Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Vigil

This makes our ninth Christmas, and our fifth disrupted by puking. However, it seems to have been of the fairly mild variety, as only one was seriously affected. It was still enough to make us think we should avoid infants and the elderly, which translated into all church and family gatherings. So we have stayed at home. (I wanted to say "quietly" at home, but that would be absurd.) We followed Santa's flight with NORAD.

DOB is one of those men who saves Christmas shopping until Christmas Eve. He is the rare variety who is able to do this and still find astounding deals on just the perfect gifts. Including for himself. (Like Deux, he feels much safer picking out his own presents.) This is a good thing, because once he's bought the thing, twenty-four hours is right at his limit for not spilling the beans.

Personally, I generally come up with one of three kinds of gifts: the kind where I think of the perfect thing in August and forget what it was; the kind where I think of the perfect thing at midnight on Christmas Eve; and the kind where I never think of anything at all. Occasionally I actually buy the perfect thing early and then lose it.

So we were up very late last night wrapping gifts. We had figured out the perfect plan for the morning, especially since we weren't rushing off to family gatherings and church: we had small gifts and trail mix in the kids' stockings, and they could play and snack until we were ready to get up. We told them, "When you get up in the morning, you can take your stockings into your room and play quietly until we get up." This was reinforced with a note from Santa on top the stockings.

Secure in the knowledge of this preparation, we tumbled into bed at midnight.

At three a.m., we heard rustling and giggling in the living room. By the time we had roused to the point of moving, the stockings were back in the room, the contents were unwrapped, and everyone was eagerly digging into the trail mix. We pointed out that it was not anything remotely resembling morning yet, and put them back to bed with a CD playing, hoping they would fall asleep.

At four thirty, we were finally drifting back to sleep when we heard more whispers and giggles in the living room. I went out to find them under the lighted Christmas tree. I sent them back to bed with baleful warnings of what would happen if they moved again before at least seven o'clock. (Specifically, that we wouldn't open the gifts until AFTER breakfast.) That did the trick.

After all that wee-hours rambling, I was especially appreciative to discover DOB had found me a warm new robe. In red, not bland white nor icky pastels.

Friday, December 23, 2011

It's a Wrap

As I write this, the Duchess is wrapping presents. This is a very good development. She still wants me to cut out the paper, but she'll do the rest. It doesn't look quite as good as I would do it. Probably by next year she will have surpassed me and I am willing to put up with the training period.

We took the kids to the dollar store this afternoon to pick out presents for each other. This has been a tradition since the Duchess was four and picked out the ever-famous Purple Bear for Deux, who has loved it devotedly ever since. You can get some good stuff at the dollar store. Deux took a turn at it next year and this year the twins also made an attempt.

Dash is plainly in the stage where he projects his own desires on others. If it doesn't involve motorcycles or fire engines, why would anyone want it? Deux is more cagey--he realizes not everyone likes what he likes. Therefore, after consulting his pocketbook, he bought himself three things he really wanted as well as gifts for others. Dot simply wandered around happily, eagerly accepted the least suggestion I made, and called it good. Duchess picked out suitable gifts and wrapped them all herself. Except for the cutting. She did express concern that her gifts not break within a week this year, as they did last year.

I gave Dash the chance to wrap his presents, and there were several minutes of tears as he had apparently thought he was going to get to wrap gifts for himself and was devastated to see the same old things he had chosen.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Blackberry Season

Blackberries are a summer fruit, but taking out blackberries is a winter chore. There's not much else to do. It's easier to trace and disentangle the vines with less foliage about. And it's more pleasant to wear the padded armor suitable to the task.

It's also a job I love. It contains none of those fussy details, fine-motor skills, or decision-making requirements of other manual labor. Nor does it require tremendous brute strength. Just stubbornness and complete indifference to pain. It's vegetarian dragon slaying. Attack and destroy. And it involves sharp implements.

Even better, it's a job that the kids prefer to observe from a respectful distance. When I'm whipping about a forty-foot length of vine with inch-long spikes, I never find myself suddenly tackled at the knees. And since it involves clearing new play places among the underbrush, they are happy to occupy themselves.

And it even seems rather Christmassy. At least, the third verse of Joy to the World sounds appropriate.

Earlier this week I cleared out around the base of a Douglas fir still young enough to have the lower branches to serve as a good climbing tree. They've been playing Boxcar Children there all week. But then they picked up a stack of Magic Treehouse books at the library on Tuesday, and sat down and read them, assembly-line, all afternoon.

So today, Deux was on fire to build a treehouse. I posited that I would take the matter under advisement, but he protested. He didn't want to do it someday, he wanted to do it now. I pointed out that such complex activities required planning. He agreed: we should plan it today and build it tomorrow. I suggested that we didn't have the right materials, such as lumber or nails, or the right kinds of trees. (Douglas fir grow rather spindly branches at weak angles.)

He hunted up a single board that had been discarded in the bushes. I found some nails and a hammer. We put a shelf up in the tree. It's enough of a fort for now. I don't know if it's capable of magical transportation or not.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Waiting for Christmas

The ducklings are just at the age for full, unrelenting, uninhibited, luxuriant enjoyment of Christmas. They wallow in it. The tree must always be lighted, the music must all be Christmas, every moment is one of calculations of when and how Christmas will arrive or begging me to undertake this or that Christmas activity. Gifts are part of it, yes, but really only a minor part, and a very non-caluclating part. (They were giddy for days over the toothbrushes and wind-up-toys St. Nicholas left in their boots.) They revel in the whole of the season.

I was that child, too. It is part of the fun of being a parent to live through all that over again.

Somewhere on the road to growing up, like most of us, I lost the ability to exuberate like that. For many years Christmas passed tinged with a bit of regret that it never quite measured up to the Christmases of childhood.

Lately, I have come to realize that regret and disappointment had a place, too. And its place is in Advent. Advent is waiting. Not just the impatient, gleeful waiting of children rattling gifts to discover what is inside.

It is the frustrated waiting of the oppressed, who have returned to the Promised Land only to find that they still cannot live in freedom.

It is the fearful waiting of parents for the coming of a child after a stillbirth.

It is the waiting of the sick, the weary, the injured, waiting for justice, for healing, for rest.

It is waiting that knows that waiting is not just about time, but about loss and danger, about all the ways the world has broken its promises, over and over.

Hope is only hope if we do not yet have the thing we hope for. And Advent is the time to know that now is not yet the time. Our redemption is begun, but not complete.

And I have found in accepting the waiting, in not trying to rush myself into jollity, that I have made room for hope again, and so for joy.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

All's Well that Ends Well

Next year, I won't schedule the kids' annual checkups for the first week of December.

I didn't do it this year. Initially, I scheduled them in October (I hate to schedule them while the weather might still be nice. Who wants to mess up a beautiful day with a well-child checkup?) But then the doctor was out of the office and we thought maybe we had chicken pox briefly, so they got rescheduled until now.

It's amazing how much of the week a simple checkup can eat up. (Well, OK, three simple checkups. Duchess is on the off-year.) My hat is off to mothers who must do regular doctor and therapy visits.

It's also amazing how differently different children react. The conversations went like this.

QOC: Deux, we're going to go to the doctor this week. He's just going to check you to see how you are growing. You don't need a shot or anything this time. There's a really fun car rug in the waiting room.

Deux: Nooooo! I don't want to. Do we have to go?

QOC: Dash, we're going to the doctor this week. You're going to get a shot, which means the doctor will poke you with a needle that will help keep you from getting sick. It will hurt.

Dash: Yay! I love getting shot!

However, we all survived. I actually really like taking the kids to the doctor, because I really like their doctor, who is very sensible and similar in philosophy and had four kids of his own (some time ago, I would guess). We swap book and movie recommendations. He always makes the boys laugh. (Dot pulled a princess and refused to be amused.)

Dot continues to insist that she never got her shot, that it has been indefinitely postponed. Perhaps she was disappointed that it did not, as she had hoped, turn her teeth pink.

Anyway, adding to that a dinner party, two playdates, the usual shopping, a couple of extra necessary trips out, and the beginning of Advent, and trying to keep on track to finish school in time for Christmas break, and it has been a very long week. At least this week we don't have to go to the doctor. I hope.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Middle Ages

Much to everyone's surprise, my body has survived for nearly a third of a century on this planet (while, as far as anyone can tell, my brain continues to operate on an entirely different one).

This does not make me old yet, but not so young anymore, either. Most of the Epic Life Events are behind me and I hope to hold off on the others for quite awhile. From the tumultuous years of young adulthood, this stretch of life looks rather dull.

Hooray for dull!

Dull means less time spent trying to figure out how to survive and more time looking up that strange bird at the feeder. Less reading books about theories of feeding babies and more reading books about murder and dragons and the periodic table and the search for Troy. It means I finally have time to think again about what I really want to do when I grow up.

It's almost like being a kid again, except now I have a driver's license. I'm sure enough that I'm a grownup that I don't have to worry about acting like one. My joints don't creak yet and I don't need reading glasses.

Better enjoy it while I can.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Same, in pictures

The story behind these pictures is that on our way out the door, we couldn't find the camera. (I still can't find it.) But the camera had served us well for many years and the buttons had been jamming for awhile, so we decided to replace it with another basic model, which we picked up at the Evil Store of Evil on the way out.

So DOB happily took pictures through the trip, and although things looked bad at one point, we did not use up the charge on the one included pair of batteries (I forgot to buy any extras).

Then we got home. I unpacked everything. No camera cord. I panicked. I distinctly remembered coming across the camera packaging in the hotel room and asking myself, "Should I throw this away?" and thinking, "No, it has all the important camera stuff in it!" Unfortunately, after that, my memory was completely silent on the topic of camera packaging.

I tried our other camera cords (Duchess bought her own small camera, too), but none fit. In a panic, I searched online and discovered the cord cost $15 before shipping and tax and wasn't in stock anywhere. I finally emailed DOB in despair: Had he seen the camera stuff anywhere. Half an hour later, he replied tersely: "It's in the car."

In the car? But I had unloaded all the luggage! How did he know? Was he just saying it to make me feel better? Still, I did feel a little better.

That evening, he arrived home and tossed me the box, whose appearance I had completely forgotten. Oh yeah. That box. The one that was sitting on the dashboard and fell in my lap every time we accelerated.

So, anyway, here are pictures.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Great Escape

Last Sunday morning DOB and I were lying in bed, feeling uninspired about getting up and about life in general. That classic motivational question, "What gets you out of bed every morning?" could by us only be answered, "Someone standing outside our door screaming, "I'm WET!"

As we lay there, thinking of all the things we didn't want to do but had to, and all the things we wanted to do, but couldn't, we finally thought--why not just do one of them? So we decided to spend the Veteran's Day weekend at the coast. Now, we knew the chances were in favor of terrible weather. However, terrible weather on a weekend getaway is not so bad. It gives you the chance to go out and say to yourself, "Wow, big waves. Brr, cold wind. I think I'll go back in and read a book."

So we found a $70 suite with a kitchen attached and packed up the kids and the food and went for it. After all, the worst that could happen was that we would have a horrible time, in which case the return to humdrum life would come as a welcome reprieve.

The town we had happened upon was just remote enough not to pull enough money for modernizing into condominiums, but not so little as to become run-down, so instead it had an old-fashioned, One-Morning-in-Maine sort of vacationy feel, and our motel was simple but cozy and beachy with cement block walls stenciled with shells and extra towels labeled "DOG" for use on small furry or non-furry creatures coming off the beach.

The weather was lousy--the only time the wind didn't blow so hard we couldn't see was the unnatural calm that came when we took the kite down to the beach--but we had The Princess Bride to watch and The Phantom Tollbooth to read and plenty of peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. (I'm terribly indecisive in cookie making; I tend to just throw it all in.) We found two free museums, one of which gave the kids the sand dollars and shells they didn't have the opportunity to collect. We only had one emergency load of laundry and one nosebleed, which, considering our odds, was pretty good.

We live so close to the Sound that it is easy to think we know all about salt water and forget what a great difference there is between our tame little beaches and tidy little whitecaps disrupted by the passing foot ferries and the roaring Pacific. It was worth the drive just to feel and hear the power of the ocean. Although after reflecting upon it and observing the ubiquitous Tsunami Evacuation Route signs, DOB has scratched "beach house" off the fantasy list and is replacing it with a cabin in the mountains.

On the way back DOB tried rerouting us with his Blackberry (much more exciting than GPS, though we did miss one road that apparently had taken up the wrong name) and we found our way up into the rain forest, which after the beach felt mild and dry, so we had a lovely hike and admired the massive trees that had fallen down when Laura and Mary were little girls. (As far as our kids are concerned, there are three basic eras to history: Bible Times, Robin Hood, and Little House).

The biggest hit of all, of course, was nowhere so far and exotic, but the town about an hour away with a climbing structure built like a castle. We will undoubtedly have to take more trips to it.

I learned a few things to make the next trip smoother: Don't pack the oranges on top of the cookies. Take warmer coats than you think you'll need. Don't serve fish the night before you leave and then forget to take out the garbage. (The house stank when we got back, but I remembered a tip I had read and put cinnamon sticks and cloves in a pan of water on the burner. This worked great, as the smell of whatever it was that had stuck to the burner the last time I cooked quickly overpowered the fish.)

Sure enough, it is nicer to be home now. We'll have to do it again.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Quiz Show

Usually I drill the older kids on math facts during lunch. (Actually they like this. In fact today Deux melted down because Duchess took "his" problem, therefore he rightly should get to do TWO more before it was her turn.)

So then the twins want to be included. Unfortunately their repertoire of mathematical understanding is somewhat limited, and they quickly tire of "How many fingers am I holding up?" (They're really strong up to five. They haven't quite grasped the concept that you can consider the fingers of both hands in one group, though, so we're stuck at five for now.) So then they want different questions.

"Ask me a car question!" Dash demands.

"Umm . . . what do you put in a car to make it go?"

"Wheels!" he says. I try Dot. "What do you put in a car to make it go?"

"An engine!" she says.

"Well, true," I concede. I turn to the big kids.

"PEOPLE!" they shout.

"Technically," I point out, "You could get the car to run without people in it. Although it would be a bad idea."

I come around to Dash again. "Ask me a tree question!"

"Umm . . . if you cut down a tree, does it fall down or does it fly up in the air?"

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Ideals and Reality

Dot: So Laura and Mary had baked Hubbard squash for supper and it was SOOO delicious. I wish WE could have baked Hubbard squash for supper.

QOC: You didn't eat very much squash when I served it last night.

Dot: I didn't eat ANY squash. I don't like squash.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

In Which Things Go From Bad to Worse

(I've been reading Pinocchio to the kids, and those old-fashioned chapter headings really get to you.)

I'm trying to remember when things seemed to begin going haywire, and it seems like sometime about the beginning of October things had been humming along almost nicely for what seemed like a week or so. Then I got a call letting me know that the main, steady work contract I had was being given to someone with more experience. That was distressing.

Then DOB's work, always very busy, began to get insanely busy as he was without any assistance, and then had to navigate getting his own assistant. He was working eleven and twelve hour days. Meanwhile I was grasping any one-time projects I could find, all of them with short timeframes and a lot more stressful than the one steady project.

Finally DOB got a new assistant hired and went through an initial week of training and catching up. He was all set for things to settle down, when he sprained his ankle. His good ankle, which meant that for the first week, he couldn't even drive.

Now, the good thing about that was that he really did start coming home for supper--and even eating breakfast at home--since he had to ride with an assistant who kept normal 9 to 5 hours. The other nice thing was that he discovered, with the assistant and with a deadline, he really could get most of his work done in that time. The bad thing was, he couldn't exercise or do much of anything else.

Meanwhile, the kids got sick. First the twins had a bad cold. So we stayed home from our few outings that week. They seemed a bit better by the weekend, and we went ahead with our plan for them to stay overnight with Their Majesties (which was fun for them and us), and then we took them swimming so that DOB could get some exercise. We made it to church on Sunday. We were doing almost OK.

However, on Tuesday morning, Deux complained of an itchy back, and I pulled his shirt up to see a scattering of suspicious red spots. We stayed home, in case they turned into chicken pox. They never did. But Dot also complained of itching that evening, only in her case it was a bout of hives, which kept her up till nearly midnight.

Deux got over his rash, but then the next day had an earache. The following day, a headache. Then a fever. So we stayed home some more.

Saturday DOB woke up feeling really cruddy, but he sometimes does, especially when he hasn't exercised regularly. So we tried to work him through it until midday, when we finally decided he was truly sick. Then we all got it. I just made it out to the store for grape juice and we subsisted on that and toast for a couple of days.

In the small hours of Sunday morning, as I was coming down with the stomach complaint, Deux woke up with a croupy cough. Now everybody has that.

Meanwhile my (brand new) computer power cord won't hold into the port anymore, and the only way to keep it in is to tape it, and the tape has to go right over the power button, so every time I try to readjust it I turn the computer off. We're still trying to figure out what to do about getting it repaired or replaced.

And it's beautiful fall weather--and how rare is that around here--and instead of being out and seeing the leaves in all our favorite parks, we are stuck at home.

At least we can sit out on the deck and get some sunshine. And hey, I don't have any work to do.

But, of course, it COULD always be worse. But let's not think about that.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


This is the time of year when the ducklings start thinking I am mean.

"Go outside and play," I say.

"It's too cold," they whine.

"Put on your coat and boots," I say.

"It's too hard/I can't find them/they hurt my feet/Noooooo!" they whine.

In vain do I point out that the sun is actually shining briefly or at least that it's not pouring down rain. In vain do I warn that stormy days are coming and we will all be crawling the walls with cabin fever. Summer is fresh in their minds and winter is far away. And compared to summer, the weather is lousy.

Dash finally got his boots on and went out one day only to come back in and ask me to fill the wading pool.

"I wanna fish!" he said.

"You can't play in water, it's too cold," I said. "Just pretend and fish in the grass."

"Fish don't live in the grass. Fish live in the water."

"You can't play in water. It's too cold. Pretend you're hunting deer. Deer live in the grass."

"No, I want to fish."

"You can't play in water, it's too cold."

(drastic condensation of conversation to conserve bandwidth)

Finally he wailed, "Why is it so cold every day now?"

I guess it is too much to remember that fall follows summer and winter follows fall when you've only seen it happen three times. And therefore equally hard to remember that spring follows winter. Sometimes it's hard to remember when you've seen it thirty-three times.

But mostly I remember, and I go and put my boots and jacket on and walk in the drizzle, because I know winter is coming.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

In Which I Make Things Unnecessarily Complicated

I was reading a short while ago a discussion in which a lady was quoting priorities from some How To Manage Everything Book and stated that one's priority list should look like this:

1. God
2. Husband
3. Children
4. House
5. Self
6. Outside (work, volunteer, etc.)
(I may have those last two backwards, I'm not sure.)

I've seen a lot of priority lists run pretty much that way. It makes no sense to me. For one thing, if I were to prioritize by people like that, I'd have to put Me at the head of the list. What good am I to my husband or children (or house) if I don't have enough rest, exercise, proper food, and quiet to be a reasonably sane and functional human? None whatever. (Believe me, I have tried.)

It still sounds dreadfully heathen not to put God at the head, but let's be honest: Does God need anything from me? The Maker of the Universe, the Triune Mystery, is he sitting around lonely if I neglect him? No, spiritual activity is for my benefit, not God's. And honestly, most of what God actually asks from us has to do with loving other people, so see everything else on the list.

I can only assume that the people who write priority lists probably don't really mean it about putting yourself last, or they've never been in a position where you needed to write yourself memoranda to take your shoes off and use the bathroom personally. They probably just mean getting a pedicure or something (ewww).

Everything on the list is subject to that economic law of diminishing returns. Some things for your husband may be more important than some things for your children, but if he can't wait for help finding the remote until the baby has eaten, then he's the one with the mixed up priorities.

Furthermore, everything on the list is mixed up. Do I wash the dishes for the sake of the House, for the sake of the Children and Husband who will need another meal soon, or for the sake of Me, who will start flinging them in the backyard if they sit there any longer? And then there is urgency--my children's math lesson probably shouldn't take precedence over someone starving at the door. But then there is frequency--if that happens every day, the math is going to be sorely neglected and I should find some other way to feed the hungry.

If I really, really had to make up a priority list, it would be something more like this:

1. Make sure everyone I'm responsible for has what they need to survive.
2. Tend to everything else in rotating order, or in whatever way seems to make most sense at the moment.

If I were a nicer person, I would put something like, "nurture emotional and spiritual relationships" in the middle. But I'm not.

Friday, October 07, 2011

How not to have a relaxing day

Thursday is usually a quiet day around here. Monday is recover from the weekend and get back into gear day. Tuesday is shopping and library (which has gotten completely out of hand since the kids got their own library card and now we have a collective 200 book limit). Wednesday is nature hike. By Thursday we are ready to just hang around the house.

So when the Duchess wanted to have her girl cousin stop in and play tea party and I was setting things up with her mother a few weeks ago, naturally I said that Thursday would be perfect.

And when a lady at church went on bedrest and I was signing up for meals, I said Thursday would work well for me to bring something over.

And when Wondergirl wanted to bring dessert over and invite Toolboy and his family along, I agreed that Thursday would be fine for me, too.

Then I realized that all these things were on the same Thursday. And also that it was going to be a dry, borderline sunny day, making it the only day I was likely to get the plants and bulbs in the flowerbed that I have been working on preparing for the past three weeks. (I started with a hacksaw.)

Well, I scratched "catch up on school" off the list and we did the minimum. I went out with the Duchess (who doesn't care much for gardening, but is really excited about tulips) and we planted the flowerbed. We finished and I started heating lunch just as their cousin showed up. Fortunately that kept the big kids busy for the rest of the afternoon, and the twins went down for their quietly-listening-to-CDs time. (Naps are rapidly becoming a distant memory, although Dash will still doze off and then wake up cranky.)

So I started in on a work project, which I had promised by the end of the week. (It didn't really need to be done by the end of the week, but I just lost my other contract and was feeling a need to overdeliver.) I finally hit the motherload of information on it and was getting it all put together when I noticed the scorching smell and realized I had burnt the beans for supper.(Fortunately not what I was taking out.) And yes, I work in the kitchen. Smoked beans are kind of my signature recipe.

Anyway, I rushed about, salvaging supper and doing only the bare essential pre-company cleaning. The ducklings said farewell to their cousin and I calculated that if we left everything ready for supper we had just enough time to run the meal over and get back and eat by the time Wondergirl showed up. So we headed out.

I noticed the van was making a new whumbedy whumbedy sound. Interesting, but the van is always making new strange sounds. I would have to mention it to Toolboy tonight and see what he thought. I could call DOB to come take the meal, but he had already emailed that he would be working to eight, and I didn't want to increase that.

So we whumbedy whubedied along, found the house, delivered the meal (whose recipient had just gotten home from all day at the doctor's and looked about ready for it), and headed back, WHUMBEDY WHUMBEDY RATTLE RATTLE SHAKE SHAKE.

"Hey kids," I said, "Remember how I told you the van was about to fall apart? I think this may be it."

"REALLY?" they said, "COOL!"

I decided to pull across the intersection to a better parking spot. When I did, someone pulled up behind me. He came to the window.

"Do you need help with that flat?" he said.

"Flat?" I thought. Rats. I don't know much about cars, but I do know that driving on the flat is a bad thing. And I was supposed to keep an eye on the right rear tire, because it had been running kind of low. And unlike strange engine noises, noticing flat tires is something even people who are not very good with cars are supposed to be able to do.

"No thanks," I said, "I'm calling someone." I called DOB, who said, "I'm on the phone, I'll call you back."

Then I realized that I was right across the street from our church, so I pulled into that parking lot and let the kids run around. And I looked at the tire, which had progressed to the shedding chunks stage. At least it was the left rear tire, so it wasn't the one I was supposed to keep an eye on.

Then I called Wondergirl, who had just passed us and was wondering, "Could that be them? Surely not, the car is too clean! And QOC must be at home, fixing supper!" So she came and gave the kids paper dolls to play with and berry baskets to pick blackberries and DOB called me back and said that his graphic designer friend, who he had been on the phone with, needed an excuse to get out of the house and would be there in a minute.

So he showed up, in a red truck, and Dash watched with fascination and announced, "When I am seven, and you have a flat tire, I will fix the flat tire, and I will have a red truck."

Whereupon Dot said, "And I will have a PINK truck with PINK tools and a PINK hat with a PINK ribbon and I will fix ALL the cars."

They put the spare on and we drove home and we had supper (and I was very thankful I had not followed through on my earlier idea of leaving it simmering while we ran out) and finished just in time for Toolboy and his family to show up for dessert. Which was very good.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Not Ten TV Shows I've Enjoyed

Because I really can't come up with ten, but thanks to Carrie at Reading to Know, I'm going to give it a whirl with the ones I can.

Truth is, I hate most television shows. I hate knowing ahead of time exactly what's going to happen next. And most TV shows run on predictability. There are shows I really tried to like--Numbers is one--because of the characters, but if I can walk in at any point, watch two minutes and tell you exactly how far along it is, whodunnit, and what's going to happen next, then I'm just not interested.

It's got to have plot, yes it does. I know there are only six plots in the world, but keep me guessing on which one it's going to be and how it's going to get there. And character development--not just characters I like, but characters I am curious about what they're going to turn into. And difficult moral questions. Not "good guys" and "bad guys" but real, honest people who might choose good and who might choose bad.

Or you can get me with a good laugh.

We don't watch much with the kids, but I'll try to include a ratings comment in case you wonder.

1. Lost

This is the one we just finished. And yes, it had it all. Plot that developed mind-blowing new complications in nearly every episode. Characters that you loved to hate and hated to love and couldn't wait to see how they might grow. "Bad" people getting second chances . . . and third chances . . . and "good" people finding out what was under the facade. I loved it.

Suitability for Small Hippos: It's about people's choices. Some of those are really bad ones. Some of those get shown a little more onscreen than probably should happen. It's also really, really scary at times. OK, most of the time.

2. Babylon 5

Another one with fascinating characters, unpredictable plot twists, and difficult moral questions. Plus, this one has exploding spacecraft! Like all sci-fi, it shows its age a little. (We've got intergalactic travel, but no cell phones?) But on the whole, very well thought-out. I also appreciate that it's one of those rare works of science fiction that doesn't treat religion as either irrelevant or malevolent, but still a significant factor in the life of sentients. The series as a whole seems to favor a kind of proactive pantheism, but even the occasional devout Christian gets respectful treatment. The first four seasons are awesome--the fifth one kind of got tacked on, and is comparatively lame, but by that point we were too hooked to stop.
Suitability for Small Hippos: The camera tends to pan out when necessary (except for some in the last season), but because of themes it would need some judicious editing for me to show it to young teens. Plus I don't think anyone younger would enjoy it.

3. Jeeves and Wooster

And now for something completely different . . . OK, so this has no character development and the moral questions come down to, "If Aunt Dahlia says you MUST pinch the cow creamer, then what else can you do?" But Wodehouse is Wodehouse, and if you don't find it hilarious then there is something seriously wrong with you and you should probably seek professional help. Immediately. And then watch it.
Suitability for Small Hippos: Well, we let OUR kids watch it. They haven't started drinking cocktails or pinching cow creamers yet. The Duchess did develop strong opinions on the proper clothing for gentlemen, though.

4. Neverwhere

It had me at the use of the Underground stations. Of course there should be Black Friars at Blackfriars! And an Earl's Court at Earl's Court! It kept me going with great characters, epic adventure, and subtle but deep examination of serious questions. It's only a miniseries, so maybe it doesn't count, and maybe if it does I should lump in all the adaptations of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens and George Eliot I've enjoyed (and in that case, we WILL make it to ten and then some), but I think in this case the miniseries came before the book so I'll count it.
Suitability for Small Hippos: Very scary and some very creepy characters, but highly recommended for the strong of stomach.

5. Fawlty Towers

We've actually only watched this in little chunks on YouTube, but John Cleese is hilarious at any resolution.
Suitability for Small Hippos: As I recall, the only things there were to get wouldn't be gotten by anyone too young to get them.

6. Poirot

Does this count? I think there are movie-length ones and TV-length ones. OK, so there's complete predictability (Poirot WILL deduce who did it) and no character development (Hastings will always be lovable and dumb). However, at least one is always kept guessing as to who will prove to be the murderer and how Poirot will figure it out. I can't watch in large doses, but every once in a while I enjoy one.
Suitability for Small Hippos: Well, murder is kind of nasty and people usually do it for rather nasty reasons. However, that stuff takes place off screen. There have been a few which I would have preferred not to see for thematic reasons, although I suspect those tend to be the more recent ones. I would watch many of them with youngish teens.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Now *We* Are Six

I probably used the same title for the Duchess, but how else can you say it? There's just something about being six. Six year olds are, without a doubt, Big. And clever as clever.

Deux is fond of climbing on things--he just figured out how to use the laurel to climb over the neighbor's fence, although as far as I know he hasn't acted on that knowledge yet. He can build with Legos or train tracks for hours and hours and hours.

He has told me (though it was on a bad day) that he doesn't like to read, it's just that when he sees words he can't help it, but nonetheless one sees him enjoying a Tintin or Calvin and Hobbes book from time to time, or books about wild animals or knights. He can fold a load of towels all by himself, even the big ones, and he's working on learning to vacuum. He loves to watch the waves behind a boat.

The world inside his head is still going strong, and he has invented a language for it and is working on an alphabet. When there's a war going on inside his head, though, he likes to have it quiet on the outside; otherwise the good guys might lose.

Last Saturday he got to make a trip to the Lego store, pick out his own set (two pirate sets) and then come home and build all afternoon. Tonight we will be having a peanut butter cake and he will decorate it to look like a shield.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Real Play, Fake Play

Grownups must periodically rediscover that play is an Important Thing for children to do. This time around, it's being touted for its value in developing "executive function": the ability to plan, exercise self-control, negotiate, and persist. Which is, of course, absolutely correct. All young mammals play at exactly what they need as grown-ups. Young tigers play at pouncing on things, and young cows play at running into things. Young people play at managing small worlds of their own devising.

But the great danger is that as soon as grownups discover that something is important for children, they will ruin it by turning it into something children Have to Do. At which point, if you are under the age of 12, you instantly realize that it's not playing any more.

So I have very mixed feelings when I hear about something like these Tools of the Mind classrooms. Sure, it's better that children be given time to play than herded into one worksheet after another. But by the time you've sat down with a teacher, made an official plan for playing, then been required to stick to that plan for a designated period of time--well, that doesn't sound much like playing anymore. The children aren't the executives any more, they're only the middle managers.

And when I got to the bottom and read in the Q&A, "How much of our 7.5 hour kindergarten day should be devoted to playing?" and saw the answer, "Kindergarteners should play for at least 30 or 40 minutes a day," I gave up. Thirty or forty minutes? Out of 7.5 hours? Five year olds? Now I understand you need time for eating and resting and picking up and an ungodly lot of time for going potty, but still. Thirty or forty minutes of work on letters and numbers and the rest of the time spent playing would be a much better balance, and produce much better results both in literacy and general sanity.

Play is important for children because it's what children are wired to do. It's like real food: we can try to scientifically analyze the different parts and functions, but no one will ever come up with a pill that has the same effect on mind and body as eating a vine-ripe home-grown tomato. And we'll never come up with an activity for children that is as beneficial as real play. But it's only real play if the grownups can keep their grimy mitts off it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Day in the Life

I can't remember when I last did a post like this, but I feel like doing another, and since this is my blog, I will.

I won't blog Monday, though. Monday started at 3 a.m. with Dot stuck under the Duchess' bed and ended at 8:30 p.m. after the beans finally cooked enough to eat. With several intervening crises to liven up the middle.

No, let's stick with today, which wasn't amazing, but pretty good.

I got up sometime 6:30ish and went for a walk. I explored woods in backs of places I probably shouldn't have been and discovered another shortcut through parts of the neighborhood I didn't know were connected. And I managed to sneak out without waking any kids up, which is a major achievement for me.

When I got back, DOB got up and started getting ready for work, the kids got up and I doled out the M&Ms awarded for staying in bed the evening before. (Shameless, but it works.) And some leftover breakfast from the day before, so that Dash wouldn't dissolve completely before the rest of breakfast was ready. Then I fixed breakfast to go for DOB and breakfast to stay for the rest of us.

After breakfast we went through a random and harried process of getting clothes on, starting laundry, clearing the table (I hope at some point they will just *do* this without four minutes of lamentation over having to do it at all, followed by four minutes of lamentation because someone else cleared *their* dishes first) and doing the dishes.

We started school a little before nine. First we have singing time, which at times is randomly-leaping-around-the-kitchen time, but which is meant to cover a variety of memory work. Then I give the twins a lesson (consisting of air-writing "a" and "b" and then looking at pictures of birds--I'm not much on fancy preschool stuff) while the older two do free reading, except today Deux spent most of this time sulking that I never do fun things with just the big kids. He seems to have a bad case of preschool envy, a common complaint of first graders.

Next we do a writing lesson--today we focus on spelling words with "ing" for the big kids. The twins focus on making interesting marks all over their papers and then folding them up like accordions.

Then the Duchess reads some more of "Aladdin and his Magic Lamp" to me while Deux reads some of Mercy Watson Thinks Like a Pig to the twins. This goes well. Reading they like.

Next on the agenda is me reading aloud a chapter of the Burgess Bird Book, a book that tells the basic features and habits of many common birds in a story form. First, though, we have to settle whose crayons are whose, a process of several minutes. We manage to read and discuss the chapter to some extent, plus look at the bird and listen to its song online.

By now it is about ten, time to get ready to go on our nature walk. The Duchess herds everyone out to the car while I assemble one of my signature picnic lunches: unpeeled hardboiled eggs, a bag of chips, and carrot sticks. And the diaper bag, whose absence we sorely regretted on Tuesday, and any other day I decide we really are totally past all that.

We go to nature preserve in a wetlands, and I promptly get two mosquito bites. I dread the future as I have forgotten any kind of repellent, but those turn out to be the only ones of the whole trip. We meet up with some friends and everyone is eager to go explore. I brought the notebooks along for sketching, but no one is interested except Dash, who draws a rose hip you would recognize if you knew he was drawing rose hips. And the Duchess, who wants to record the important event of playing with friends. Mostly, though, we just wander on the trails and test the fuzz on cattails and caterpillars.

We get home about two in the afternoon and after some meandering about I sit down to read to the twins. They both want to pick a poem from A Child's Garden of Verses; they both want to pick a book. I suddenly realize I have had it. I tell them I'll read Dot's poem and Dash's book (Blueberries for Sal), and then I put them hastily to bed, Dot in our room listening to a Little House book on CD, Dash in the kids' room listening to Winnie the Pooh on CD. The big kids start an elaborate game involving a lot of paper dolls and magazine scraps. I do some stretches because my TMJ is acting up, surf on the computer for awhile, then write up our school activities in my notebook.

When I feel up to it, I let Deux have a turn playing Ninjatown on the Nintendo DS while Duchess reserves some books on her brand-new personal library card. I remember that this is supposed to be Clean The Bathroom day on the housekeeping schedule, and decide to do it because I did already take all the towels out to wash them, so it would be a pity to waste it. When Deux's turn is up, Duchess takes a turn and Deux and I sit down to read a story and do some advance play with the twins' next activity. I hope this helps with the preschool envy. Then they go back to playing and I continue on my fruitless quest to get an A on every single level of Ninjatown. And I reserve a bunch of library books for myself. Work has been slow for the past couple weeks, which is actually kind of nice to give me time to get into a good school routine. So I can just be lazy in the afternoons.

Somehow it gets to be awfully close to five o'clock. I put potatoes in the oven to cook and wake up Dash, who is in the just-about-done-with-naps stage where they fall asleep too late and wake up cranky as a bear. Dot is already up the instant her second CD is over--she never sleeps anymore. We take the garbage out to the road and get the mail. The kids fold the laundry--Deux instructs Dash in how to fold towels. I think the big kids have figured out that the faster they teach the twins to do housework, the more they can get out of. Suits me, as I hate teaching how to do housework.

I try to shoo everyone outside to play, but they mostly wander in and out, brandishing sticks. I make broccoli-cheese sauce for the potatoes and carrot salad. Duchess sets the table. I call DOB, but he has two projects to wind up, so we go ahead and eat without him, listening to some Mozart while we are at it.

Everyone wanders off and is playing quietly after supper. I meander around, doing dishes, putting bread in the machine for the morning, and sitting down at the computer. (Having a computer in the kitchen is a feature, not a bug--otherwise I tend to not sit down when I need to and wear myself out.)

Suddenly I realize that it's past bedtime and the quiet of earlier in the evening has departed. I try to get everyone to brush their teeth and settle down. Deux and Dash get into a fight over matchbox cars, and the Dot slams Deux's head with the bathroom door. Poor Deux is not having a very good day.

DOB arrives home, very hungry and tired. We have prayer and then put everyone to bed, which doesn't go so well because all the children have gone through tired to hyper and all the adults have gotten to tired and stayed there. Nonetheless, it happens. Duchess, Deux and Dash settle down in the kids' room listening to The Book of Three (which I sincerely hope is not too scary for them--if they have nightmares about undead warriors it's all my fault--but they've never been prone to nightmares, not since Deux was a toddler and told me one morning, "An alligator came into my room last night, but I ate it.") Dot goes down on her mattress in our room and listens to By the Shores of Silver Lake. (After she falls asleep and all the cds are over we'll drag her back in with the other kids.)

DOB sits down to eat and read files. I sit down to write this. Pretty soon we should go to bed. Maybe we'll play a card game first. We'll definitely have dessert first. We finished the final season of Lost last week and haven't felt like watching anything since.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The Organizer

I just put the scheduled last load of laundry in the dryer, made sure the planned chili beans were turned on to cook for supper, and reserved the library books for us to pick up next week for the following week of school. In a few minutes I'll set us all onto our list of afternoon chores.

I'm not sure I can handle this level of organization.

For most of the past, my approach to domestic duties has been:
1. Is there food to eat?
2. Is there anything clean to wear, should need arise?
3. Then go to bed, finally!

Over the last couple of years that stage has gradually faded, but with drastic life changes happening every six weeks or so, I've stayed entirely on the defensive. However, I now find myself with a house to run, children old enough to hire, and a lack of any dramatic life-changing events for over a month! It is time to try being organized.

I don't like reading about other people's organizational ideas. I find this advice usually written by two kinds of people:

1. People who are so naturally organized that they have absolutely nothing to say to those of more random inclinations. I remember reading one book prattling about the need for customizing your plan to suit you, "After all, some people think dusting needs to be done every day while others think once a week is sufficient." Um, yes. Or perhaps, once a year, right before putting up the Christmas decorations.

2. People who are somewhat random, but who have forgotten that the main reason they are so much more organized than they were ten years ago is that their children are ten years older than they were ten years ago. The laziest teenager has nothing on the mess-generating capacity of a toddler trying to be helpful.

Thus, people will assure you that if you just do a little bit every day, things will never get out of hand. This may be true for some people. It is not true if you have two three-year-olds. It's definitely not true if you have a tendency to say, "Oh sure, why not?" to children's ideas of what to do and only later realize that you have just officially endorsed the plan to paper the entire house with catalog cut-outs. A house with small children goes from neat to out-of-hand in three minutes flat.

And the trouble is, if I'm following a real housekeeping schedule and *trying*, I actually get annoyed by this. If I'm just waltzing along and cleaning when I feel like it, I don't really care that I never quite get all the way to neat. If I mop for an occasion, then the floor is mopped for that occasion and we can all stay out of the mud puddles until the occasion is over and then mud away. If I mop because it's Mopping Day, then I suddenly turn into a neat freak who wants to duct-tape the children to the ceiling where they won't touch anything.

Which is another reason why I don't follow other people's organizing advice. At least if I make up my own housekeeping schedule, I can have all the fun of designing a schedule. Planning is something I'm good at. Making beautiful charts. Lining everything up. It's innocent fun, and so what if I never follow it? Whereas if I followed someone else's plan, I'd miss out on the only fun part and move straight to feeling guilty.

There really is only one thing that's holding me to a schedule thus far, and that is that it's easier and more fair to get children to help if there's a definite plan for them versus Mother suffering from sporadic bouts of wailing and guilt-tripping, interspersed by letting them run wild.

After considering the different schools of thought on Children and Work and Money, we decided to come up with our own system that would make things as complicated as possible. So they have a baseline allowance that they get just for existing, and they also have jobs (mostly pertaining to meals) that they have to do if they want to continue to exist. Then they have jobs they can do for hire, if they want to make enough money to actually do anything with, things that add to the niceties of life like folded clothes and clean floors. But to keep these jobs available to be done, I have to make sure the prerequisites are in place--that there actually is clean laundry to fold in manageable quantities, and that we can locate precisely where we last left the floor. Which means sticking to the schedule.

Some are born organized, some achieve organization, and some have organization thrust upon them. When the children leave home, I'm going to sweep the floors when I *feel* like sweeping the floor, and not before!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Kids in Tights

Now that the rest of the country is starting to look for summer to be over, we are finally seeing the first signs of it. It's OK, my desired length of summer is two weeks. I'm ready for fall now.

Nonetheless, we have been enjoying what summer we can: filling and then emptying the wading pool, picking blackberries (the fruits of neglect), and lying around in the shade wishing it was over.

This week the Duchess finally got to see the completion of a project she began last winter: the ducklings and their cousins of sufficient age to brandish sticks put on a production of "Robin Hood." In the picture, Deux as a disguised Robin Hood challenges the Duchess as a disguised Maid Marian, accompanied by her maid and two horses. The cousins were genial about certain casting inequalities, but they have plans for writing their own play next.

In a way, this is the first end of summer for us, as I am at last making plans for really, truly doing formal lessons this year. ("Formal" meaning: You have to do this whether you want to or not.) Not very much, and I expect it all to still be quite fascinating. If I have the audacity to tell children that my ideas are more important than the projects they already have underway, I ought to make it worth their while.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Why I will never be a gym rat

I got this on my morning ramble. I'd rather have that than abs of steel any day.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Draw the Line

Learning to draw, for the oldest two ducklings, was a massive trauma that overshadowed most of their preschool years. Duchess was the worst. We had approximately 1,375 conversations that went like this:

Duchess: Draw me a girl.
QOC: Why don't you draw a girl? I like to see your drawings.
Duchess: NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!! I don't know HOW to draw a girl.
QOC: The way you learn to draw is by trying to draw. You won't learn if you don't try.
Duchess: (sobs)

Deux was a little more mellow, mostly because he was not as interested in drawing and partly because he could usually talk Duchess into drawing something for him.

In time, though, they both learned to draw close enough approximations to enjoy the drawing process. Indeed, Duchess now draws constantly and Deux fairly often. We just started nature notebooks yesterday to great enthusiasm and they drew some lovely flowers with careful observation.

Now the twins are getting just past the scribbling stage, when they want things to actually look like things. Dash will occasionally melt down when he really, really wants a house and no one will draw one for him. However, he's more content to start drawing, then look at it and decide what it is: "Hey, I drew a banana!"

Dot, however, takes this to a new level. Yesterday I saw her drawing the classic figure of three-year-olds: a head with legs and arms hanging down off it, two big round eyes and a mouth.

She pointed to it with confidence. "This is a jellyfish. It has legs and eyes and a mouth, but no nose, because jellyfish don't have noses."

Well, there was no denying it looked very much like a jellyfish. Why get frustrated that you can't draw good people yet, when you can just enjoy drawing good jellyfish?

Friday, August 12, 2011

7 Quick Takes: Catching Up

1. DOB's parents were here for two weeks. Toolboy loaned us his fifth wheel for them to stay in, which worked out well for everyone, including Toolboy who has now installed a proper septic hookup for parking the fifth wheel. He does things like that, while I am still trying to figure out how to get my bulletin boards to stay on the wall. The ducklings were very sad when we finished filling back in the dirt piles from the pipes.

We all had a lovely visit, and we went to the zoo and to the park and spent a lot of time just hanging around the house, which still needs a lot of hanging.

2. Our church has done its VBS as a series of Wednesday-night events for everybody in the church and including a potluck supper. This has been pretty fun and it's nice to have the whole church involved (and a big draw for me to only have to fix one dish instead of a whole supper). It has the big disadvantage of people taking vacations right in the middle, so the mix of people doing stuff changes every week.

3. Wondergirl and I started work on the basement this week. I had the babysitter come and watch the kids all day while we burrowed in. It took us until 4:30 in the afternoon to find the shelf supports that we needed to assemble the shelves to start putting stuff away. We were quite emotional over the discovery.

4. I got called up for jury duty this week. I was really hoping to get to serve, as I've always wanted to serve on a jury. (Plus a quiet day sitting while the kids play at Their Majesties'.) And I lucked out and had never even met the judge or the prosecutor. However, the defendant (representing himself) quite definitely did not want any lawyers or police officers on the jury, so I got stricken on the first strike. And had to come home and do the dishes instead of finding out how he was going to defend against the charge of Refusing to Give Name.

I was also very, very lucky as I completely forgot about it until 8:45 Monday morning, but when I called in my group had not been called for that day. I didn't actually get called up until Wednesday.

5. DOB has figured out the feasible solution to our daily morning crisis: snacks. Duh. I'm just not a snack person. Thinking about food three times a day is way more than enough. However, having something for everyone to munch on whenever they happen to awake does make things more mellow until a real breakfast can be served. And provides a convenient way to clean out the fridge.

I still wouldn't say no to the well-staffed country estate, though.

6. I have Three Big Things I want to do before school starts: Organize the basement (hah!); finish painting the trim, and wash the windows. I've given up on starting a fall garden--first I have to figure out what to do about the rabbits. I have made a beautiful, shiny chore schedule and school schedule which I haven't yet given up on.

7. Duchess and Deux are thrilled that I have reached enough terms with the ambient mess levels to tolerate them getting out Clue: Master Detective again. I have no idea what they are doing with it, but I'm pretty sure it bears no resemblance to the actual rules. It may simply be a lengthy game of living-in-a country-estate with lots of murder weapons. It keeps them busy for hours, though.

More quick takes at Conversion Diary.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Dash Tells a Story

One of the key elements of our homeschooling approach is called narration: basically at the end of every significant reading, the kids are expected to tell back what we just read about. It's not answering questions, it's them organizing in their own mind what just happened and making it part of themselves. It's very simple to implement and amazingly effective. (In fact, I do well to use it more myself.)

Over the summer the only formal reading we do this way has been Bible stories, but the Duchess and Deux have gotten quite good at it, showing good understanding and retention. The twins are not required to narrate, but Dash is such a born storyteller that he occasionally begs for his own turn. This is what comes out. The story was Joseph and his brothers:

Dash: So Jesus went looking for God . . .
(Five minute interruption during which the big kids dissolve in laughter, Dash takes mortal offense and refuses to speak, and QOC tries to shut up the big kids without laughing herself and reassure Dash that we are all ready to listen eagerly.)
Dash: So Jesus went looking for God, and they lived in a big castle. Was it a castle?
QOC: Um . . . I suppose it could be.
Dash: Or maybe a palace. Yeah, it was a palace. So they lived in a big palace, and there were numbers on all the trees.

(I can only guess that it got mixed up with the plot of their Spanish videos, along with the preschool convention that all Bible stories are about Jesus and God.)


People like to scare the parents of two-year-olds by telling them that three-year-olds are worse.

They're wrong.

However, they feel right. Because a two-year-old has the advantage of still looking like a baby. An amazingly big and mature and capable baby. One that can walk--at least a little ways--and communicate--however basically. When they still act like a baby, you are not surprised. When they act a little more grown-up, you are thrilled.

A three-year-old has longer arms and legs and dirtier feet and firmer lines. A three-year-old looks like a child. A very small and helpless child. And instead of being amazed at how far you have come, you start wondering why you aren't any farther.

You stop being thrilled they went on the potty and start wondering why they can't make it through a church service without three trips (in the case of twins, each). You ditch your strollers and diaper bags and then wish you hadn't. You think you can skip naptime and find out you can't. You forget that you can't actually understand that three-paragraph discourse unless you stop to listen and then you get a why-don't-you-understand-me tantrum.

Three is not so bad, if you don't buy too heavily into your own propaganda that they are big kids now.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Morning Is Broken

I didn't used to hate mornings.

I mean, I'm not a leap out of bed and greet the dawn with a blithe morning song sort of person, but I don't *mind* mornings. Morning is a good time to slog around, eat something, read something, ponder the possibilities of the day. It's not really a good time to interact with other human beings.

Somebody recently was conversing with DOB and made the comment, "You know how kids get up in the morning and they're just so *happy* with everything?"

To which he replied, "No."

Our kids do not wake up happy. On any given day, two or three of them will wake up like me, ready to slowly meander through life but not really wanting to interact with anyone--a difficult task when you have six people in a five-room house. The remaining ones will wake up as hungry, and grouchy, as bears in the spring, ready to scream at the slightest provocation, up to, and including, being served their favorite breakfast. I guess this is the flip side of that metabolism that makes them eager eaters of everything on their plates.

And, let's face it, the grownups are not much better until they have had their morning dose of protein.

I fantasize about having a smooth morning routine where everyone appears at their places with bright shining faces and fully dressed before breakfast. I haven't figured out how to be in the bedroom helping a child who has forgotten how to get dressed and serving as traffic cop in the bathroom and cooking the large and protein-laden breakfast we all find necessary for survival at the same time, though.

And usually, just when I'm trying to do all three, I forget the toast and set all the smoke detectors off as a finishing touch. Except I think I've put the batteries back in wrong now.

At some point after DOB has been delivered to his car with his breakfast and lunch for the day and the children have eaten enough to be able to distinguish between mortal insults and offers of help and I have eaten enough to identify the children individually, I finally can stop to contemplate the day. By that point, it usually doesn't look so good.

I have figured out the solution, though. All we need is to move to a large English country estate with numerous extremely patient servants where we can all wake up in separate wings and have breakfast in bed before we have to get up and face each other.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Berry Picking

Their Majesties kindly invited us over to descend upon their berry patches. Somehow a home was found for all the berries (three flats of strawberries and four or five yogurt containers of raspberries). Of course, you can see where most of them went.

Two Recipes I Want to Save

I'm not going vegan, but I am interested in a cake recipe that doesn't waste eggs and butter on what is basically just a vehicle for berries: Vanilla Eggless and Dairy Free Cake. I used cow milk.

And, still not going vegetarian, why have I never discovered pasta e fagioli before? (Or let's go by the Dean Martin name, Pasta Fazool). It's cheap, it's nutritious, it's really, really easy. The kids called it "spaghetti soup" and devoured it with enthusiasm. (Unfortunately, not with parmesan, because we were out. It's better with, as we discovered on the leftovers.)

Monday, July 18, 2011

QOC and Dot Bake a Cake

QOC: Oh, I forgot to grease the pan. Details, details. I don't like details.

Dot: I don't like details, either.

QOC: Actually, I think you like details. I think when you are big, you will take care of the details for me.

Dot: Yes, I love details. And I always put them in the cake.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Our house lies in a part of town that isn't quite ready to commit to being town yet. Yes, it's within two minutes of two Large Evil Chain Stores, one in the process of becoming Even More Supremely Evil. But it wasn't that long ago that it was out in the country. We have city water, but our own septic tank. (Or at least a septic-handling device of uncertain vintage.)

The town grows, though, and our little pocket is getting smaller. Over the back fence is a brand-new development with moderately-sized houses on tiny lots, with immaculate yards and tidy driveways. It's actually a low-income development built under a sweat equity program, but it's clear that the people who live there have every intention of being just as nice of a suburban development as anywhere else. Sometimes we sneak through a hole in our back fence and go play on their playground, but we almost never see or hear children, though the few we have met assure us there are many more. Even the dirt seems particularly clean.

On our side of the fence, the houses are smaller, sometimes trailers, and the lots are much bigger and often overgrown, except for the occasional yard whose overflowing abundance of flowers proclaims its owner to be retired. Chickens wander in people's yards and wake us up in the morning. Children ride their bikes next to the road, even though the observed speed limit is closer to fifty than thirty. They say hello to strangers and invite them back to admire the poultry. Probably no one thought twice about seeing the Duchess and Deux standing by the side of the road, holding up signs to invite all and sundry for a visit. It would have been unthinkable on the other side of the fence.

We want to put a gate in the back fence, to make it easier to get between the two.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


So from the time the Ducklings first began making their appearances, we have operated on a simple numbering system: D1, D2, D3, D4. (This confuses people sometimes--no, no of their real life names start with D.)

This worked for a collection of very small people with as-yet unexpressed personalities, saying assorted random cute things. However, those days are fading, personalities are very much expressed, and it seems like it's time to have real Names. Besides, sooner or later they'll be beyond being called "Ducklings."

But to make it simpler, we'll stick with the letter D. So, presenting the Ducklings:

D1 will now be known as the Duchess, for her commanding presence and royal bearing. And because "Princess" doesn't start with a D.

D2 will be known as Deux, because he is the second born and DOB Jr. (in name and personality)

D3 will be known as Dot, for her reflective and observational qualities.

D4 will be known as Dash, for his speed and energy.

I am, as always the Queen of Carrots, and DOB remains the Duke of Burgundy.

Left to right: Dash, Deux, Dot, Duchess.

Got it?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Unexpected Blessings

A friend sent me this link about Five Things that are Worse than Being in Debt.

I read it. And I don't exactly disagree. It's just that I think so much more could be said.

See, I cut my eyeteeth on the joys of frugality and the virtue of staying out of debt. I squirreled money away like the Long Winter was coming. I knew how to do it, and I was going to do it, too.

We started out married life debt-free, frugal in habits, and determined to work hard.

Then we got hit by a whole bunch of Life. Medical bills upon medical bills. Business failure upon business failure. Unexpected moves. Kids and then more kids. The Long Winter turned out to be a lot longer than anything we could have prepared for.

We missed that whole part where you get into debt having fun and spending frivolously. We got in debt while we were living in small houses, cutting our own hair, hanging cloth diapers up to dry, and eating beans and rice.

And I felt burdened and condemned, because I thought debt was always a punishment or a consequence of foolishness. Every time somebody talked about the virtues of good stewardship or how God had blessed their commitment to staying out of debt, I felt a knife to my heart. I must not have been careful enough, I must not have been good enough, or God must not really care about us.

But I'm starting to realize that I had it all wrong. Debt is no more automatically a sign of God's disfavor or even our mistakes any more than wealth is automatically a sign of God's favor. Debt is like sickness, sometimes the consequence of bad choices, but sometimes just the way things are. And like sickness, it can be a gift from God.

Because, ultimately, God doesn't give a rat's left whisker whether our net worth is $5,000,000 or -$5,000,000. God is after our hearts. And my heart loves money. It loves its own wisdom and self-discipline. It is sick, and it needs to be healed.

So here's a few more things that are worse than being in debt:

It's worse to love money than to be in debt
If you're just substituting getting your satisfaction and security from the size of your bank account instead of from the size of your house, then your commitment to better stewardship hasn't gotten you anywhere spiritually at all. Love of money has many subtle forms, and it's one of the biggest things that gets between us and God. Yes, the Bible talks about debt as servitude. It also says we can serve God even as servants to someone else. God is not limited by our circumstances.

We cannot measure our spiritual status by our net worth. And if voices are telling you that you can, then it's time to turn those voices off. Because they're lying to you.

It's worse to fight over money than to be in debt
I have a contract with a divorce attorney whose clientele consists mostly of well-off professionals. I go through their finances with a fine-toothed comb to make sure everything is listed for the division of property. Some of them have managed their money well, some of them haven't. They're in his office just the same.

Yes, debt can be a stress and stress can lead to fighting. But it doesn't have to. And if different perspectives on money are causing stress, if you think less of your spouse because they're not as committed to living within your means as you are, then it's time to drop it. Because nobody gets richer from divorce except lawyers.

It's worse to be proud than to be in debt
I've always been pretty impressed over my own ability to save money. I looked down on those who spent money unnecessarily and lived outside their means. I was surely thankful that I was not such as one of them.

I'm not even going to carry this further, lest I find a new grounds for being proud of myself.

It's worse to say no to the adventure than to be in debt
There were a few choices we could have made differently. We could have waited to have kids until our income was greater and more stable. We could have stayed put two years ago instead of moving and changing careers. We would be in a much better financial position from either of those. But I'm not sorry we did those. I don't think those were foolish choices. Money can be earned later, but time never comes back.

I'm not advocating reckless spending or irresponsibility. I hope to work hard and keep living frugally and maybe this time at last we'll be able to pay things off. But I'm beginning to learn that that's just a personal goal, not a spiritual goal. God is with us and blessing us just as much in debt and loss as in financial stability.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

The Birthday Boy

He's a big boy now, and don't you forget it. He can carry the compost bucket all by himself, and fights for the privilege. He likes things with wheels, and things with dirt (but not in his eyes).
He likes to listen to Uncle Wiggly and Winnie-the-Pooh. His character from The Incredibles is Dash. He likes to help with almost anything. He likes to eat almost anything. He likes to stand on his head.
In fact, about the only thing he doesn't like is sitting still. Unless he's driving a car.

The Birthday Girl

She's got a lot of opinions. She likes girls, of course. And Papa. And D2 and D4. But not monsters. Except for girl monsters. (She's currently very fond of Edwina, The Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct. Because she's a girl dinosaur.)

She loves listening to Little House on the Prairie and quotes it at length randomly throughout the day. ("It's a long, long way to Indian territory.") She likes to play Baby Carrie while D2 plays Jack, or perhaps Jack-Jack (of The Incredibles--an interesting combination). She liked The Incredibles, too.

Her favorite things are playing dress-up and reading books and helping D1 or Mama (preferably D1). She wanted a princess birthday cake but was perfectly satisfied with a crown. She knows how much three is and she's happy to be there. But she might turn six or seven next.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Every Day

It is the appropriate thing to whine about the everydayishness of housekeeping tasks, of how you wash the dishes only to have them dirty again a few moments later, of how there's no point making a bed that is only going to be slept in again.

The process of moving has reminded me that there is a great comfort in things that have to be done over and over. There are an infinite number of opportunities to get it right. If dinner was a flop yesterday, I have a chance to do it better today. If the laundry overflowed its boundaries today, I can keep trying to catch up tomorrow.

Rarer tasks lack that opportunity. I will be staring at the drippy paint over the shower for the next ten years. And by the time I get around to painting again, I will have forgotten everything I figured out about it this time and will probably drip away.

After change and turmoil and transition, there's a great comfort in a day of just doing ordinary things. Of seeing the pile of dishes rise and fall like the tide. Of raising the shades (which still won't roll correctly) and letting the morning sunshine in, and lowering them at night.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Duchess Turns Seven

See that Hansel-and-Gretel cottage cake? Guess who made it allllmost all by herself?

D1 is growing by leaps and bounds. She has moved on to reading long books with small print, preferably books of fairy tales. She likes to draw, preferably princesses. And she likes to cook, preferably birthday cakes. She can get everybody ready to go, in the car and buckled while I am still trying to remember where I left my purse.

It's great to have a big girl.

Monday, June 20, 2011

This is no fair

My weird aunt died suddenly last Tuesday. She was the person who taught me music and Shakespeare and baking fabulous cookies, who introduced me to Gilbert and Sullivan and science fiction and Magic: The Gathering and Sandra Boynton and personality analysis. We used to debate and analyze for hours, and more recently we instead stayed up far too late playing strange card games.

I'm glad she's out of pain, but I'm going to miss her terribly.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Style and 5 year old boys

I hate FDA-approved (or whoever it is that approves it) pajama fabric, all synthetic and treated and ooky feeling. I just don't see that my children are in greater danger of spontaneous combustion while sleeping than while playing. So instead Her Majesty makes them lovely untreated flannel pajamas for winter and for the summer I just pick up a few extra t-shirts and some knit shorts at the thrift store.

This week I got some pieces for D2 and was rather pleased that I managed to coordinate them. I found a pair of orange shorts and a grayish-green shirt with a bright orange tiger printed on it. Then I found some navy shorts and a periwinkle Gap t-shirt with "GAP" in navy.

Tonight D2 wanted to wear his new pajamas. He found the orange shorts, so I dug around and found the tiger shirt.

"That doesn't match!" he complained.

"Yes, it does," I said. "See, there's orange here to match the orange on the shorts."

"But not very *much* orange."

So I tried digging out the other pair. "See, they're both blue."

"But it's not the *same* blue. "

"Well what are you going to wear then?" I asked.

He took the orange shorts and the blue shirt and went and put them on. I don't get it.

Friday, June 03, 2011


Some pictures (courtesy D1, which is why she's in none of them) of the kids in our new yard. I've only had to rescue two boys out of the laurel bushes so far.

Monday, May 30, 2011


We are moved.
We have been moved. (Thanks to many helpful people.)
We shall be moved. (When we figure out where everything goes.)

Right now it's time to feel like the old sailor. And note that this is a *really* bad time to come down with the stomach flu. But not quite as bad of a time as last week would have been.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Grammar Commando Rides Again

The Grammar Commando has been lured out of a long hiatus by QOC absent-mindedly posting as her Facebook status, "After spending the whole morning scrubbing, our new house suddenly seems plenty big enough."

"Ha!" says GC. "The house was scrubbing, was it? How lucky of you to get a self-scrubbing house!"

(A more logical construction: "After spending the whole morning scrubbing, I think our new house is plenty big enough." It's QOC that was spending the whole morning scrubbing, and nobody else. Well, except the ducklings for about three minutes. His Majesty is busy taping and wielding tools.)

But, now that GC is out of hiding, she will add an error QOC would never commit.

"Chalk full"

Really? Full of chalk? What on earth is full of chalk except an unopened package of sidewalk chalk?

No, what you're thinking of is "chock full," i.e., full to the point that they had to chock (carefully wedge) in the last bits. Which could apply, metaphorically, to a book being chock full of ideas. But it probably doesn't have chalky ideas in it.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Status Report

Potty Training: Almost there. They've got the idea. D4 persisted in a triumph of willpower over lack of readiness, but he finally started figuring it out after several days of trauma for all concerned. They still have accidents. D4 still won't use full-sized potty. I spend a lot of time debating under what circumstances they earn chocolate. Still, I packed up all my diaper covers and training pants and sent them to Goodwill yesterday. (I saved the diapers for a lifetime supply of cleaning cloths.) Disposables will actually not be that greatly reduced, since I don't think we're anywhere close to staying dry at night yet.

Packing: Agonizingly slow. I'm trying to retrieve all the little pieces of everything and get them in the same boxes as all the other small pieces of the same category. And make sure we only take our stuff. And clean, and purge, and organize. And not murder anyone who discovers a cool lost toy in a box and drags it back out again.

Moving: We closed on the house on Thursday. Now we need to clean it very thoroughly, then paint and do some minor fixes. We're hoping to move Memorial Day weekend, which we realize is terrible timing because everyone able-bodied in the country will be out camping, but it's when we think we'll be ready. People have started to give me plants, and I'm very excited about that.

Colds: The kids have had them. Now I do. Bleah.

Friday, May 06, 2011

7 Quick Takes: The Potty Training Edition

1. I had a GREAT plan for potty training the twins. We were going to wait until July. They'd both be three. The weather would be warm and sunny for minimal clothing. Grandma R., a seasoned potty trainer, would be visiting. We'd be all moved and settled in. The floor plan of the house has a large kitchen/dining area with vinyl flooring and a toilet and washing machine right off them. It was going to be great.

2. D3 decided on Sunday that wearing diapers hurts, and just like with sucking her fingers a month ago, that was the end of that. Being a little girl who likes to wear dresses makes it much easier. She doesn't even need reminders anymore.

3. D4 believes anything she can do, he can do better. Only he can't. But he won't believe me. Nor will he accept the idea of wearing diapers again. Or of training pants. "No! I won't wear those round diapers!" I am doing a lot of laundry.

4. Just because I feel it necessary to counterpoint conventional wisdom, I will point out that girls are not necessarily easier to train than boys, since D1 was approximately 23 times harder (counting by months) or 750 times harder (counting by accidents) than D2.

5. And my kids never read the potty training books about never trying to potty train right before a big, stressful event. They have a radar for big, stressful events. Which is why D2 decided to potty train right before the twins were born. On the plus side, this meant that Grandma R. and Wondergirl did all the work, because I couldn't reach the ground.

6. That bit about cloth diapers helping children potty train sooner because they feel wet is hogwash, too, as far as my kids are concerned. They just get used to feeling wet. Maybe I should have changed them more often. Oops.

7. D4 has all the pieces, he's just having trouble putting them together. I think going bottomless for a few days would do the trick. He's not inherently opposed, just finds it too chilly. And he did not welcome the suggestion of wearing D3's dresses. However, Her Majesty has had a brainstorm: she's persuaded him that several grown-up sized old t-shirts (especially with military themes) are in fact knight costumes. Clothed in such manly attire that will keep his legs warm and still allow for airflow, I'm hopeful that it will all click. Soon. 'Cause otherwise I'm going to be doing a lot of laundry for an awfully long time.

More quick takes at Conversion Diary.

What manly men wear for potty-training. Even though it's Grandma's.