Monday, November 26, 2012

Getting to Know You

Carrie at Reading to Know is doing a "Getting to Know You" post, and although she probably already knows more about me than she wants to (including my incredible talents at exploding hard-boiled eggs), I thought I would participate since it's also my birthday and therefore I should spend some time talking about myself. 

1. Do you attend church and, if so, what denomination are you a part of?

We attend an Evangelical Lutheran Church of America congregation. I never saw myself as part of the mainline, but this particular church, anyway, is one that is all about Jesus giving his life for ours and being ready to share that. (And not about us showing everyone how great we are, or measuring up to somebody's standard, or trying to take over the world politically, or what not.) Ours is a rural congregation that may be a bit more conservative than the denomination at large; there are some social issues that just don't get talked about.

There are some kids besides ours and the people who don't have young kids are universally accepting of kids as kids and let them be part of the life of the church, not sequestered off. There's room for people who are struggling with doubts or don't have it all together. And it's liturgical (in a relaxed way with a variety of music) and I find I have a raw need for that; for hearing, every week, "God, in Christ, forgives you all your sins," and "The body of Christ, broken for you."

2. Do you home school/use the public system or enroll your kids in private school? Any particular reason why?
We homeschool. Why? People have been asking that lately. Life has been very stressful and the question comes up, "Wouldn't it be easier to put them in school?"

Well, no, I don't think so. I could be wrong. But I would have to drag them all out of bed on time and have them dressed (in clothes that weren't their favorite worn-to-rags-and-stained) and find shoes and get them on and then the twins are too young for school so either I would still be stuck at home all day with preschoolers (which is a fate I would do almost anything to avoid experiencing again) or we would have to pay to put them in preschool and I'd have to get them there, too. And Deux would HATE school. (Deux hates switching gears to go places he loves, and I can't imagine that he would love a noisy classroom with 25 other 6 and 7-year-olds, where his inability to pay attention to thoughts outside his head would become acutely problematic and his ability to work out negative numbers and division by fractions would be completely overlooked.) And then I would have to pick them up again and they'd be tired and cranky and I'd have to make them do homework (much of which I would probably find boring and a waste of time) and help them with fundraisers and stuff.

The truth is, I'm a better tutor than a mother, and the thought of giving up the only part of motherhood that I have some comfort and talent with is not appealing to me.

3. How long have you been married? How many kids do you have, or want to have? Have you ever thought of adopting, or have you? 
DOB and I have been married nine years. We have four kids. Four is a good number. I think the topic of adoption came up once, three weeks after we were married and two weeks before we discovered the Duchess was on the way. Ever since, we have more than had our hands full with our biological offspring, so we have never seriously considered messing up somebody else's kids.

4. What is your greatest personality strength? Weakest?
 Ha! I picked this one out and I am drawing a blank.

Probably my curiosity. I am interested in pretty much everything. (Well, except for things that interest normal people, like sports or shopping or dogs.) Nothing energizes me like something new to think about, find out about, or try out.

By the same token, my greatest weakness is probably that I quickly overload and then I freeze.  Which is why I spent forty-five minutes in the back of Fred Meyer on Saturday looking for the electronics section, somehow having missed on my previous 167 visits to the store that the electronics section was Right Out Front next to the checkout. Yeah. Shopping is not a good thing for me. Too many options.

5. What do you like best about your family?
I like that we are all completely, bizarrely, weirdly imaginative. Everything is a story. Something too strange to even reduce to writing is usually going on in the living room: drawings of evil mermaids, battles between plants and zombie ninjas, school with pirates. Meanwhile the grownups are reading or writing fantasy or sci-fi or developing their GURPS characters.

6. What is your favorite thing about where you live (country, neighborhood, etc.)? Least? Favorite? I don't know. I love water. I love mountains. I love lots and lots of trees. I even love rain. I like our little town that's close to the big city but not too close.

One thing I don't love is the lack of sidewalks close to our house. It's very hard to walk in the dark, and this time of year, dark is the only time I have to walk.

7.  What is your idea of the perfect day?
No schedule. Nowhere to go. The fridge already stocked with food. A very long walk in the woods. A stack of books to read. Some games. Nobody crying or needing wiped.

This is a picture of me doing something usual--trying to take care of both the twins at once and dropping things. The only thing not usual is that my hair is looking unusually restrained.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Christmas Spirit

Once upon a time I always, always spent the day after Thanksgiving playing Christmas music, deep-cleaning the house and dragging out the Christmas decorations. When my parents and other braver souls returned from the sales, if I was doing well, I could be ready to put up the tree.

Now I think the best way to spend the day after Thanksgiving is sleeping in. Probably the day after that, too. I will never go to the sales, not unless they do not involve other people, noise, movement, and lights. The Christmas decorations will be up eventually, and the house won't be clean for five minutes together no matter what I do. I may dig out Christmas music, but I still haven't figured out where I keep it.

Instead, I offer for your pre-Advent reading pleasure a very short story I wrote last year.


The Christmas Spirit

Emily stirred a third spoonful of honey into her peppermint tea. Gran raised an eyebrow and passed the plate of cookies again.

“Now, Emily, I sent for you for three reasons. First, although I haven’t told anyone yet, particularly your mother, the doctor says I’m about to keel over at any moment. I haven’t got much time, so pay attention. Second, you’re old enough to stick to your guns and young enough to be excused eccentricity. Third, you may, just possibly, take me seriously.”

Emily tried to drink the tea and burnt her tongue again. She set the cup down and watched for a moment to see if Gran would drop dead. When she didn’t, Emily asked, “Seriously about what?”

“I’m going to teach you how to have a proper Christmas. We’ll have to work out distances and angles so you can recreate it in a different house, as your father will undoubtedly sell this place the second I croak. If you do all the work, you’re more likely to remember when you have to do the ritual yourself.”

“Ritual? What do you mean, ritual?”

“The Christmas ritual, dearie. Did you think the Christmas spirit was just a metaphor? Or that it happened by magic? Well, it does happen by magic, that’s the point, but magic is hard work, dearie, and don’t you forget it. Now go get the red box second from the left on the right side of the attic.”

Emily stuffed the cookie in her mouth and did as she was told. When Gran called you “dearie,” the business end of her cane was not likely to be far behind.

It took the better part of the next two hours to get the box fully unpacked, each item correctly positioned, and for Gran to explain the significance and history of each tinsel-wrapped angel and tacky crocheted snowman. Much was revealed.

“So that’s why the fruitcake! I wondered why we always have it even though no one ever eats it.”

“Spirits don’t have tastebuds. But they do like tradition. It makes particularly good compost, later.”

At last they sat down in the middle of the arrangement and Emily tried the tea again. It was ice cold now, and disgustingly sweet.

“How did you learn all this, Gran?” she finally dared to ask.

“That, I’m not telling. Some stories are not fit for young girls. Suffice it to say you are very lucky to learn all this in a cozy afternoon with your Gran.” She winked, a little maliciously.

“Now for the incantation,” Gran said, “Listen closely, it’s not hard, but it can’t be repeated more than once a year.” She began to chant. Emily listened. It sounded a bit like a Christmas carol, only with the words a bit off, but she couldn’t be sure because Gran couldn’t carry a tune.

By the end of the chant Gran’s singing was as smooth as her Rosemary Clooney records, and an inexplicable glow had driven back the gloom of the winter afternoon. Emily tasted her tea again: it was perfectly warm, and just sweet enough. The room sat in golden quiet for a moment.



“What if you didn’t summon the Christmas Spirit?”

“Well, it might show up uninvited. You don’t want that. Spirits can be pretty nasty when they feel snubbed. But at best you’d be without it, and then what would happen? Uncle Al would get drunk and smash half the glasses, your mother would lecture everyone on everything, and your Treadwell cousins would never lift their eyes from their computer thingies. Vanessa’s boyfriend would be scared off for good and she’ll never get another chance, poor girl.”

“So that’s why you do it all the same every year.”

“Pretty much, pretty much.”

Emily drank her perfect tea and then ventured one more question. “Is the Santa toilet lid cover part of the ritual?”

Grandma chuckled. “No, that’s just to annoy your Aunt Vicky. She hates that kind of thing, but thanks to the Spirit she can’t do a thing about it.” Grandma sighed, closed her eyes, and then suddenly slumped in her chair.

Emily rose and shrieked, just a little. Grandma opened one eye and grinned.

“Fooled you, didn’t I? Well, I’m not dead yet. Now, you’re too young and I’m too old to worry about calories, so what say we have another round of cookies?”

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Growth Spurts

Once upon a time, I could pretty much count on having leftovers enough for lunch. I cooked the pot or pan full, and there they were--leftovers. Security blanket for cooks.

Now I usually have to set some aside to scrounge a lunch for DOB. Even the cooked vegetables go faster than they used to go. (Of course, that is partially because I have been studying how to cook them better. Try melting a couple of tablespoons of butter in a pan, then tossing in cauliflower florets, minced garlic, and bread crumbs and baking until tender at 375. The kids were eating it like popcorn. Next time I'll have to make two heads.)

They keep growing, yes they do. Two weeks ago Dash's drawings were elaborate squiggles that only he could decipher and he had no interest in the alphabet other than the first letter of his name. This week they suddenly became clear representations: people, boats, houses. He fills pages of them. He wants to write letters and rejoice in their sounds. He wants to write his name, all seven letters of it. Which has interested Dot in writing her whole name, not just her two-letters-repeated nickname.

Deux, who a few weeks ago was protesting that he did not like reading and refused to pick up much besides comic books, was glued to The Horse and His Boy yesterday. Duchess insisted she had already read all the books on our shelves, but conceded that she hadn't finished the Anne books so maybe she will go there next.

I like it. Except for the lack of leftovers. Maybe I should get bigger pans.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

In Which I Rant About Something That Is Probably Nothing

Deux found a very cute little graphic novel about a robot at the library today and I let him bring it home. I prelooked it (there were no actual words involved) and I doubt anything in it will damage him. But it still bugged me.

The story line is that this dog makes a robot from a kit and they are best buds and do fun things together and then the robot goes swimming and gets too rusted up to go home from the beach. After a while the dog gets a book on robot repair and tries to go back to the beach and rescue the robot, but it's closed for the season. So he goes home and tries to play with other things and finally gets a new robot kit. Meanwhile the robot daydreams of being rescued and gets scavenged for parts and finally hauled off for scraps. There his few remaining parts are found by a raccoon, who turns him back into a cool radio robot. In the final scenes, the radio robot sees his original dog friend walking by with his new robot, and he turns on the radio and plays them a tune as they pass.

Message, as far as I can tell: Relationships are fleeting. Enjoy but move on.

Maybe it's silly. I mean, nobody says a robot gets a till-death-do-us-part vow. But surely even a robot deserves a little more perseverance. Fight for your friend, little dog! Climb the fence! Borrow a boat! Don't just walk away and find someone new!

Then again, maybe it's not so silly. How can we raise children to be loyal and faithful, to be capable of permanent relationships, without holding it up to them as an ideal when they are too young to be cynical and jaded? So much of modern's children books seem to be an effort to prepare children for life by lowering their expectations; by smashing idols that have never had time to be built.

Maybe I'll just make sure he checks out Horton Hatches An Egg next week.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Things That Are Awesome

Our library. I hear a lot of griping about libraries being turned into strictly realms of multimedia and series books about digestive difficulties, but ours is still awesome. They have the entire Wizard of Oz series in hardcover reprints. They have the Melendys and the Moffats and Freddy the Pig and Tintin and Asterix. When I request a weird, obscure book they usually go right out and buy it. (Like The Servile State by Hillaire Belloc and On Growth and Form by D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson. Not that I have actually finished either yet. But now I can.)

Their multimedia isn't shabby either, with lots of retired TV shows (DOB and I never start watching anything until it's had its final season) and old movies and new movies and audio CDs of all kinds of classic children's books.

And they have cool programs (like the one demonstrating the difference between stage and real combat) and cozy chairs and toys in the children's section and a view of the bay and mermaids and pirate ships on the walls of the bathrooms.

The children's doctor and everybody else in the office. We know all too well how many doctors there are who don't talk; or who don't listen; or who can't tell anything without several hundreds' of dollars worth of tests and then stare blankly at you. The children's pediatrician is none of these. He listens, he respects the knowledge, instincts and decisions of parents, he does a thorough hands-on check and knows what he is looking for. When Dash needed an IV, he came over to check on him multiple times. He has a great sense of humor and the kids love him (when they're well, which is usually the only time we see him). He makes great book and movie recommendations and wants us to study Latin. His nurse is wonderful, too, and the nurses on the needle-poking side of the building and even the people at the pharmacy down the hall all bent over backwards to get a sick little boy home as soon as they could.

Role-playing games. Where have they been all my life? (Categorized as demonic, that's where.) It's somewhere in between playing for grownups and novel writing for undisciplined people. DOB, Bookworm, Rocketboy and I have just about finished a trial Dungeons and Dragons campaign and are going to try GURPS next. (Something with camels--I think my character will be the daughter of a ruined merchant). I admit, I find combat a bit tedious and keep falling asleep, but I think that will get better as we have more of it figured out.

I noticed that on a list of things to have done in a lifetime that I posted on the blog a very long time ago "Played D&D for more than 6 hours straight" was listed. I still haven't done that, but I think 4 hours should count when you have small children. And always start falling asleep at ten o'clock.

Pumpkin pie, if you add molasses.

A quiet rainy Sunday afternoon with a stack of books and a laptop.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Statements by Dot

"I wish there was a thing called a tornado so that I could see what it was. Even though it is horrible."

"That terrible pain is coming to my stomach again, which means that I am getting hungry."

Friday, November 02, 2012

Late As Usual

It is the time of year when the Great Halloween Debate is over, which means it's time for me to post on it.

I refrained myself from the Snarky Homeschool Forum Post when a lady said, "I just don't know how to explain to my four year old that dressing up and getting candy is Satanic," by answering, "You're having this trouble because it's not."

I don't even have a problem per se with ghouls and ghosts--we can celebrate Jesus' victory over the forces of death and hell by mocking them, it seems to me. The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him. However, nobody here is really into that, so it's a non-issue for now.

I have discovered, though, that we are fair-weather Halloween celebrators. Back in Cincinnati we lived in a cozy little neighborhood with sidewalks, Halloween was usually dry and often still rather warm, and it didn't get dark until after dinner at least. It was the perfect time to be out and greeting the neighbors. DOB's boss also had a big family Halloween party that was always a blast.

Here, it's pitch dark and pouring rain and our neighborhood has no sidewalks, just ditches and trucks running by at forty miles an hour. This makes trick or treating entirely unpleasant and the only suitable costumes are Flood Response Team and Fisherman in Hipwaders.

So we have become church carnival attenders, which allows greater variety in costumes and stocks us up with enough candy to last until Christmas. (I use it as a simple bribe, especially for the twins: Get dressed ALL BY YOURSELF and you can have a piece.)

We might have had a trick-or-treater at our house, but it's hard to tell. Nobody knows which is our front door, so by the time we answer all the doors, whoever it was and wherever they were, they have given up and gone away.