drop dead from exhaustion simultaneously.

Rereading old posts, I wonder how I manage to sound so chipper and sure of myself. I don't have as much momentum as I used to, and I definitely don't know as much as I used to. Sometimes I feel like trolling my old posts. Life's a lot tougher than you think it is, youngster.

And yet . . . it's worth it, too. There's four wonderful people in the world who wouldn't exist apart from us. (It's hard for me to feel like I can take credit for that. . . I mean, it's not like we were really working at it . . . but we've at least done our best with the follow-through.) We've stuck it out through difficulties that have done in many other relationships--and grown closer through them. We still have someone to talk to and laugh with.

Maybe we know less, but maybe it's that less of what isn't so. Maybe we have less starry-eyed optimism, but we have more real experience to count on.

Marriage isn't safe or easy, but it's good.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Conversation

D4: My neck hurts!

QOC: That's because you have a cold.

D4: Take the cold* off me!

QOC: No, you're sick. Your nose is running, your neck hurts. You are sick.

D4: I'm not six, I'm twelve!

QOC: No, sick is not the same word as six.

D4: Oh. I'm sick.

QOC: Right.

D4: My nose is running. My neck hurts. I am sick. I need a book!



*This is what he calls the ice cubes he gets on him when he bangs his head.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Faint Similarity

I write like
Douglas Adams

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!


What really cracks me up is I first put in the Not So Simple post and got H. P. Lovecraft. (Not that I've ever read or ever in a million years would want to read H. P. Lovecraft.) Hmmm, I thought, what if I put in a real horror post? So I substituted the You Probably Don't Want to Read This Post and got Douglas Adams, which I can live with. There you go folks: If Douglas Adams had written about potty training, this is what it would read like.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

An Equation

R = kO

Where

R is the time to recover from an organizing project.
O is the time actually spent organizing.
k is a constant factoring in the amount of time it takes the children to turn everything back into chaos.

This is why I can never get ahead.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Many Kinds of Peril

A month or so ago His Majesty picked up an old pup tent somewhere and set it up in the garden for the kids to play in. Needless to say, it wasn't too long before the older two were begging to be allowed to sleep out overnight in it.

Now, DOB and I have very different feelings about sleeping outside, and not according to gender stereotypes, either. He cannot conceive of why anyone would want to sleep outside, while I grew up in a family where tents were for sissies and where my aunt and uncle have slept outside every night for decades. (Although they live in southern California, so it doesn't quite apply here.)

Anyway, last Friday we finally agreed to let them have a try, and trotted out the requisite amounts of blankets, pillows, stuffed animals and flashlights. Then everyone remembered they hadn't been potty. Then everyone remembered something else they had forgotten.

Then everything got quiet.

Until ten o'clock, when we heard them at the door. D1 was crying because D2 didn't want to sleep outside anymore, and she didn't want to do it alone. So we sat down and discussed why D2 didn't want to sleep outside any more.

Actually, what we discussed, as D2 brought up one thing after another, was the better-known animals of several continents, their level of danger to humans and their likelihood of coming into the tent. Polar bears were perilous, but wouldn't like the heat. Lions couldn't cross the ocean. Bunnies were near at hand, but afraid of humans. So were deer. Slugs were not afraid of humans, but wouldn't like the tent fabric.

Spiders, though . . . there was no denying that spiders might get in. Whereupon D1 began to look relieved that sleeping out was no longer on the agenda.

We put the quilt over the table instead and let them camp out in the living room. As I passed by a few minutes later, I heard a small voice from under the table, "But . . . couldn't we bonk our heads on the table?"

Friday, August 06, 2010

Flowchart

If you have a 2-year-old daughter who is obsessed with animals,

And if you have a 2-year-old son who is obsessed with trucks,

And if you have a low tolerance for obvious morals and incessant rhyming in children's books,

Then you should definitely not let anyone bring this book home from the library:

Friday, July 30, 2010

Miscellaneous

I find another week has nearly gone by and I have not posted on the blog. Maybe someday I'll make a bloggish resolution. Or maybe not.

Summer keeps thinking about showing up, but it usually takes it until afternoon to commit. So our mornings are cloudy and gray and I have a hard time shooing everyone outside. Then, in the afternoon, they're asleep. (Well, the twins, anyway.) However, I'll take it any day over a midwestern summer.

Toolboy and his wife just welcomed their first, a little girl, reputedly of a weight truly worthy of our family. Having had children makes me far more appreciative of the advantages of being an aunt. Specifically, that giving birth is not involved and diaper duty is relatively rare.

We went to the dentist this week. The hygienist who worked on D1 was the one who has been there as long as I can remember. Her mere presence makes me feel uncomfortable about my flossing habits, but other than that she's a very nice lady. Anyway, she pulled out my file and showed D1 the picture of me taken when I was six. The hygienist who worked on D2 was also great, and after a thorough introduction to the equipment he was the most cooperative little boy in the history of modern dentistry.

I didn't do so well--I have two and a half cavities. There are so many more interesting things in the world to spend money on than fillings.

I made the mistake of having the dental appointment the day after our usual library and park day outing. I'm still recovering. The decision not to try to do Vacation Bible School anywhere this year was the right one. Someday I hope we have enough energy to have a life again.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Not so simple

Ah, the simple life. Whatever *that* is. Everybody wants it; nobody can define it. Magazines like Real Simple make too easy of a target, providing a better-than-satire example of how our society can even turn anti-commercialism into a commercial goldmine.

The trouble is, simplicity is so hard to define. I once heard a friend (who can be excused from full rationality by being in love) extol the "simple pleasure" of riding ATVs. It always seems to me that the simplest possible human existence would be sitting at a desk all day filling out forms, then coming home to eat frozen pizza and watch sitcoms. Somehow, it never seems that this is what is meant.

It has a bit of an alliance with frugality, in not buying unnecessary stuff, but it would turn up its nose at frugality's hoard of stashed half-worn-out children's clothes. It seems to have a romantic attachment to getting back-to-nature, though anybody who thinks killing chickens and using an outhouse is simple has gotten no closer to nature than Little House on the Prairie reruns.

Simplicity is a luxury item, available primarily to the well-to-do and/or relationally unencumbered. The poor cannot afford the simple life, because they really might need that stuff some day and not have the resources to obtain it again. They could try to reject the various complicated requirements of modern society like safe transportation and clean clothing, but if they have kids, somebody's going to call the cops on them.

Simplicity is an admirable aesthetic ideal. Unfortunately, it often gets pressed into service as a moral code of right living, a task to which it is unequal. Morals all come in balance, but nobody raises a counter-ethic of useful complexity. The decor would be simpler without that tacky Star Wars diorama, but would it be kind? Thanksgiving dinner would be simpler without Crazy Uncle Larry, but would it be just? It makes pretty magazine pictures, but for real life, we need something a bit more well-rounded and accountable to something outside our own prejudices.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

You probably don't want to read this post

It's about potty training.

Well, sort of.

After a traumatic experience early on in motherhood with the intense, boot-camp style of potty training, I decided to go with the more child-led method with subsequent children. I make the potty available, show them what it's for, let them try it at their own pace. I am too cheap to do treats this time around, but the awe and approbation of older siblings seems to be making up for it.

The twins have had a keen and increasing interest in it over the past few days, and I try to be supportive and remind myself that we only have to go through this once, so it's worth disrupting all of life at random moments.

So that is all very well until this afternoon I poked my head outside after cleaning up the kitchen after lunch, leaving some lentils for supper cooking, and noticed D4's pants and diaper on the ground. Not too concerning so far, he can take off his pants and seems to relish it . . . I asked the older siblings and they said, "Oh, he wanted to take off his pants and go in the sand." Not so cool, but perhaps I had arrived in time.

I then spotted D4, who was wearing a longish t-shirt and reiterated going in the sand as a personal goal.

"No," I said, "Let's go to the potty." I lead him inside, only to look behind us and realized he had left a trail of sand. I was too late. I popped him in the bathtub and poked my head outside, only to realize that he had not only gone in the sand, he had then made good use of this new material with his construction toys.

So I got him washed up and set him out while I ran off up the hill to retrieve his pants and spotless diaper. Meanwhile, he went all over the floor. I got him covered and sent him out to play, instructing the older kids to keep him away from the sandpile, and if he ever did anything of the sort again, to summon help immediately.

At this point I remembered that I had left dinner cooking and D3 seated at the counter, ran upstairs and discovered it had stuck to the bottom of the pot. I poured it in a new pot. Fortunately at this juncture Their Majesties returned home, so I shouted hasty instructions about the remainder of dinner, then ran back outside to clean out the sand pile and wash all the trucks and shovels.

As I was getting near the end of this project, I came back inside to see Her Majesty dealing with D3. "She said she needed to go stinky in the potty." Unfortunately, as usual, she had announced this seconds too late, which is, if anything, more messy than not trying at all.

So one has timing issues, and the other has location issues, but they ARE getting the idea. Really. I hope.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Crepuscular

It sounds like a horrid insult, but it's quite an innocent word that applies to the habits of rabbits, of bobcats and deer, of cats and dogs, of mosquitoes and moths, and to me.

The world, you see, is not limited to morning larks and night owls. There are also many creatures who prefer dawn and dusk, who like to be active first thing in the morning and then again in the early evening. That suits me perfectly. I don't mind getting up early--well, but not TOO early--preferably not before six-thirty (which, I admit, is long after dawn this time of year, but we'll go on averages). But then by mid-day I'm running out of steam and feel it's time to settle down with a book or computer. Then again in the evening I feel inspired to be up and doing, but by nine-thirty all circuits are shutting down again.

Which corresponds to life pretty well, since there's always the huge get-everyone-up-and-dressed-and-fed-and-laundry-started-and-dishes-washed first thing in the morning, and then the huge put-laundry-away-so-you-can-find-the beds-feed-everyone-wash-dishes-change-and-put-to-bed in the evening. It takes the better part of the day to recover from the first, and a solid night's sleep to be ready to tackle it again. And when I miss my midday down time, ugly things happen.

Which is why I'm sitting here watching dragonflies and experimenting to see how long I can tolerate a porch swing instead of doing anything useful during the twins' nap. Conserving energy is useful.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Seven Quick Takes Friday

1. The other grandparents are visiting, which means we've been running around a little bit more and I've been hiding out in my room a little bit more because other people are interacting with the children.

All the grandparents and the older two took a trip to Mt. Rainier one day, while I stayed home and had a relaxing day with only two two-year-olds to contend with. I always wonder if having only two children would really be that much easier, or if it only seems easier because they are better behaved in novel situations.

2. We also went to the zoo. Wondergirl has gotten a zoo pass for trips for everyone's birthdays, so we only took in a few exhibits and then watched the animal show at lunchtime. The polar bears and walruses were quite popular, as usual, and we all got a kick out of the musk ox who was charging a plastic barrel repeatedly while his compatriots mildly chewed the grass and looked at him as if to say, "Why *are* you rushing about in all this heat?" D3, who loves to stand and watch the rabbits and chipmunks at home, was entranced with all the different animals.

3. Conversation with D3, retrieving a dropped grape: "Watch out for the table!" D3: "Watch out for me coming out from the table with a grape!"

4. Speaking of the twins and eating and rabbits and chipmunks, it is strawberry and raspberry season, which means the rabbits and chipmunks are hard at work finding ways to break into the berry gardens, and so are the twins.

5. Rabbit and chipmunk mothers are lucky they never have to try to get strawberry juice and ground-in sand out of their babies' fur.

6. Another thing D1 is taking advantage of with Grandma R. here is learning to sew--she is nearly finished with her first project, a sleeping bag for one of her stuffed animals.

7. D2, however, is obsessed with being a large predator. Except the small, cuddly version of the large predator. So our conversations go like this:

D2: "Hey, Mama, I'm a little bobcat. What's for lunch, Mama Bobcat?"

QOC (if necessary, dashing off to Wikipedia): "Hmm, how about some nice young rabbits, little bobcat?"

D2: "Oooh, yes, I love rabbits."


D2: "Actually, I think I want to eat giraffes. Is that a tiger?"

QOC: "No, tigers don't live where giraffes do. Lions might eat giraffes."

D2: "OK, then I'm a lion."

And thus we discovered that cold mac and cheese with bread crumbs does look kind of like giraffe hide.

More quick takes at Conversion Diary.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Two by Two

Believe it or not, I mixed up the twins while we were still in the hospital, before they put the color-coded hats on them for easy distinguishment. There's no confusing them now, though, even when they are covered with identical layers of impenetrable dirt. D3 is the one whose hair persists in fluffing despite the weight of sand on it, who sits and pours sand with endless fascination, who sucks on her fingers and watches everything around her with rapt attention. D4 is the one racing down the hill on his bike while wielding a sword and laughing maniacally. They both are fully equipped to speak for themselves, if only they can get a quiet moment so that someone will listen. They love to listen to stories, though D4 thinks cars should always be involved. They love playing with the big kids and playing with each other. We've all survived two years together and we should be able to keep it going.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Reunion

The Fourth of July is not a time, nor an event, it is a place.

Specifically, it is on Whidbey Island, between a low green house and a shallow green lagoon. It consists of a mammoth sand pile, a collection of more-or-less leaky rowboats, an assortment of chairs and picnic tables, a fire pit (essential this year), and a whole lot of salmon dip.

And, of course, a crowd of dimly-remembered relatives.

Most family reunions fall down on the problem of being either expensive or terminally boring for everyone under sixty. This reunion has been going strong since the current over-sixty generation were toddlers (although it was held on a beach back then), and despite cold and clammy weather, scored one of its highest attendances.

I have only been once since I was married, and I haven't seen many of the cousins my age since well before that. But I noticed them trickling back in. They have toddlers, too, now, and they remember playing on that sand pile and splashing in the lagoon (though only the Polar Bear Club was in for it this year) and exploring uncharted waters in the rowboats and the year Craig lit the grass on fire with the bottle rockets. And they remember me and I remember them . . . a little . . . and in a world where everything else comes and goes and people have died that we didn't think would die so soon it matters more to be here, every year, just like it always was and has been.

The older ducklings have been before, when they were too young to remember much, but they remembered this year, all right. The ride on the ferry. The rowboats. The sand pile. The unlimited food. The pool table. They both agreed that the Fourth of July was the best possible day of the year, with Christmas earning an honorable mention.

I suppose change must come some day, but if the reunion can continue long enough, someday they'll be bringing their kids, too.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

License to Grill

Last November we thought we should be good citizens and go get our licenses changed to Washington. The first time we tried, the computers were down. We later managed to find an operating office to get it done at, and we managed to scrounge up the half-dozen pieces of identification required, only to discover we couldn't get licenses because we couldn't prove we lived within the state, having no mortgage or rental agreement. The only way to do it would be to have one of Their Majesties come and swear to our existence. We finally decided if they made it that difficult we would just wait until we really had come to reside here.

So this week DOB decided that, since he had a real job and all, we were really residents and should make the effort. His Majesty and I drove up to meet him at the nearest Department of Licensing. Well, we were supposed to, but first of all I had to find all the necessary pieces of identification, several of which had been placed into a now-unknown safe place since the last attempt. Eventually the right combination of documents appeared and we set off. DOB beat us there, only to discover the power was out at that Department and seventy or so people were ahead of us once the power came back on. Having gotten so far, it seemed a pity to waste it, so we decided to head on to the next town.

That office was by no means overcrowded, and the lights were on, but a sign was posted that the computers were down state-wide and so no services could be provided. He also supplied the cheery news that the last time this had happened they stayed down for two days. However, he did note that when the computers were now back up, they had a new system that enabled them to check out claimed addresses, and thus His Majesty's presence was no longer required. Having come even farther than ever, however, we determined that waiting was the best course.

So we went to the library down the road and came back with a stack of books to fortify us for yet another hour or two of waiting on plastic chairs. As we came in, they were still turning everyone away, but they did manage to help one fellow finish up a license process started before the computers went down. This seemed a promising sign, so we waited. After a while, they announced that the other office (the one with the power outage and seventy people) had managed to get two computers online. And then, at last, they said they could take us.

We came to the counter with our stack of papers, but the attendant never asked for them. He took our old licenses, asked for our social security numbers, and moved on. Apparently the stringent requirements we encountered last fall were the result of a federal audit into the state's free hand with federal dollars towards illegal immigrants. A couple of weeks ago the state decided the feds were no longer watching and relaxed all the requirements again, although the website still lists them just in case someone is looking, I suppose.

Anyway, now that we have proper local licenses I suppose our gypsy stage is over.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Doorwalker

Last Sunday we were visiting a new church. DOB had already taken the ducklings out to the playground (it won all of their votes on the basis of its superior playground, which included an obstacle course in the woods). I was making my exit from the ladies' room when I miscalculated the intersection between my path and the path of the door and rammed it straight into my right eyebrow.

Fortunately a lady was standing in the foyer watching and asked if I needed ice, or I probably would have just wandered off in dazed oblivion with my hand plastered to my forehead for reasons I only vaguely recalled. With the injury drawn to my attention, I agreed that ice would probably be a good idea. We headed to the kitchen where I pulled my hand down for the application of ice and realized that I was also dripping blood.

At this point the lady thought it would be best to summon the pastor, who it turned out had a prior career as an ER nurse. Unfortunately, he was only the interim pastor, and didn't know where the first aid kit was. Fortunately, it was right there in the kitchen and labeled in large red letters, and deep in the depths he fished out a butterfly bandage and taped me up, so that was alright except for hurting most of the rest of the week.

Anyway, yesterday DOB got a restaurant gift card from grateful clients and his parents arrived the day before to expand the babysitting pool, so we went out to supper. I entered the ladies' room and tried to shut the stall door only to discover it was sagging on its hinges such that the latch didn't meet. Perhaps a yank on the bottom of the door would readjust it. I yanked. The entire door came off in my hands.

"Uh-oh," I said.

An employee had been in tidying up. "Did you break it?" she asked.

"Um, yes, I think so," I said.

She came and looked. "Oh, you did!"

With her balancing the top, I managed to slide the door back on to its hinges, whereupon I checked the latch, and sure enough, it now lined up properly. That will teach it.

So I guess the score between me and bathroom doors is even for now.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

One Year Ago Today

Things were finally settling down a bit. We'd nearly survived the first year with twins. (And, as I kept telling them, they should have already been one! Someday I will forgive them for making their due date.) They were starting to utter their first words and thinking about taking their first steps.

I was making plans to start some simple schoolwork with D1 and enjoying living in a house that was finally painted and arranged the way I wanted it. Well, mostly. DOB was grateful to have a steady job with people he liked being around. We'd just taken D1 out on a birthday trip and she'd vowed she wanted to do the exact same thing next year. We spent a lot of time at our neighborhood park. We'd finally gotten the lawn mowed and ordered a reel mower so I could keep up with it myself.

And then the next evening, DOB came home and asked if I'd like to go out to dinner. Cicero was there to watch the kids, supper was long since fixed (I'd learned very early on that we wouldn't eat unless I did all the cooking as early in the day as possible). After a day like every day, who would say no?

We went to our favorite sandwich shop and he asked, "What do you think of moving to Washington?"

What did I think? I couldn't think of that--I'd never allowed myself to think of it.

By the end of the evening we'd decided to move sometime in the next year; by the end of the week we'd decided to leave that fall. It was impossible and absurd and imprudent, but having thought of it we had to try.

We fixed up our house, and sold it. DOB gave notice at his work, and found a replacement. We got rained on, learned to do things we couldn't do, and accomplished the impossible task of showing a house in immaculate condition while living in it with four preschoolers.

One day, the time had come, and we packed up the last of what was left and headed west. Our trip out felt like an epic adventure. We were free of everything, committed to nothing yet, following the pioneers only with better plumbing. We drove as far as we wanted to, stopped when we felt like it, and saw the country one mile at a time.

Then, we got here. After a few weeks of settling in and networking, all that energy we'd had for moving and adventuring came to a crashing end. We slept for ten or more hours every night and barely dragged ourselves through the day. We came down with one sickness after another. Our idea that we might find work while waiting for the bar exam turned out to be wrong; not that either of us had energy to work anyway.

There was nothing to do but wait. Wait and try not to think about the fact that we were unemployed and living in our parents' basement, which is not where anyone wants to be at thirty.* Especially not with four kids.

Then came a rush of studying for the bar exam, the thrill of DOB actually *taking* the bar exam and then . . . more waiting. Winter ended and spring began and it rained a lot and we stepped on each other's toes and the children screamed pretty often and there was nothing to do and nowhere to go and the bills kept adding up and we had probably done something incredibly stupid, but it didn't bear thinking about now.

And then . . . things began to pick up, a little. In one networking meeting in November we'd met with a Seattle attorney who knew a half-dozen lawyers in our area. We'd met with several of them before we collapsed in December. One of them, in the nicest possible way, ripped our presentation to shreds and made us rethink everything we were looking for and everything about how we were presenting ourselves. One of them was congenial but didn't know of anything.

In March, the latter one called me up and asked if I'd like to do a free-lance research project. In April, the former one looked at DOB's many-times-revised resume and said he'd finally got it and he should talk to X firm as they always had more work than they could handle. When DOB finally managed to speak to someone there, they gave him a contract project--and then another, and another. And finally the results from the bar came in, and DOB could be a real lawyer in the state he lived in for the first time.

Through all this, DOB's knee had been acting up due to the driving position of a minivan, but he'd tried to tough it out before spending money on a second car. The day after he got sworn in, a week after he'd started working on a contract basis, the strain in his knee became too much and he broke his foot. His good foot, which meant a wheelchair and therapy and no driving at all.

Somehow he kept working and we kept going even though it all felt like a cruel joke at times. Earlier this month, after sufficiently demonstrating his skill at negotiating for other people, he negotiated himself a full-time position. I got a second research project, and it may work into something intermittent but regular that I can do from home.

In short, we did it. We moved, we changed careers, we're going to settle where we've always wanted to live. DOB loves negotiating and advocating and I love researching and am starting to get back in touch with the self I left behind in Washington without losing the people I love. Our children are best friends with their cousins and have the run of the farm where I grew up. We are back on track towards being able to pay our own way.

There's still a long way to go. It still looks like it will be awhile before we have a home of our own again. DOB is starting over from the beginning in a difficult career, and the learning curve is steep. Health issues still crop up periodically and caring for four only-slightly-older children is still exhausting. In some ways it seems like we traded a lot of work for an overwhelming amount of work. We've asked a lot from those around us and we wish we had more to give back.

But we're very thankful for where we have been, for what we have been able to do, for where we are now, and for where we can go next.

*Not that the basement isn't a very nice place, in fact larger and airier than either of our apartments. And with much better grounds. The difficulties were psychological rather than physical.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Now We Are Six

And now birthday season is upon us, and (discounting grownups who of course don't count) D1 kicks it off by turning 6!

D1 is growing fast and eats plenty to keep up with it. She loves princesses, mostly for the fancy dresses. She was really interested in getting married because of the fancy dress, but after DOB pointed out the importance of all the rest of your life after the wedding, she's a little more cautious. When she grows up she wants to be a cook--actually, she already is one.

She loves to read and write stories and lists. She always has a game of pretending going. She likes to be the one in charge. DOB occasionally calls her the "cult leader" as the other children follow eagerly behind with whatever new idea she has. Fortunately most of them are good ones. We count on her a lot, and she bears it graciously.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Life, Death, and Chipmunks

I have an unsympathetic little lot of children. Over the past two days we have repeatedly seen an injured chipmunk wandering heedlessly around the driveway and flowerbeds, collapsing in exhaustion in unsafe places. I asked B6 to put it in the bushes once, but it crawled back out again. It had a large gash in it side.

This afternoon it finally died and I buried it.

Now, my understanding is that at this point one's tender-hearted small children are supposed to be tearing up, mourning the chipmunk, demanding full application of last rites and a proper burial.

Not mine. They weren't gleeful, just curious. "How can you tell whether it's breathing?" "Where are you going to bury it?" "Why not bury it in the flower bed?" "You shouldn't bury people in the woods, right?" (Not under most circumstances . . . ) "Do people live longer than animals?" "Can I ride the shovel back?"

I could hold out hope that the twins will prove more sympathetic in their day, but since I caught D3 wandering around the yard, wielding a sword and muttering, "Where da slugs? I dunna till dem!" the other day, it would be faint hope indeed.

The good side of this is that it leaves our entertainment options a bit broader. Neither death nor danger are off-limits, within reason. So we let the older ducklings watch The Princess Bride as their first full-length movie. D1 took it all in stride; D2 got big-eyed at the scarier parts, but was eager to go on once we had paused the movie and reassured him that we had seen the end and it all came out all right. He also seemed to derive great comfort from passing moral judgments on the movie characters: if someone did something bad, then to label it as bad made it significantly less threatening.

I've never subscribed to the theory that we should shield children altogether from the existence of evil and sorrow, but sometimes I have a twinge that such neat, fairytale plotlines are far too simplistic: the "bad guys" get punished, the "good guys" live happily ever after, and it all comes out OK in the end. Is it fair to tell that to children when such things often don't happen in this world?

Then again, I also believe that this world is not the end of the story, and that the reason we thirst so much for the happy ending is because we are creatures made to see it. That Judgment Day is not just a threat, but a promise of all wrongs righted and all evils undone. That Someone has seen the whole thing and is whispering to us that it all comes out right in the end. The fairy tale is not wrong; we're just still waiting to storm the castle.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Miscellaneous

I performed an act of great bravery this week: I took the kids out in the car *all by myself*. I know, that doesn't sound too exciting, but it's the first time I have ever done it, except to places where I would have help on the receiving end. But we went to the library and the grocery store and the park and had no trouble at any of them, except that D3 was not too eager to have an older sibling hold her hand.

I don't know how I'm ever going to buy a full load of groceries with all the kids along, though, being as the cheaper stores don't have those extra-big carts. The twins find grocery shopping a novel and exciting experience. D4 was upset when we put the eggs on the belt the first time. But I can only fit a couple of gallons of milk in amongst them when they're sitting in the body of the cart, and I really don't think I want two two-year-olds walking about the store on their own.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The local library has crayons and coloring papers in the children's section. I think this exceptionally brave, if not foolhardy, of them.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Thoughts by D2, on eating the world:

  • You could not eat the world, because you could not be outside the world to eat the world.
  • Besides, you could not find a big enough plate to fit the whole world on.
  • Even if you could find a big enough plate, you definitely could not eat the whole world in one bite.
  • Maybe you could go around the world eating it.
  • Maybe you could go in a rocket to Mars and stay there for a day and come back and eat more.
(Note: He always gets on topics like this on days when he only touches two bites of his supper.)

Friday, June 04, 2010

Seven Quick Takes Friday

1. I'm not sure I have seven quick takes, but I can feel through the interwebs the longing and pleading to please get that slug picture off the top of the page. The older ducklings and I are reading with considerable interest a book about slugs, although I was grateful that they were somewhat distracted by how long their nap time would be when we got to the bit about reproduction. (Slugs are hermaphrodites--try explaining that to a 4-year-old. I did have an explanation worked out, in case they asked, but they admired the eggs and moved on.)

2. We got hand controls installed in the van last Thursday. And then panicked briefly when the combination of driving by hand and pushing himself in a wheelchair put DOB's shoulders out. However, he's decided to upgrade himself to a walker to give the shoulders a break and is now getting around pretty much on his own, much to everyone's relief. What the doctor would think about the risk to his knee and foot we don't know, as we haven't yet found a doctor whose opinion seems worth consulting.

3. This makes no sense with my life right now, but it is so geekishly cool I wish it did: Chore Buster. You put in all your people (with how much they get to do), chores (with how hard they are and how often they are) and it randomly and equitably assigns the chores. DOB thinks it would take all the fun out of it. I guess what would really be cool would be writing the system myself. Still, it's a fun thought.

4. Today we had a minor crisis at naptime when Doll-Doll could not be found. I scoured the house, inside and out, upstairs and down. I was finally trying to sing to D3 and persuade her that we would find Doll-Doll after naps, when Her Majesty came into the room carrying a Honeycomb box. She had been about to take out the recycling and discovered Doll-Doll stashed inside. It's a good thing she has a rattle.

5. D1 and D2 are greatly anticipating the Borders summer reading program. You have to read ten books. In case you need help planning this feat, they have calculated that you can do that by reading two books for five days, or five books on two days, or four books for two days and then two books on the third day. I'm guessing whichever approach they take, they will be done before the library program starts in the middle of June.

6. D2 was drawing a picture for a birthday card. He told me it was a slide with a ladder. He came back a few minutes later, having drawn in the rungs on the ladder, but given his limited understanding of perspective, the rungs went straight down and looked more like legs. "See what it looks like now?" he said. "Oh yes," I said encouragingly, "You drew all the rungs in so it really looks like a ladder." "No it doesn't," he laughed, "It looks more like a pig!" I guess kind lies aren't going to work with this kid.

7. See, I told you I didn't really have seven things.

More Quick Takes at Conversion Diary.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Sluggish Investigations


I may have mentioned before that the twins' favorite animals are slugs. They are slow and watchable. Today D4 took me on a walk, saying, "Find flocks!"

"Flocks?" I asked.

"No, Flogs!" he said.

"Oh, slugs," I said.

"Slogs! Find slogs!"

So we looked for slogs all over the garden, and we found them in plenty. Each time we saw one, D4 called out, "Slog! Nother slog! Don step onnit! It's gucky!"

Fast forward a few hours. I had taken DOB to the gym, so Their Majesties were putting the kids to bed after another outside play time. As she picked up D4 to change him, D4 exclaimed, "I tep onna slog! I tep onna lello slog!"

Hearing this later, I interjected, "Well, he doesn't really know his colors yet, he just assigns them at random . . . "

"Oh, it was a yellow one alright," Her Majesty said.

Further examination of D3's feet revealed that she, too, had participated in the test to determine just how gucky stepping on slogs really was.

What is not known is their conclusions from this experiment.

However, I did notice that Their Majesties were exceptionally helpful in helping DOB rig up his gym bag to his walker so that he can go to the pool on his own in the future.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Late-Night Argument

For background, I had tried to sing to the twins as they went to bed and been adamantly told, "No singing. Moozik on." I had left the room. Whereupon the following was heard, many times over:

D4: Mama sing! Mama sing! Mama siiinnnggg!
D3: Jesus love me, he who die . . .
D4: No, D3! Quiet! Go sleep!
D3: I singing!
D4: No, Mama sing! Mama sing! Maaammaaaa siiinnnggg!

(Repeat)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Title IX

The older ducklings and I were watching this video of trick jump-roping. D2 noticed and observed plaintively that it looked like they were all girls.

"Yes," I explained, "Mostly it is girls who do jump-roping. Like mostly it is boys who do football. And some things girls and boys both play, but on different teams, like basketball. And some things everybody likes to play all together."

He brightened up. "Like Hi-Ho Cherrio!"

Monday, May 24, 2010

Setting under the sails

We did not get the stomach flu this time. So we were at last able to take our trip to tour the Tall Ships when they came back to visit our side of the Puget Sound. (Well, sort of. It was still over an hour's drive.) Unfortunately, we forgot the camera. But you can see pictures of the boats on that website, and you can see pictures of the older two ducklings on this website, and just kind of mentally combine them. Just be sure you pick the happiest and most intent-looking duckling pictures.

The forecast was cool and rainy, but it turned cool and sunny instead, which was perfect weather for keeping up with D1 and D2 as they ran down in the hold and back up to the helm and over the gangplank to the other ship and down the hold and back up to the helm and over the gangplank again and again and again. If it was possible for them to have a better time, I cannot imagine how.

DOB had quite enough excitement just hitching himself around the boats once as they were definitely not designed to be wheelchair accessible. He also had a very nice chat with the captain of one of the ships, an online friend, after convincing the crew that he really did know the captain by producing his first name. The crew all dress in period clothes and stand about to answer the endless round of inane questions at each port, but they try to protect the captains, who try to stay incognito in modern dress. They still looked terrifically sea-captainish to me.

What I did was get seasick. On a tied ship. On a calm day.

We'd like to take a Battle Sail sometime, but I think I'd better get some Dramamine first.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Oops

D2: I never get anything that I want.

QOC: Yes, I do my best to deliberately thwart you at every turn.

D2: Why?

QOC: Because I am EEEeeevilll.

D2: Then I will not obey you, since you are evil.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Oh, THAT kind of crazy

A couple of weeks ago I predicted that life was about to get crazy again.

Unsurprisingly, it did.

The particular form of craziness was not what I expected. (And perhaps even that is unsurprising.) I was expecting a lot of running around, writing cover letters, networking meetings, etc. We'd had one sample day of that, which involved a complete printer failure, crashed program that ate a saved file, and His Majesty impromptu babysitting for three hours while we invented creative new terminology for our computer equipment, and DOB making it by the law firms after all the relevant people had left for the day.

However, one of those people finally answered the phone. And when he went in to talk to them, asked if he'd like to do some contract work. So he's been working there since last Monday--it's less than fifteen minutes from here and about three minutes from the courthouse. He's had the chance to work on a variety of cases and is really enjoying it. It may work in to something long-term, or it may not; either way, it's perfect right now.

So THAT just seemed too easy. Clearly, something else needed to go crazy.

Obligingly, one of the bones in DOB's foot called it quits last Saturday. One of the bones in his *good* foot. And as one of those little things that boasteth great things, it has turned everything topsy-turvy. Since his bad foot can't be called in as a substitute, he can't walk or drive. Everything takes much longer. B5 drops him off at work in the morning, I pick him up and take him around to doctors and the pool and such. Their Majesties and occasionally Wondergirl do a lot of extra babysitting.

I've done more driving in the past week than I have in the previous three years. DOB is making tremendous strides in his swimming lessons what with the extra arm workouts.

The ducklings, undisturbed, keep riding their bikes. D1 has composed a song she likes to sing while riding bikes: "If we just keep on rolling/We can get from here to there."

Monday, May 10, 2010

Perfectly Messy

Last week I read a book entitled A Perfect Mess, on the underappreciated virtues of disorder.

My siblings questioned whether I needed to read such a book. Probably not. Still, it is fun to find sympathy for one's philosophy.

There are, of course, dysfunctional levels of disorder--if you die under cascades of old magazines, for instance.

But there are also dysfunctional levels of order, and the mental image of the magazine-perfect house as something we all ought to attain, or at least aspire to, is probably doing us more harm than good. As anyone who has sold a house can tell you, maintaining a house in that kind of condition is highly dysfunctional for family life or, indeed, doing anything with one's life except cleaning house.

Similarly, too much long-range planning and rigid adherence to schedules and efficiency can leave us without time or resilience for the unexpected, or for examining what the use is of all those things we are doing so efficiently. DOB and I have realized, looking back, that most of the decisions we made that turned out badly were ones we made while trying to look long-term. Not being psychic, our long-term predictions usually turned out wrong, and in the meantime we had made a decision that was not so helpful for the present, either.

Some people just naturally are neater and more organized, and this is fine. However, some of us are naturally a bit more scattered, and have found ways to make it work very well for us. My laundry system when the twins were babies, for instance, consisted of splitting the family up into pairs, having a hamper for each, running each hamper through the laundry and then into its own basket, and thus never having to sort, fold, or put away laundry, while still not wasting much time hunting for lost socks.

Now that the twins are toddlers, it is more efficient to spend ten minutes every few days folding and putting away laundry than it would be to hunt down missing socks from under all the furniture and persuade D3 to take people's underwear off her head. Instead, I give a lot less attention to stuff left on the floor.

Toddlers are expert randomizers, and although I like to clean up every now and again, I've discovered it usually means we spend MORE time hunting for lost items, because instead of everything lying out in plain view, during the pickup session someone helpfully "put away" their shoes in a toy bin or their water bottle in the closet.

When I do decide it's time to clean up, we get out a couple of laundry baskets (laundry baskets are a great semi-messy organizing device), toss everything on the floor into the baskets, sweep and vacuum. I put the baskets up high where I can sort through them at leisure. Then we can play "Ring Around the Rosie" on the newly-clean floor and then relax as the living room gradually becomes converted back into a store/castle/library/campground.

It's helpful to remember that we owe penicillin to Alexander Fleming's messy laboratory, and (this one wasn't mentioned in the book) Horton Hatches an Egg to Dr. Seuss's messy desk. Mess is a great place for discovery. As long as nobody dies.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Seven Quick Takes Friday

1. DOB got sworn in yesterday. They don't have a general swearing-in ceremony here like in the bigger counties--you just call the courthouse and they have a judge with a quiet calendar do it. You get to practice actually walking up to the bar. Just in case you found that hard. Now he just has to finish all the rest of the paperwork and wait for his card.

2. The twins are far more keyed in to their surroundings than the older kids, and so they are having a great time watching animals outside. (While D2 just stands there--"Where? Where is it? I don't see it!"--and yes, I have informally checked his vision, he can see distant things fine, it just takes him a loooong time to switch gears or make sense of the outside world.) Their favorite, by far, is the slug. Any time they see one, they stop and watch it, fascinated, pointing "That way! There it goes! Bye-bye, slug!" Since there are banana slugs, D1 has concluded that the darker-colored ones are chocolate slugs.

3. Rocketboy (or should he now be Copterboy?) is home for a week or so before he heads out to Afghanistan. He came over for spaghetti last night and I think three out of four of the ducklings out-ate him. This is not encouraging.

4. Techboy and family close on the sale of their house next week, and are moving to the Farm until they get their house built. This should make it even easier for the cousins to get together.

5. D2 has been having outbreaks of random itchiness. I have been trying to write down what he eats to see if I can find a cause, but I have also tried cutting way back on his sugar consumption, which had been creeping upwards, and he hasn't had any since. So I'm going to suspect it is excess sugar, which is nice because it doesn't require reworking everyone's menus to avoid.

6. However, in defense of D2's ability to make sense of the outside world, he discovered gravity the other day. "Why is it," he asked, "that when I let go of things, they always fall down? Why don't they fly up in the air, instead?" We then had a discussion on things that do fly up in the air, but I tried to refrain from giving him any pat answers. I still have hopes of seeing him turn into a physicist. Or something.

7. We had to take the blind down in the duckling's room because it had a string we could not make safe. This was fine in the winter, but now that sunrise is at five-thirty or thereabouts, the kids were waking up WAY too early. Her majesty improvised a curtain out of shower rings, safety pins, and denim, which keeps the room adequately dark and can be taken apart into component parts once the children are no longer in that room. And now blissful silence reigns until 7 or 8 again.

Oh, and bonus points: Happy Birthday to DOB! Also it's Law Day! Coincidence?

More Quick Takes.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

The Mysterious Alot

Has now been identified. And the Grammar Commando is pleased.

(I will add that although that particular post looked fine, the rest of the site would earn a very different rating than the Duchy, so be forewarned.)

Saturday, May 01, 2010

The Envelope Please . . .

And today, DOB received the news that he passed the Washington bar!

Also, he has a contract opportunity at a local firm.

Also, the sun is shining (intermittently) and the birds are chirping (incessantly).

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What we're up against

The other night we had macaroni and cheese for dinner. It was actually leftover macaroni and cheese, but that did not eclipse its position at the top of the Toddler Food Pyramid. The accompanying peas, usually welcomed, were slighted.

When D3 pushed her plate back for more noo-noos, I pointed out that the peas needed to be all gone first. A few minutes later, she shoved an empty plate across the table. Suspicious, I peered into her bib and discovered she'd deposited all of them in her bib. I poured them back out on the plate and repeated the requirement.

The meal continued as I tended to the other children and chatted with DOB. And then, I noticed to my perplexity, that I seemed to be eating peas with my fingers. I looked down, and there was D3, quietly holding up one pea at a time and murmuring, "Here, mama" while I absent-mindedly picked them up and ate them. Once I noticed it, I realized it had been going on for a considerable time.

"Wait a minute!" I said, "*You* are supposed to eat the peas."

She batted her eyelashes at me.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Breather

Well, the Evil Virus seems to have departed, or nearly departed, the premises, after infecting each one of us in slow, agonizing succession.

Surprisingly, about midway through the attack, but of course after I personally had recovered, all the housekeeping and child-wrangling things seemed to fall into place for me: we found a working schedule, I got on top of the toy mess and stayed there, and life, in short, resolved itself into a serene pattern (interspersed with handing around the bucket).

If my past life is any guide, this means everything is about to go crazy again. Of course, a closer analysis of my past life indicates that it is just the point where everything settles down that I deliberately undertake something crazy. Apparently I find functionality boring. But, with DOB's bar results only a week away, chances are good that things will change soon, one way or another.

A big part of the leap in schedule functionality has been putting the twins in their room to play for twenty minutes or so each morning. We have a singing time all together first, and then D1 and D2 get some "real school" time at the table. They are quivering with excitement over the arrival of *handwriting* books. This is my one concession to structure, because I think as much as they are writing on their own they should probably not be writing things backwards any more.

Then we go outside to play. So far we have not permanently lost D4, as he still likes to check in on me occasionally, but his obsession with going "Up the hill!" "Down the hill!" "Up the hill!" keeps us well-exercised. D3 tends to stick closer, in case she needs something, a newly discovered sentence structure: "I need up!" "I need changed!" "I need chocolate!"

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

And STILL not what I was hoping for

The stomach flu still lingers like a guest who didn't ask for decaf, hitting us each in turn, and sometime in turn again. We missed church, we missed the next-to-last week of AWANA, we missed the last ship tour on this side of the Sound for a few months, and we've missed quite a few meals.

On the other hand, there are a lot of worse weeks it could have come on, so we'll try not to complain too loudly.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Not what I was hoping for

We had plans today to drive along the coast and tour an old-style sailing ship with the older two ducklings. Their Majesties were going to supervise the twins, and the day dawned blue and golden.

And I have the stomach flu. DOB has it more mildly, and D1 fell asleep at 10 and napped for two and a half hours, which is about as much sickness as she ever manifests. So far everyone else is perfectly well and very noisy. I lie about and moan faintly occasionally. Thanks to B5 we have a new stack of books in from the library, so I have that small consolation.

We're hoping to visit the ship at another port next Wednesday. If I live that long.

From Now to Eternity

Semicolon has been posting the most popular poems from her poetry survey, and along the way mocking a bit the conviction of various poets that their words would grant immortality to the subjects of their poems. (Listen to the YouTube clip while you're over there; it's amazing.) The irony is, egotistical as they sound, they were quite right: here we all are, still reading them sing the praises of their long-dead loves.

Perhaps it is not just ego, either. For the whole point of writing a poem is to capture a fleeting moment and transform it into something permanent. We are always losing everything, every moment, and we fight to catch it and hold it back. No wonder life doesn't feel real until we have captured it, like the family Chesterton mentioned that felt their existence confirmed when their own suburb warranted mention in the Times. It's not even our life itself that we love--it's the glimpses it gives us of something more.

Which reminds me of my very inconsistent aversion to photography. The ducklings often clamor to have their picture taken and I grudge them, not just because I don't want to go hunt the camera and a fresh set of batteries up, but because I hate the thought of them suspending their involvement in what they are doing to pose. But perhaps they are, in a childish way, trying to do the same thing I do in words: they don't just want to climb the tree, they want to capture the moment of climbing the tree and turn it into something transcendent.

Then again, maybe they just like mugging for the camera. And maybe the poets just really do have inflated ideas of their own importance. And maybe I just blog because I'm in love with the sounds of my own keys tapping. But I think for all of us, whether we succeed at the effort or fail miserably, at the heart what we want is not just attention, but eternity.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

On the Road Again




Last weekend we drove down to Corvallis to visit our friends at Blue Castle Photography. Not only did we get a lovely weekend of relaxing and operating at little-kid speed (eat, go to the park, take a nap), but we got family pictures, too! They do an amazing job at capturing us at our better moments and getting everyone to look relaxed.

D1 especially reached celebrity status as their little boy, a couple years younger, discovered that she could read. It's roughly the equivalent of being able to drive to young teenagers.

On our trip down, we discovered that having older children does not always make for easier travel, as the twins are now much bigger, louder, wigglier, and less sleepy than they were last fall. And D3 has developed some susceptibility to motion sickness, although the traffic we had for the entire trip down would have developed motion sickness in anyone. We had more screams and moans on the four hour (well, actually more like five) drive down than we had in two weeks crossing the country.

Our trip back up was an easier drive, but somehow the twins managed to stay awake the entire time, D4 by sheer force of will and shouting, "Hey, Mama!" every three minutes. They have both reached the stage where they wish to converse, but find themselves short on topics. When "Hey, Mama!" begins to pall, they will often bring up the topic of cows. Which go "moo." And then they go "moo" some more. Chickens don't go "moo." That's about as far as the conversation goes.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Looking Sheepish

Low Lights

"Low" is an adverb describing a lack of altitude, literally or metaphorically, with a broad variety of application: lowdown, low spirits, low condition, low temperature, low comedy, low notes. Use any and all such applications freely.

But please, do not ask "low" to stand in for the interjection, "Lo!" meaning something akin to "There it was!" only more sudden, as in "And lo! the Angel of the Lord came upon them." It wouldn't be nearly as impressive if low, the Angel of the Lord started talking out of gopher holes.

Nor does it make any sense to speak of "Low and behold." You wouldn't say "bee-hold" as if you were coddling insects. Just because it sounds the same doesn't mean it is the same.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Life, One Way or Another

It's been hard to write on here lately. The details of daily life seem inconsequential when there are still so many big questions hanging open; and with the big questions hanging open, there seems little to say. Or perhaps it's that I feel unjustified in talking about our life until we are really getting on with it.

It's easy to feel outside the proper scope of grownup human existence without the usual trappings of a job and a house to talk about. It's easy to doubt the decisions we've made and hard to continue talking about our goals when the only definite thing to say is: not there yet. Still trying.

Indeed, I've noticed in myself a tendency to hold back even in thankfulness for things that happen: unwilling to be thankful for the blossom until I've seen the fruit full ripe. After all, some of those blossoms will never bear fruit. A late freeze might kill them all.

But now is our life. Spring is something to be grateful for whether or not autumn ever comes. If it does come (as it nearly always does), then what will be the good of having wasted spring with doubts and regrets? And if it doesn't, then why not have enjoyed spring while it lasted?

The other night I was talking with DOB and asked if we had bitten off more than we could chew. And then we started laughing, because the image that now brings to our minds is D4 trying to eat pancakes: Cramming an entire pancake in at once so that half of it is still hanging out, stretching out his empty, cinnamon-smeared hands to show that he's ready for more.

Yeah, maybe we have. Maybe trying to start over at this age and weakness with this many kids was crazy. But we've done crazy things before, and we'll do them again. Somehow D4 manages to get those monstrous wads of pancake down, and somehow we'll find a way to make this work, or the next thing work, or the thing after that. And then we'll probably try something else new and crazy.

If I'm waiting for life to settle down and everything to make sense before I enjoy it or write about it, I'm going to be waiting an awfully long time.