Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Lists of Five for 2013

These are, of course, things in MY life for 2013. So don't expect, say, movies or songs that were actually released in 2013, because I don't move at that pace.

Five good things:
1. Kids being bigger. Bigger kids are always good.
2. Getting to actually go to court. I think I like being a lawyer.
3. Still being alive and all together.
4. Staying on track and organized with school. I'm not sure who I'm channeling with teaching school, but it's certainly not me.
5. Role playing games. They're fun, we can do them together, and they don't involve major exertion.

Five bad things:.
1. & 2. Grandparents dying
3. DOB's health problems
4. House not magically becoming wheelchair accessible when we needed it to be.
5. Feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and sad because of items #1-#4.

Five books or authors that stood out:
1. Anthony Trollope!!!
2. Wild Coast, by John Gimlette. A vivid travel memoir/history about an area I knew next to nothing about.
3. The Island of the Day Before, by Umberto Eco, where I finally found a reference I had been looking for for a decade. Also, the title of the book makes me happy.
4. The Lost World of Genesis One, by John Walton
5. The Count of Monte Cristo, which I had put off reading for far too long.

Five movies or TV shows I will probably watch again someday:
1. Barchester Chronicles
2. The Dresden Files
3. Inception
4. John Adams miniseries
5. Gunless

Five songs that stuck in my head:
1. "Go No More A-Roving," Leonard Cohen (and Lord Byron)
2. "Caravanserai," Loreena McKennit
3. "Hounds of Winter," Sting
4. The Three Ravens, old folk song
5. "Every December Sky," Mae Robertson

Five thoughtful posts:
Dorothy Sayers on Why Life is Not Like a Detective Story

"Old-Fashioned" Courtship?
A Different Thought on Giving
Beauty and Brains
On Ends, Means, and Obedience

Five funny posts:
Waiting for the Apocalypse (the humor in this is much darker, in retrospect)
Toy Stories
The Grammar Commando Takes the Stage
Twin Time
In Which I Stay Out of Trouble (except nobody laughed at that one. I think I shocked everyone.)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Let the children come

So we got invited to help out at the "Celebrate Jesus" walk-through down the street last weekend. DOB was in trial preparation mode (which at that point on Saturday night mostly meant not talking to anyone), so it seemed like a good time to get out of the house.

We were overprepared. Remembering the previous weekend, when we froze our toes and fingers off just walking through another church's event at twenty degrees, I put everyone in two layers of everything under their coats and hats and mittens and then our (very roomy) Bible-time costumes over that. (Something you can learn from Christmas walk-throughs throughout the north is that people in Bible times all ate extremely well.) However, last weekend it was 45 degrees. We were in a nice little shelter and running to Jesus every two minutes. Pretty soon there were hats and mittens cast aside vanishing into the hay. It's a small miracle that we made it home with all of them.

Duchess of course wanted to say all the lines from the start, and Deux soon warmed up to it. After a while the twins joined in, along with a little boy whose father was playing Jesus a few scenes over. Pretty soon the chaos made the disciple's line, "Woman, quiet your children!" entirely justified. Deux also, for some reason, decided the best way to run to Jesus was to trip and then dive headfirst through the hay. He did it every time.

The idea was to have two families alternating every thirty minutes or so. However, the other family never showed. So our first shift was over an hour long, and by the end everyone was beginning to wear thin. Duchess and Deux had absorbed enough of "the show must go on" from theater classes to keep the action going no matter how long we waited for relief, but they relieved their feelings by storing up hay while Jesus gave his brief lecture, and then pummeling each other the instant the scene ended.

They finally scared up a replacement family and we went inside for soup and cookies and to shed our surplus layers. It was, of course, just then that Their Majesties showed up and walked through looking for us in vain. They met us and we went through the whole thing again and did a special demonstration for them. Then we were back on duty. Dot and Dash spent a lot of the last shift curled up in the hay, but there was still plenty of tumult for the disciple to object to. By the end we were hitting that point of exhaustion that works like hypothermia--the tireder the kids are, the wilder they act and the more they insist they are not tired at all and will never ever need to quit.

They asked us if we wanted to come back for a repeat performance on Sunday, but I thought one day was quite enough. Besides, on Sunday night, DOB was at the point of trial preparation that involves getting everyone to bed early.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Cabin Fever

I've been building a playlist of winter-themed songs to vary the diet of Christmas music. There are quite a few wintry songs on the theme of "I've got my love to keep me warm." There are, if anything, more on the theme of, "I'm cold now that my love has left me." But there don't seem to be any on the theme--which I would most identify with--of, "My love and I made a lot of babies and I think they're going to tear the furniture apart before spring."

It really hasn't even yet been a bad winter for being stuck inside. No one has been noticeably sick so far (we'll see how long THAT lasts)--we even managed to forestall a sinus infection for DOB by the hasty application of all the remedies we learned last winter. We had a week and a half of deep cold, in which we went down to the walk-through Life of Jesus at the neighborhood church and skated on the Sea of Galilee. Now it's back to 40s and drizzly which, although uninspiring, is really not that bad for getting outside. It was a matter of great disappointment that we didn't manage some snow at the intersection of those two weather patterns.

But darkness still comes way too soon and the children who used to be cute little toddlers bouncing on the couch are now posing a serious danger to the springs. I guess I should have put a stop to it sooner.

While we were wandering through the walk-through we got invited to come take a turn being Jesus Blessing the Little Children. Duchess naturally jumped at the opportunity, and everyone else naturally followed Duchess. I figured anything that would get us outside after dark was a worthy endeavor.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sermons and shootouts

This week DOB and I watched Gunless, a very funny western parody about a gunslinger, the Montana Kid, who stumbles into a remote Canadian hamlet and tries to get in a gunfight with an enormous but peaceful blacksmith in a town where the only pistol has been broken for years.

At one point he gets asked why . . . why can't he just let it go? Why, after a brief misunderstanding, does he need to make the blacksmith the twelfth man he's killed?

He answers: "Cuz if I let it go now, then I shoulda let it go when them 3 guys in Missouri called me a cheat. Now you tell me. Did they die for nothin'? And if I let them guys in Missouri go, then I shoulda let it go when that man was whoopin' that dog. Now does that sound right to you? Beatin' on a helpless dog? If I was able to let that man go for beatin' on that mutt, then sure as hell no reason I couldn'ta just walked away when I was called out in Wyoming, or Santa Fe, and twice in Arizona. If I was so damned smart to walk away when I was called out, then I should have the wherewithal not to use my gun in self-defense, twice. And if I shoulda been able to avoid that, then there's no arguable reason why I couldn'ta just gone to the sheriff, insteada killin' the man that whipped my pa."

 The Montana Kid has inadvertently stumbled into an Advent sermon. He's begun to realize that he needs to change, that he wants a different life. But he can't have change without repentance: without admitting that his former choices were wrong. Sometimes, that's a lot of wrong to face.

The need for repentance is not an arbitrary call. John the Baptist doesn't call for repentance because we need to grovel a lot before Jesus will deign to come; he calls for repentance because it's the logical precondition for change. Because until we can face up to what has been wrong, we won't be able to accept things being made right. The change has to come from outside us . . . but we have to be made ready for the change.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

The trouble with parenting advice

Suppose you were growing tomatoes, something I try to do and fail spectacularly nearly every year. This alone would suggest to you that you should not ask me how to grow tomatoes. However, you could probably find someone in your neighborhood who had a bumper crop in tomatoes and ask them how to do it. And you would probably get pretty good advice, although your results would vary because your soil would have a little different composition and the sunlight would strike your yard a little differently.

But tomatoes are an annual crop and the desired result is pretty easy to define: plenty of tasty tomatoes. Kids are . . well, not a crop at all, and different people hope for different results and it takes a whole lot longer than a year to raise them. Results vary.

And people have very fuzzy memories. When it comes to our own lives, we're always rewriting our own histories, casting things in a different light as new events come. By the time a child has been alive long enough to show some kind of evidence of how their parenting was, the parent has already forgotten what they actually did. Much of what we do we don't even know we are doing. I might think my children's love of reading is attributable to my stellar educational program, when it might in fact be attributable to their desire to be out of sight when chore time comes.

I am amazed at how quickly forgetfulness happens. A couple of weeks ago I took my three year old niece for a walk along with the twins. I had already forgotten how short three year old legs are. Five year olds look small, but they can keep up with a leisurely adult stroll. Three year olds just can't. You have to slow down to wedding march slow. And I'd forgotten. I've forgotten what it's like to be awakened all night long, to watch for a chance to dash to the bathroom, to have dinner prep interrupted thirty times (we're down to ten), to have nothing in the house happen without my direct involvement, to know that my child could be in a life-threatening or house-destroying situation within twenty seconds of turning my attention elsewhere. I remember that these things happened, but I have no idea how I actually coped with them, or what I might have done to deal with naps and pickiness while all those were occurring.

So, even though I am currently the parent of four school-aged children, anything I might say about parenting infants or toddlers should be taken with great suspicion. On the other hand, anyone who's currently in the trenches doesn't really have any idea how their actions are going to pan out over the long haul. (Wow, how many cliches can I pack into one sentence?) Then there are the parents who have multiple stages, but any older child from one of those families can tell you just how fuzzy their recollection of what they did with the older children is.

Not to discourage asking for help when you need it. But most of it boils down to: Do the best you can and wait for them to outgrow it.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Right Side

A long time ago, when I was at that stage which is more or less legally an adult but mostly as a matter of technicality, I worked at a quite marvelous place with some people who were really, truly, most definitely adults. From time to time they would shake their heads and say things like, "You are *so* young," and at others they would mention the joys of being on the *right* side of five-and-thirty, and then they would launch into such pearls of wisdom as can only be attained with advancing age.

Well, now I am on the right side of five and thirty, though they would probably now announce that fifty is the age at which true wisdom is known. Nonetheless, I think I've attained a measure of maturity, such that people never marvel at my youth anymore. I can find gray hairs and wrinkles, if I look closely, so I don't look closely.

I was going to write a blog post up with thirty-five things I have learned in life, but I couldn't come up with that many. Make of it what you will. Mostly, I think I have learned what I don't know. And that is a list that would not stop at thirty-five items.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Simplicity Itself

A couple of weeks ago, I was so tired that I ordered pizza.

That probably doesn't sound blogworthy, but you would have to understand how bad things have to be before I order pizza. I feel about ordering pizza as a pacifist president feels about pushing the red button. It's just not on my list of Things I Might Do. There's the agony of knowing how much it costs compared to pretty much anything that could be made at home; there's the dubious nutritional value; and then there's the fact that the kind of pizzas you can get delivered to your door just don't taste all that good. (On very special occasions we have been known to get the Papa Murphy's take and bake, which do taste good, at least. Only with a coupon, though.) Also, formerly, there was the challenge of composing my thoughts on the phone, which, if I am tired enough to be ordering pizza, I am definitely too tired to be doing.

Anyway, the pizza places have taken away that last objection by online ordering, and even when I am too tired to speak, I can usually still point and click. So I ordered it, and luckily DOB woke up in time to answer the door, because even walking that far was out of the question at that point.

But I have since been devoting myself to the project of Not Needing to Order Pizza. Wondergirl and His Majesty kindly saw to it that the chest freezer finally got moved from my grandparents' garage to the shed, and I am stocking it with cooked hamburger and grated cheese, and yes, hot dogs. Even hot dogs are cheaper and healthier than pizza, and the Duchess can cook them, although the freezer is not yet full enough for me to trust any child to go fetch things from it without falling in.

Shortly thereafter I was reading an online discussion on simplifying life, something I always fantasize about. And then the toaster broke. On the one hand, life might be visually simpler with one less thing on the counter. On the other hand, I kept burning the toast under the broiler and the kids couldn't make toast unsupervised any more and bread and butter was out of the question because the house is too cold for pliable butter.

 So, I had DOB get me a new toaster. And I snagged one of the pancake griddles from Grandpa's house, which, although it will be difficult to store, makes a family-sized meal of french toast in ten minutes. And that's what I call simple.

Friday, November 15, 2013

On Ends, Means and Obedience

A certain article by John Piper on obedience popped up in my Facebook feed a lot last week (or two . . . I have never caught up with the pace of internet discussions.) Apparently it struck a chord.

It struck a few chords with me, too: dissonant ones. For starters, anytime someone starts turning parenting choices into a matter of life or death, they have lost my ear. It's like the vaccination debate. Vaccinate and your child will die of horrible complications! Don't vaccinate and your child will die of preventable diseases!

The truth is, death is highly unlikely in either scenario, so let's set that aside and look at reasonable risks. Similarly, disobedience might, in some circumstances, lead to death, but so might unquestioning obedience. ("Theirs not to question why, theirs but to do and die.") In any case, cooperating with people pointing big guns at you or with people about to take you six miles into the air are both more matters of self-preservation than obedience. Forget obedience, I hope I can raise my children not to be stupid.

But the real problem I have with the article is its open twisting of Scripture. No, the Bible does not say, "Parents, make your children obey you." It never, ever does. And John Piper of all people should know better than to put things into the Bible that aren't there. It doesn't matter that it doesn't make sense to him that God would tell children to obey and not tell parents to make them obey: God is perfectly capable of saying exactly what He means. God also never says, "Wives, make your husbands love you," or "Masters, see that your slaves obey cheerfully, as unto the Lord."

Now, if I don't believe that God tells me to force my children to obey, does that mean I sit back idly and let them do whatever occurs to them, however wrong or dangerous? Of course not. If it was my small boy playing with an electronic device on the plane, and they didn't turn it off, it would be spending the rest of the flight in my purse. (And then, if it WAS one of my small boys, we would have a long and vivid discussion of the possible consequences of interference with radio transmissions, and all the people within earshot would be traumatized for life.)

So if the end result is the same, why do I bother to differ? Because I think it makes a difference where you start from. Piper's article, and many articles and books on the same thing, makes it sound like the beginning and end of parenting is authority--that our purpose as parents is to exercise our authority so that our children will learn to submit to authority because authority is the Way Things Ought To Be.

But authority is a means, not the end. The end and beginning and summation of all things is love. God is love. God is not "authority." (He is the King, but note that a king is a person. Someone we can love.) The whole point of the change from the Old to the New is that obedience out of coercion was no good at all. We need a new heart, and then we obey out of our new heart, because we love Christ and pick up his mannerisms. Authority as a parent is not an end goal, but something given to us to serve our children in teaching them to be an independent adult and modeling for them how to be a follower of Christ.

Even if the issue is exactly the same, it makes a big difference whether the reason for making a child obey is, "They are the child, I am the parent, and I must make them obey," or "It's my job to help them grow in this area." It's important to remember that parents are sinners, too. And too much harping on our own authority is a dangerous temptation. It's very easy to slide over . . . I have done it many times myself . . . into "You should not DARE to challenge me," or "How can I make you hurt enough to stop this?" And neither of those attitudes are Christlike at all.

In a practical example, suppose a child is told to pick up their toys and doesn't want to. Looking at this through the lens of authority, this can only be interpreted one way: Disobedience. Challenge to authority. Child must be coerced into obedience so that authority is not disrupted. There might be various ways the coercion is applied, but there must be no doubt about the coercive force. Any approach that might distract from authority (making a game of it, using an incentive) is suspect if not outright forbidden.

However, if I'm looking at it simply with the goal of helping my child grow up, I realize that the child probably isn't thinking about my authority one way or another---they just don't want to pick up their toys, something I identify with very much. (By the way, I have been amazed as a parent how seldom, if ever, my children actually challenge my authority if I don't bother to assert it for its own sake. It's been a complete non-issue.) My job is not to bend them to my will, particularly, but to help them learn to overcome that natural reluctance because it's an essential life skill to do stuff you don't want to do and to take care of your own things. Now games and incentives, or just doing it alongside them, are back on the table, because those are all great strategies for learning to do stuff you don't want to do. Even if you do a consequence that might look like punishment (like removing toys that aren't cared for), it can be done, not as the authority setting yourself in opposition to the child, but as a sympathetic guide helping them streamline their life.

After all, obedience to earthly authority is not the sum total of righteousness. Quite the opposite. One of the other things I want to teach my children is that there is a time to disobey. That someday they may need to stand with William Tell and John Adams and Christ's own apostles and say, "This is an unlawful use of authority and I will not obey."

Saturday, November 09, 2013

A post!

I am in a fair way to beat out 2011 for Year with Fewest Blog Posts. But I'll try to make it a close contest. I can at least manage a picture.

Costumes: Fireman, Cowgirl, Pirate, and Pioneer Girl. We even managed to go trick-or-treating this year, causing the kids to dub it the best Halloween ever, since the last time we managed that the twins were babies.

And then they picked out our favorite kinds of candies and gave out of their bounty. There's nothing like a free peanut butter cup to make you feel like you're doing something right.

Earlier in the week, I portrayed Katy Luther at church for Reformation Sunday. With some coaching from Her Majesty, I managed to convince everybody that I actually knew how to speak German, even though it was my first attempt ever. (Mostly I followed the classic advice, "If you don't know how to say a word, say it loud!")

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Training Wheels

I took them off all the bikes this week. They had already been twisted round out of the way for a long time, so it was time. It was a bittersweet moment. Teaching your kids to ride bikes is supposed to be one of those iconic parenting moments: running alongside and then letting go as they fly off under their own power.

I tried it with Duchess, several years ago, holding the handlebars and struggling to balance her. She made little progress and I got tired very quickly. I gave it up and never got back to it. They figured it out on their own, instead. Deux did it with a small bike last summer--starting with just walking and balancing and then gradually adding pedals. This year he moved up to a properly-sized bike and Duchess followed suit. Now the twins are practicing on the small bikes, walking, coasting, and slowly adding pedals. (No fancy pedal-removing bikes here--they just work around the pedals.) I am proud of them for being self-reliant and a little annoyed at myself for not being more involved.

It's been a few days of glorious sunshine after a week of downpours--the world all over green and fresh after the dry summer. It's supposed to rain again tomorrow, but bikes are the perfect thing for chancy weather--a quick dry with an old diaper and they are ready to go.

I found this note on my reading from December of 2009:
The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge. A book that made me wish that the Duchess was eleven, so I could give it to her right away. And then made me glad she was not, because like all fairy tales these days, it reminded me of how very quickly little girls grow up. A fairy tale by someone who knows how a fairy tale is supposed to go and gladly complies.
She is not eleven yet, but she is nine and I think it is time. For months I have been dropping hints and encouragement to broaden her reading horizons from series books, to little avail. And then I found her already deep into Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. I warned her it was sad, but she insisted on carrying on. If she's ready to listen to a suggestion, I think she might enjoy something a little lighter.If not . . . there are plenty of other good books on the shelf for her to find on her own.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Beauty and Brains

I was recently part of an online discussion about raising daughters to have healthy body images. One surprising thing that came out was multiple women mentioning that they had been told consistently as children that they were beautiful, and yet they still grew up with a negative body image. On the other hand, my parents talked very little, if at all, about how I looked, and I grew up with a healthy body image.

It's been established in several recent studies that telling children they are "smart" is actually counter-productive--it causes them to be more fearful, less willing to struggle with problems, and therefore causes them to learn less. It communicates that smartness is an innate factor that they cannot change, and therefore the important thing becomes to look smart at all costs, mostly by avoiding anything difficult. Children praised for hard work, on the other hand, feel that learning is something within their control, and are more likely to tackle more challenging work and learn more.

I wonder if telling children they are beautiful (or handsome, but this seems to be a lesser issue for boys so we'll gloss over it for now) has a similar effect. After all, listen to the subtexts of that statement:
  • Your body is valuable because of how you look to other people.
  • That appearance is something innate, out of your control.
  • Oh, and incidentally, for now, to me, you meet up to that elusive standard.
No wonder praising girls for being beautiful doesn't help much in ensuring good body image. Like praising them for being "smart" it puts all the emphasis on things that they cannot control and on what other people think.

If I think instead about the message I *do* want to send, it would be more like this:
  • Your body is valuable because it is there for *you* to do things with. (Therefore drawing attention to and noting when they seem to be at peace with themselves--when they are learning to use their bodies well--when they have found activities they enjoy--when they work hard and grow in skills.)
  • Love is the most important part of beauty. You will always be beautiful to the people who love you. And while love cannot be guaranteed, it can be nurtured. (Therefore learning to give and receive love, without regard to appearance.)
  • You can and should take good care of yourself and your body. (Therefore encouraging and praising good hygiene, good health, good--individual--taste in clothing, etc. )

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Safely Rest

And now Grandpa is gone, too. And I have too many things to say to find words for them. He was one of the best men I ever knew: kind, patient, generous, with a quiet happiness that filled up everyone around him. For all that, he loved to argue--he taught me that you can disagree without being disagreeable, that you can ask questions without losing faith.

In my childhood, I see him pottering about with the bee hives, driving his big blue truck which always smelled of cigarette smoke and honey. He ran the extractor in the basement of one of our old outbuildings, giving us chunks of beeswax to chew on in the long dry grass of a summer afternoon. There were two tiny seats behind the main ones in the truck and Toolboy and I would ride with him up to his house to be put to work. He was a person who taught without appearing to teach, as if it naturally flowed out of him. When I got to law school, I found that he had already paved the way with a lifetime of the Socratic method.

All through his life, he loved the things that grew. His greenhouses overflowed, and he was always researching how to do more. It was only last year that he figured out that tomatoes and strawberries should be in separate greenhouses, and built accordingly. He never stopped learning, or trying new things. In the last year, he was thinking of taking up model airplane flying and airsoft guns.

Despite being nearly deaf to voices, he was a careful and patient listener. (On TV he mostly limited himself to westerns, where it didn't matter so much whether you caught the dialogue or not.) Nor, no matter how great his own burdens, did he ever stop caring about others. If he had any fault, it was taking too much on himself and not wanting to burden others.

Mostly his last years were taken up with caring for his wife and daughter, which he did tirelessly and with great joy. With them gone, his strength failed him and he waited, quietly but happily, for his turn to come.

It is perhaps inevitable that those who have lived the longest and the best are the least free with their advice. But I will pass on the one piece I can remember from the past four years: "Be sure to play with your kids."

Oh, well, there was the other one, the one he always said, "Be very careful."

I'll try.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

A Different Thought on Giving

Money conversations are always awkward ones, and religious money conversations are doubly so. Even people who would never dream of supporting a prosperity gospel at other times seem unable to avoid it when they start talking about giving, and phrases like, "You can never out-give God" pop up. (Actually, you can. We've done it.) Those of us whose experience with money has not reinforced these cheery phrases tend to just clam up or walk out. So dialogue doesn't happen.

Sometimes people try to broaden it by talking about giving of "time, talents or treasures," but besides being obnoxiously alliterative, there are times in life when one not only doesn't have cold hard cash, one doesn't have time, either, and one's talents have shriveled up from sheer exhaustion. Discussions about giving can just be another paper-cuts-and-lemon-juice reminder of how little you have to give and therefore how unspiritual and disobedient you will have to continue to be (and, perhaps, how badly you must have sinned to be in that position, whether you can figure out an offense or not).

First of all, the emphasis on the New Testament is on giving out of abundance, which I submit right off the top should mean that no one should feel that they ought to be giving if they genuinely don't think they can afford it. People are supposed to give as God has prospered them (I Cor. 16:2), not 'till it hurts.

But I think we may be missing an even more critical point about giving, which is "Why?" God doesn't need our money. He's got the cattle on a thousand hills and the whole world in his hands and all that. Nope. Not for God.

Some people talk about it being for us, so we can remember that everything belongs to God, and that may be part of it. Some people think it's so that God can give us more stuff, and they're just wrong.

But in the New Testament, when it talks about giving, it talks about a different reason: for unity and fairness within the body:
For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 2 Cor. 8:13-14.

If giving is really about sharing within the body, then something is true--where there is a giver, there must also be a receiver. Which means that people who don't have time, talents, or treasures to give, still have something to give--their need. Sometimes, that is the hardest thing to give.

And yet, sometimes that is what God has blessed us with--a need, a gap, a hole, that others can have the opportunity to fill, so that there can be unity, so that the whole body can grow up together into Christ. If everyone had surplus and no one had a lack, then there would be nothing to draw us together as a body. It is the flow of things within the body that binds it together.

Of course, there are other needs besides pecuniary ones and other gifts to give, some that don't make it onto anyone's asset lists at all and yet are the stuff life is made out of: friendship, example, comfort, a smile. Maybe stewardship as part of the body requires looking at both parts: Where do you have an abundance that you can share? Where do you have a lack that others can supply? Because I'm willing to bet we all have something in both columns.

Monday, September 02, 2013

In Which I Stay Out of Trouble

We went to the beach this weekend, mostly, I think, to see if we could. To reassure ourselves that we would not be stuck at home for the rest of our lives, and to remind ourselves how nice home is. We got there and back all in one piece, so I suppose we succeeded. We built a sand castle, or at least a Sand Lump. We got the kite up in the air, briefly. We visited the nature center. I even took the camera with batteries, although it may be next year before I download the pictures.

One area we really lucked out was in a hotel with a full breakfast--not a wimpy offering of bagels and orange juice, but the full deal with eggs and bacon and everything, constantly replenished for two and a half hours. This made the children happy, as they got to eat cold cereal in unnatural colors. And it made me happy, except for the effort wasted on packing breakfast food.

For Labor Day weekend the hotel was booked solid and this morning the breakfast room was packed. The petite lady who seemed to be running the hotel all but single-handedly had kindly placed us in a room right next to the short staircase down into the breakfast room, so that DOB could walk down the stairs when he didn't want to use the wheelchair and elevator. However, when we got into the breakfast room that day and there was nowhere to sit, he went back upstairs to await developments while the children wandered around rootless with yogurt cups.

Finally I spotted a tiny table with three seats that seemed to be clearing. I stood beside it for a moment to see if it really was or someone had just gotten up with refills. A woman with an accent that I will not try to classify better than non-English-speaking European asked me, "Are you leaving this one?"

"I'm just seeing if it's available," I said. She wandered off.

A moment later, I saw that a large table was coming clear. I walked over to it. The same woman--the funny thing was, she looked rather like me, not doppelganger similar but enough that if a police description had gone out we both would have been picked up--was suddenly there again.

"I'm taking this table," she said, "You wanted that other one."

"Not really," I said, "This one would work better for us." (At the moment the children and yogurt cups had wandered off.)

"There are five of us right here," she said, "My husband is here." (He appeared to be trying to settle her down, unsuccessfully.)

"I have four small children and my husband can't walk," I said. She was completely unimpressed even by the disability card. I was more than a little annoyed. And then suddenly the mental picture of two middle-aged women duking it out in a restaurant breakfast room over a table overtook my anger with amusement.

Later I wished I could have thought of something very gracious, or very cutting, to say. But both failed me. I just said, "Fine, take it."  And went back to the three-seat table.

Whereupon the children and yogurt cups reappeared and complained about the shortage of chairs. But within a few minutes the next small table over opened up and we squished them together and DOB rejoined us and we had a decent breakfast after all, though we didn't get in line too close behind the other family.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Book Thingie.

That's what meme means, right? Thingie? Easier to pronounce, too. I got this one from Carrie at Reading to Know.

1. Favorite childhood book? Probably it was The Phantom Tollbooth. However, the Alice books were right up there. And Lewis, and MacDonald, and Tolkien, and . . . wait, was that a singular word?

2. What are you reading right now? The blogger post composition page.

Oh, you mean books I'm in the middle of? That's a much harder question. To narrow it down, I'll only include books I have actually picked up in the past month and reasonably expect to persevere to the end of, but that end may be months or even years away. This does not count anything I'm reading aloud to the kids.

Shadow of the Silk Road, by Colin Thubron
The Science of Discworld, Terry Pratchett with Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen
The Travels of Ibn Battuta, Translated by Rev. Samuel Lee
Home to Harmony, Phillip Gulley (this is for the church's book club, otherwise I probably wouldn't be planning on finishing it. I preferred the book with the aliens that the old ladies hated.)
Godel, Escher, Bach, an Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas R. Hofstadter (this is one that will be years, because it takes me a week or so to digest a few pages. Fortunately Bookworm loaned me her copy after I exhausted the library renewals.)
Age of Chivalry, by Thomas Bullfinch
I'm at a temporary hiatus midway through the Barsetshire novels by Anthony Trollope, because my family has a strange obsession with me acknowledging their existence.

3. What books do you have on request at the library? None, because the library is closed for six weeks. I don't think I'm going to live through this.

4. Bad book habit? Leaving books lying around all over the floor and the furniture and everywhere else.

5. Do you have an e-reader? I have a Nook, which is now a few years old and I am terribly afraid it is going to die on me, but so far it has all been false alarms.

6. Do you prefer to read one book at a time or several at once? Asked and answered.

7. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog? I don't blog about books, so not in any way connected to the blog. I'm sure they have changed because I had zero children when I started the blog and now I have four.

8. Least favorite book you read this year (so far)? Since I don't keep track of my books, I've undoubtedly forgotten my least favorite. Or didn't finish it. (If I include read-alouds to the kids, then it would be Tanglewood Tales.)

9. Favorite book you’ve read this year? Doctor Thorne, by Anthony Trollope.

10. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
 11. What is your reading comfort zone? I object to the form of this question. If the question means, "What types of books are most likely to interest you?" and "How often do you read other types of books?" then the answers would be, respectively, "Classic novels, mysteries (cozy, not hard-boiled), science fiction, fantasy, linguistics, neurology, chemistry, travel, really old and weird" and "all the time"

12. Can you read on the bus? No. But this is OK, because I do not ride on the bus. I can't read in the truck, which is more of a problem.

13. Favorite place to read? I am still on a quest for that perfect spot.

14. What is your policy on book lending? I like matching people to books, but I haven't done much of it.

15. Do you ever dog-ear books? Never.

16. Do you ever write in the margins of your books? No.

17. Not even with text books? Only if they are clearly wrong.

18. What is your favorite language to read in? Well, it's a lot of fun to read out loud in Spanish because it drives the kids crazy. However, if it's above the level of Huevos Verdes con Jamon, it had better be English.

19. What makes you love a book? Good writing. Interesting ideas.

20. What will inspire you to recommend a book? I don't make generic book recommendations. I'm more of a book Yente. I have to see a match between the person and the book.

21. Favorite Biography? Probably Witness by Whittaker Chambers.

22. Have you ever read a self help book? It must have happened sometime.

23. Favorite cookbook? My head.

24. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)? Probably The Little Duke, which was actually a historical read-aloud to the kids, but I was inspired by the challenge of applying Christian ideals of non-violence and forgiveness in balance with the demands of justice and a violent world.

25. Favorite reading snack? I don't eat while reading.

26. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience. I don't read hyped books.

27. How often do you agree with critics on a book? I don't read critics.

28. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews? I don't give reviews.

29. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read? Well, if I ever finish it, it will be Godel, Escher, Bach. If not, Moby Dick will stay in the top spot.

30. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin? Well, I'm a little scared about what Framley Parsonage is going to do to my marriage, but I think I'll read it anyway.

31. Favorite poet?  I used to be a tad obsessed with Christina Rosetti, but, even though he's not known as a poet, I think Chesterton's poems are my favorite now. Especially The Ballad of the White Horse.

32. Favorite fictional character? Hmmm . . . maybe Susan, Death's granddaughter,  from the Discworld novels?
33. Favorite fictional villain? I'm trying really hard not to say Obadiah Slope from Barchester Towers, but so far I'm failing.

 34. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation? It's a tough call. My Nook is always a safe bet, there's bound to be something on there and it's not too heavy.

35. The longest I’ve gone without reading. I've made it at least twelve hours without  reading, if I were asleep for most of the time. But I want you to know I can quit any time I want.

36. What distracts you easily when you’re reading? All the other books I want to be reading.

37. Favorite film adaptation of a novel.Barchester Chronicles. Hmm. I'm detecting a slight Trollope obsession at the moment.

38. Most disappointing film adaptation? Howl's Moving Castle. Gahh. So frustrating.

39. The most money I’ve spent in the bookstore at one time? I dunno, almost certainly less than 50 bucks. I don't spend money. I go to the library. If they don't have it, I try to convince them to buy it for me.

40. How often do you skim a book before reading it? Always.

41. Do you like to keep your books organized? It sounds very nice.
42. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?  I hope I can find them before they are due.

43. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding? I've been kind of avoiding The Hunger Games but I will probably get around to them sometime. Most popular books don't even rise to the level of me avoiding them.

44. Name a book that made you angry. Hmmm . . . it's been too long.
45. A book you didn’t expect to like but did? I don't usually read books I don't expect to like. Of course, I expect to like a lot of things.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Late Summer Ramble

Last year I was adamant about clinging to the last remains of summer. This year I feel eager to bid it goodbye.

Many homeschoolers are advocates of year-round schooling. There are many reasons why I do not personally wish to do it, but one of them is that I have no heat tolerance. If the temperature is above 76 I am cranky and do not wish to speak to, hear from, and especially not touch other people. This is not good for education. So, it's a great time of year for the kids to be doing that valuable unstructured playing outside and anything else that involves them not talking to me.

However, eventually, this adds up to too much crazy and it feels like time to have a plan again. So I wrote one out. Duchess is thrilled. She loves plans. Deux is horrified. There are never enough hours in the day for all the things he wants to do, and therefore any time planned for school is time when he cannot be playing Legos/reading Encyclopedia Brown/digging giant holes in the front yard. DOB pointed out that children in regular school spend six hours a day at it, but by that time Deux had lost interest in the conversation and was back playing Legos/reading Encyclopedia Brown/digging giant holes in the front yard.

I have not read nearly as many books aloud as I meant to over the summer. Actually, we haven't finished the first one. This is because I hate it. I am not sure what to do about this. They like it. It's highly recommended by our curriculum, which I normally agree with. It is not a bad book--the chapters are just too long for me to enjoy reading out loud and I am finding it a bit too verbose for the subject matter. Right now I'm going to let it slide and read Brer Rabbit to them instead. Probably it is not worth persevering to the end if it means I never read another book aloud to them because I am dreading this one so much.

In preparation for the first day of school, and the doubling of our school size, I dug out the camera and the cord and put fresh batteries in it and downloaded the pictures and realized that the last time I had used it was May. Of 2012. I should probably do better about this. If it weren't for Her Majesty, we'd have no record of our past year of existence at all.

DOB did get up to the specialist at the University, and he ran some tests and ordered more and said it probably won't kill or permanently incapacitate him, so try not to worry too much and I'll see you in October once the test results come back. It wasn't very helpful, but I guess it's better than something that *would* kill him.

I was reading a discussion on the idea that the executive functions of the brain don't finish maturing until 25 and older people considering whether this meant young people should delay various decisions or responsibilities. I have a couple of random thoughts on this subject, completely unhampered by any actual research. One is that perhaps late maturing of the brain is more created by our culture than inherent--to a considerable extent brain functions are shaped by brain use, and so perhaps if you don't get to make grownup decisions, you don't learn how to make them. A second is that perhaps it's a good thing--growing up involves taking on a lot of really terrifyingly risky things all at once for the very first time, and it's better that it be done by people who haven't quite learned to think through all the potential consequences of their actions, because if they did, the human race would come to a dead stop right there.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

"Old-Fashioned" Courtship?

I'm in the mood to write about courtship again, which means I'm likely to be long-winded.

Here's a pro-courtship article that's a pretty good summary of the major points and arguments marshaled in its favor. One of those is that courtship is just a return to the good old-fashioned methods followed before the advent of dating, without going all the way back to arranged marriages which are assumed to be the default.

Now, the entire history of the world is a pretty broad swath to be dealing with, and I'll not attempt to argue it one way or the other whether most marriages have been arranged over time. I'm not a sociologist.

Instead, I'll just narrow it down to something more familiar, and most likely to be used as a comparison: the customs of Anglo-American society in the 19th century. To be familiar with those, one does not need to scour dusty records, one just needs to be an avid reader of 19th century novels. After all, no one has a stronger interest in portraying the mores and customs of their time accurately than a writer telling a realistic story for the entertainment of their contemporaries. (Though the success of modern moviemakers in grasping the finer details is a more doubtful.)

So, according to the article, courtship involves a young man approaching a girl's father to begin the process, an express purpose of considering one another as spouses, protection of the girl from getting emotionally involved with a young man not serious about marriage, and counsel and guidance from the parents, especially the girl's father, who is the final authority.

Does Mr. Darcy need guidance from Mr. Bennett?
For that matter, does Elizabeth?

But this bears very little resemblance to how relationships unfold in the stories that have actually come down to us. There is not the slightest indication of a young man approaching a father before pursuing a relationship with a girl. Rather, there were many social and community events at which young people were expected to mingle, dance, chat, and, well, flirt. It was not unheard of for couples to go off and spend some time by themselves, say, riding in a carriage, or to pair off and wander into the shrubbery. A young man might visit at a girl's house, but it might be unclear whether he was calling on the girl or just hanging about . There was a sort of filtering process that occurred here, in that persons considered utterly improper were socially ostracized (not that this prevented unsuitable matches entirely), but no requirement of formal consent before developing a relationship.

Flirtations that did not lead to marriage happened frequently, though there was a complex code about how far one might decently go without serious intentions, and much room for misunderstanding. There was an expectation that a serious relationship would lead to marriage pretty directly, though, so we do not usually have long years as a couple before deciding to marry--things went on or were over, unless the couple was too young or too poor to marry. After the match was settled between the young people, a decent fellow would get consent from the girl's father--though in most cases this seems to have been a formality. Parents and other relatives might work to promote matches they thought advantageous (almost always having to do with either money or social rank) but were not overtly involved. Engagements were taken very seriously, and breaking one was both difficult and disgraceful.

There's also the factor that these are the practices of people of some means. What glimpses we see of the lower classes suggests that they were even less formal. A girl who "went out to service" (most lower-class girls) had no one but herself to look after her honor, let alone her heart.

Anyway, while this had advantages and disadvantages and is obviously different from modern dating, it is also quite different from modern courtship. Above all, it carries not a whiff of "emotional purity," and while the father has a role, it is mostly as a figurehead, unless he wants to be thoroughly skewered as a domestic tyrant. All the best heroines have their own hearts and heads well in hand and can (and indeed must) learn to tell a rake from an honorable fellow, at least before things get too carried away.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Dear Grandchildren,

I'm not saving stuff for you.

Maybe by the time you come along we will have progressed to the point where all toys are holographic projections and cleanup consists of hitting the off switch. (Wow. THAT is a fantasy.)

Or maybe we will have regressed to the point where all you have to play with is sticks and dirt. (Oh, wait, that's what your parents are playing with.)

Or maybe things will be pretty much the same, in which case, there will be yard sales.

Or maybe your parents will stay true to their preadolescent forswearing of reproduction. In which case, they won't be your parents.

Whatever it is, we can get along without me saving things.

I didn't actually get rid of the blocks yet. Those inch cubes are pretty handy for teaching volume, so I can justify them through at least third grade.

By the time you come along, the colors that looks so cute now will be ghastly. The toys that are educational will be passe. The river will move on.

I may as well let it sweep some of this stuff away with it. Let somebody else enjoy it before it expires completely.

Of course, nobody will let me get rid of the Duplos yet, even though they have long since officially graduated to Legos. 

Or just let it go to the landfill. My time is not worth sorting out the cards from dollar store games of Old Maid, from cardboard puzzles that are warped and missing half their pieces. Some things even the poor don't want. And I need the space.

You want your grandmother to reach her old age with her sanity intact, don't you?

So . . . don't complain. When you come along, maybe we'll go to the park. Or the library, where they have librarians to make sure the pieces go back with the right puzzles. Or switch on the toybox holograph.

I may have to hang on to the elf hat. Your daddy was just too stinkin' cute in it. And it doesn't take up space. Much.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

It's That Time

It is August. Children eat popsicles and contemplate the start of school. Geese contemplate the trip south. Leaves contemplate turning yellow. I contemplate cleaning up this horrible mess before I go completely insane and take it all outside and light a match to it.

Which would be bad, because there's a burn ban on.

Back in the olden days, I think I would have been a tolerably good housekeeper. I like menial labor--it gives the mind lots of time to work while keeping the hands busy. Scrubbing, sweeping, dusting--all nice, soothing activities.

However, modern surfaces need little cleaning and modern cleaning supplies take little effort. The test of a good housekeeper nowadays is not her willingness to put in a little elbow grease, but her ability to remain calm and organized and decisive in the face of the unrelenting onslaught of STUFF.

At that, I am a miserable failure. I am not calm in the face of STUFF. STUFF terrifies me. STUFF steps on my toes and shoves me into the wall and tweaks my ear and makes me cry. I hate STUFF.

And I can't organize. Not anything I have to touch. I can organize ideas beautifully. Can take a directory of ten thousand random documents and turn them into coherent narrative for trial. Can take an incoherent jumble of thoughts and turn them into a clear and eloquent pleading. But as soon as my hands get called on to do anything but type, it's hopeless. I'm at a preschool level. I can't even sort laundry and match socks without getting hopelessly muddled. (Sadly, this is not an exaggeration for the sake of the blog--it's the unvarnished truth.)

If it were just me, I could keep up, most of the time, because I also avoid acquiring stuff. But I have children, and children are to STUFF as socks are to burrs in an August meadow. It follows them home. It coalesces around them. Nice, organized valuable belongings melt into STUFF just from their presence. I was, of course, supposed to teach them "A Place for Everything And Everything In Its Place" back when they were two, but I was kind of busy trying to keep them alive back then, plus I couldn't remember the Places, plus the Everything kept changing.

So here we are, and once again, the STUFF has taken over their room and spilled over into the living room. We spent all morning at it and they, with a promise of extra computer time, worked as well as could be expected, and we took out bag after bag of garbage and basket after basket of toys to go in the basement to be sorted later. Blood, sweat and tears all put in an appearance. We did all this a couple of months ago and it's worse than ever. It just  . . . grows.

It is a problem that they have no space for their own things, except piled on top of their beds (which makes for uncomfortable sleeping and absolutely miserable emergency sheet changes). So in addition to the load to Goodwill and the library, we stopped and bought four identical underbed containers and labeled them. It might help for a little bit.

But I know the STUFF will be back.

Friday, August 02, 2013

7 Quick Takes (Maybe)

1. The local neurologist is stumped as to what's wrong with DOB. We have successfully eliminated everything he's ever heard of. So next stop is the university clinic. Fortunately he got an appointment in just a few weeks. A long appointment, presumably with lots of tests. But we're hoping it won't ever involve a hospital stay with lengthy observation, because as tenth anniversary trips go, a hospital stay with 24-hour video surveillance would pretty much be the worst possible option.

He is allowed to drive when he feels safe doing so. He interprets that like an attorney obsessed with liability. So maybe twice a week. On the plus side, I can even *park* the truck now. I feel very accomplished.

2. Last weekend our church had VBS. This week was Their Majesties' VBS. So that's eight straight days of VBS. Today I have finally gotten caught up enough on errand running that I am just sitting at home with my feet up. The kids are well stocked with craft projects.

3. The other day I made pasta salad. (Actually it was the night after the neurologist said it wasn't the potassium issue, so carbs were irrelevant.) Dash sat there eating it with his eyes closed, putting each bite into his mouth and then identifying what was in it. This morning he was trying to walk with his arms and his legs both crossed. He's a walking experiment. Or not walking, as the case may be.

4. One of the things I did this week was file papers. I found papers from last March. I think maybe I should do filing more often. Thanks to repeated efforts by Wondergirl, I have a very simple filing system that only requires me to figure out what month the paper dates from. Even this is difficult for me. With a typical bill, there's a start date and an end date and a due date, and I can't for the life of me figure out which month it belongs in. I know I should just pick something and stick with it, but I can't remember what I picked. So I just hope for the best and figure if I have things sorted to the point where I only have to look in three or four folders, I'm doing pretty well.

5. We watched Inception last week. (Why yes, we watch everything several years late when it is available at the public library on DVD.) It was awesome and engrossing and fascinating. I didn't complain about implausibility like I usually do in action movies because it's all a dream. (DOB suggests I should apply this principle to all action movies and then maybe I could watch them.) And Leonardo DiCaprio is pretty good to watch, now that he looks like a grownup.

Then afterward I thought of  a way he could have prevented his wife's death and avoided the problem that set up the whole movie. It sort of ruined it retroactively for me. I hate it when I do that.

6. See? Coming up with seven is just too hard.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Dog Days

For some time, the house next door has been sitting vacant, undergoing various repairs in preparation for a new set of tenants. The ducklings have been hoping for someone with children of a playable age.

This past Friday, new people started moving in. The older members of the family were busy playing our newest role-playing adventure, so it fell to the twins to sit on the hillside and make their acquaintance and bring us regular reports on the exciting events.

Unfortunately, the people next door do not have medium-sized children. (The youngest is 15.) Fortunately, they have the next best thing: three medium-sized and friendly dogs. The ducklings are enthralled. They sit for hours on the hillside and watch them. They pet them at every opportunity. Duchess painted a very fair likeness of her favorite and took it over to them.

DOB and I are pretty thrilled, too. We do not do pets. As DOB puts it, you care for a dog like a child, you feed it and clean up its messes, but it never talks to you, and just at the time when children head off to their own adventures, the dog dies.

On the other hand, we recognize the virtues of children enjoying animals and occasionally one of them has expressed the wish that we might acquire one. Now we have the best of all possible worlds--the children get to play with dogs, and we don't have to feed them. (The dogs, that is. The children keep asking for food, alas.)

The dogs seem to have taken a liking to the children, too. When B5 dropped by and played with the ducklings the other night, the dogs began barking fiercely at him, the only barking we've heard out of them.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Plot Twists

Things have been rather quiet on the blog lately, because just at the juncture of everything else quieting down, something we had been hoping was not a big deal jumped out of the bushes and sat on our chests.

Since May, DOB has been having occasional but noticeable episodes of . . . something. Sometimes he won't be able to move or talk. Sometimes he will be jerking uncontrollably. Sometimes he can talk, but with slurred or stuttering speech. Sometimes only a single area is affected, sometimes the whole body. They began rarely and under significant stress, but have increased in frequency and duration. Now that they have become noticeable, we recognize that he has had them before--but on the order of once a year or so, and usually while sick or otherwise under circumstances easy to dismiss.

What the doctors have figured out so far is what they're not: they're not strokes, or heart attacks, or seizures (turns out if you are having a *real* seizure, and you go jerky on both sides, you pass out). They're not, apparently, life threatening, as long as he doesn't have one while he is driving. (ER Doctor: "You do *not* drive yourself to the hospital to be evaluated for paralysis!") So now I am driving the truck, a terrifying change for both of us, although the ducklings have managed to remain calm.

The current odds-on favorite is a rare genetic disorder connected to the body's handling of potassium--the symptoms match pretty well, but so far the blood tests have not confirmed it. However, the hospital managed to botch the critical tube of blood, plus sometimes it doesn't show up in the numbers. So it hasn't been ruled out yet either. Coping with just one rare crippling genetic disorder is for underachievers, apparently. (He's been diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth, a condition affecting the nerves in the extremities, since infancy, for those not up on our medical files. Progression of that has put him in a wheelchair or braces since last winter.)

If that is it, it operates a lot like migraines with various triggers precipitating the attacks. (And various medications keeping them more manageable but not curing it.) We are wondering if he can use this to his advantage at work: if stress is a trigger, is it a "reasonable accommodation" under the ADA to insist he win every hearing? In the meantime, the court reporters will just have to put up with a lot of stuttering and spoonerisms.

Anyway, whatever it is, the consensus is that it's very strange. (ER Doctor: "I will never see another patient with symptoms like this.") If this were a House episode, we could be reasonably assured that it would be figured out in the next forty-five minutes, after two wrong diagnoses, one of which would be nearly fatal. But life seldom follows such neat plot arcs.

In the meantime, I really need to learn to keep reading material in my purse. Dante omitted the level of hell where persons afflicted with impatience are kept in hospital rooms with only a four-month-old copy of a Seattle art scene magazine for company.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Blog Readership

 . . . is down by one today. But since it's my grandma, it is a big one.

Grandma makes me regret ever saying, or thinking, that it is an insignificant epitaph to be a faultless housekeeper. Because she was, and it was significant. Her house was always a place of refuge and serenity and beauty. And dinner rolls mostly made of air, and quilts that were a family history in stitches, and delicious but strange tuna salad. She loved watching baseball and partisan politics.

The thing I think I learned the most from her, though, was a deep respect for the personhood of little children. She loved children, but she was not the type to pounce or coo or demand kisses. She insisted firmly that no child ever be forced to give hugs or kisses (she never lacked for volunteers). She listened to them seriously and talked sympathetically. She always kept the chest of toys and the stack of books ready. And when her eyesight grew too poor to read the books to the ducklings, she would listen while they read them to her.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Twin Time

It is the time of drama camp. (So any well-earned rest after the end of school must wait a bit.) This year Duchess and Deux are both performing in Beauty and the Beast. Deux is very excited to be playing the role of Chip, the teacup, and Duchess is the baker's daughter and a pepper shaker.

But beyond our one chance of the year to experience the joys of wearing shoes before nine in the morning, it is also my first chance in a very long time to have extended periods of times alone with the twins and get some answer to the question of what is going on in their heads.

The answer is, "A lot."

They have opinions on everything. And questions on everything. They talk about them all the time. And when the big kids are not there as a buffer, they talk to me. They talk about why cars need gas and whether zombies could have their brains and eat them, too, and whether anyone would donate cake to Goodwill, and whether the existence of the wind, with unseen causes, proves the reality of magic.

Dot asked me one day, "What is inside of bones?"

"Well," I said, racking my brains, "It's kind of like a sponge, with holes, only hard, and in the center there's a squishy part that makes your blood."

"Ah," she said.

Moved by her interest, I overstepped myself. "And birds have hollow bones, so they can be light and fly."

"So birds don't have blood?" she asked.

It took me a moment to see the connection. Then I was flummoxed. All these years I have known these two facts but never put them together. (Fortunately there is the internet and so I later discovered that yes, birds have bone marrow, as the hollow spots do not take up the entire bone.) We also checked out a cross-section of a bone at the grocery store.

I may need to start them on school to slow them down to where I can keep up.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


I got to attend three days out of a six-day trial: pretrial motions and jury selection on the first day, opening arguments and the first witness on the second day, then missed the bulk of the testimony and showed up for end of trial motions, jury instructions, and closing arguments. The case involved a property that had once been used for dry cleaning--the family owning it has been cleaning up dry cleaning solvents out of the soil for several years since discovery, but the developer-neighbor who had his sights on the whole block wanted more, sooner, different.

The jury came back for the defendant (that's us). There's a piece left that the judge still has to decide--I haven't heard what yet, but she seemed fairly favorable to our case thus far. I got to make my first argument in court. Since it was on a question where we just wanted the judge to stick with her previous ruling, it wasn't too hard to make: "Yes, your honor, you're absolutely right." Still, I flatter myself that I avoided saying anything stupid, which is a good start.

My new dresses looked good, I thought, though no one was around who would tell me so. (I was staying with Bookworm, who does not offer opinions on dresses.) Opposing counsel, in recess discussions about technology, did make a reference that I would of course be too young to remember overhead projectors in grade school, so apparently I have not yet evaded the curse of never looking like a grownup. (I didn't tell him that I had, in fact, *taught* school using an overhead projector.) I undoubtedly should get pictures of the dresses, but I can only find the cord for the camera that doesn't work.

Meanwhile His Majesty stayed with the ducklings, and they had such a marvelous time visiting the parks and the library that they are most disappointed that the trial is over. To my great pleasure, they actually managed to complete a decent component of school work under their own steam while I was gone. This was done mostly with the motivation of getting their daily computer time despite my absence, but it will do for a start on personal responsibility.

And with that, and some more work since, we have at last come to the end of school, on time, and, in fact, a day ahead. (Once they realized how close we were, they plowed through what was left today.) And I believe all the research I had to do on that case--which has dominated my life since the end of March--is over. I feel rather as if we have come through fire and water to get here, but here we are. My feet are up. They need it.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Another Snarky Thing I'm Not Saying on Homeschool Forums

There's a news article making the rounds which says something like this: Homeschooling is growing at 7 times the rate of public school enrollment.

To which I can only say: Duh.

Most kids are already enrolled in public school. The only way public school is going to grow significantly in enrollment is if there are suddenly, say, twice as many kindergarteners as there were graduates. Which doesn't happen very often.

The vast majority of kids aren't already homeschooling. Therefore, it takes a very small number of kids switching to homeschooling to make a significant rate of growth.

If that doesn't make sense like that, try imagining a town with 100 kids in it. Ninety of them are in public school, eight in private school, and two homeschool. This year there are two extra kindergarteners, and one of them goes to public school while one gets homeschooled. Voila! Homeschooling is increasing at the rate of 150% (3 instead of 2), while public school is increasing at the paltry rate of just over 1% (91 instead of 90). So homeschooling is increasing at 150 times the rate of public schooling!

This is not exactly worthy of a headline.

(This turns up in other areas, too. Just keep in mind when someone talks about X belief system/activity/product being the "fastest-growing" in its field, it usually means it was really, really small to begin with.)

Sunday, June 02, 2013

The Visitation

DOB's parents have been out for a two-week visit, during which we did lots of fun things like listen to the house be quiet because the children had all gone out to the trailer to see them. We did not go on a last-minute weekend trip to the coast, although we did all the packing and unpacking for it. We did go see Narnia in the woods and it stopped raining just long enough for the show, but the battle was very realistically muddy.

The case I have been working on for the last several months is supposed to go to trial this month (whenever a courtroom opens up), and I'm supposed to get to go along and help with voir dire. This, in turn, proves to be a good excuse for getting some very nice clothes and shopping at an actual department store. DOB was kind enough to do it with me, which was good, because if there's one thing I can't do by myself, it's spending money. Also, he has good taste. I went with dresses, which both looked better and didn't require me to hem. I am too tall for petite and too short for regular, so unless I want to wear four-inch heels (which is never, ever going to happen), I would have to hem all pants. Or just wear them to rags at the heel, which is what I do with jeans.

Also, with extra babysitters on hand and willing to stay very late, we went out for a late night Magic tournament at the local game shop. I astonished myself by coming in third. Bibliohippo came in fifth, and DOB seventh, so we were all prime numbers and pleased with ourselves.

School has been a little less than inspiring, what with all the other fun things going on, but I am determined to get finished before summer drama camp, so we slog on. I am hoping to enliven things a little this week by making comic books about Columbus. Also, it looks like we are going to start probability in math. And perhaps--just perhaps--it will really stop raining.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Highest Calling

It's Memorial Day, but I never got around to finishing writing the things I wanted to write about Mother's Day. If I were a cool blogger I would have announced a series and published them on a schedule and invited other people to weigh in, but I am not a cool blogger.

One of those floating phrases that tends to draw fire when it passes is that motherhood is "the highest calling of a Christian woman" or something like that. And then comes the shots--What about those who can't have children? What about those whose children have (it happens) grown up? Why isn't fatherhood so important?

Those are all good questions, but they don't get down to the heart of the matter, which the "highest calling" people have expressed so poorly as to obscure it entirely. The highest calling of anyone, of everyone, is to love God and love people. Mostly to love God BY loving people.

So if you have small children depending on you, then yes, your highest calling is to love and care for them (ahead of others simply because of their dependence). But even if you don't, or never will, somewhere, somehow in your life there are people to show God's love.

Motherhood may be challenging, but caring for the sick and dying is just as challenging, and devoid of cute photo-ops. In many ways it is more profoundly human and divine than raising children. Even animals care for their young, but only humans honor the past.

But whether it's caretaking or missions or generous donations or just working a job that other people need and being nice to the janitor, all of us have the same calling and the same opportunity and the same commandment: Love one another.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Grammar Commando Takes the Stage

When I was a kid, all the cool homeschooled kids did the spelling bee. Some of them even went national. I never did this, despite a significant natural aptitude for spelling. (This is completely a gender-linked trait in my family. None of the male members of the family can spell at all, while all the women are pretty good at it. However, the guys can fix washing machines, and on the whole, my life would probably be better if I could drop the spelling of "pusillanimous," a word I have never used except right now, and replace it with information on how to operate a socket wrench.) When we played Huggermugger, a word game with a heavy spelling component, my siblings would refuse to tell me the word I had to spell correctly: they would just read the definition and then I had to guess what the word was *and* spell it correctly. I thought this unfair, as it was the only game I could win. But I still got it right every time, so I didn't protest too much.

This week, DOB found me the chance to take spelling onto a slightly wider stage, as the local adult literacy group has a spelling bee as an annual fundraiser and his Rotary club was sponsoring a team. It was only a very slightly wider stage, and there were eleven three-person teams on it, on a very hot May night in a community college theater built in the good old Washington tradition of "Air conditioning? Who needs air conditioning?" The ice ran out before the eighth round.

Many of the other teams had themes and costumes and banners and special cheers, like the "Beeutifuls" the "Trio in Bee Sharp," the "Bee Gees" (complete with disco ball) and the "Spellz Angelz." Our team had the uninspiring name of "The Bee-Wheres." However, good spelling and good costuming were apparently not correlated, as in the final round it came down to us and another Rotary club with the slogan "We Bee Ducks" and fuzzy yellow headbands. (I don't get it either. But, they could really spell. In fact, their main speller kept correcting the pronouncer.)

My great triumph of the evening was "parricidal," a word passed on by two previous teams, including the ominous Ducks, because nobody had asked to have it defined. Once I knew it was "pertaining to the killing of a close relative" the spelling was obvious, but everyone else had been thinking of parasites. However, I went down in flames on "ciguatera," a tropical disease caused by fish poison. (The words to hope for at the end are the really long ones with lots of Latin roots. Get an obscure short word from India or Brazil and you're sunk.)

So, we came in second, but it was still a lot of fun, and it even counted as a date night although we spent the whole evening at opposite ends of a crowded room, most of the time unable even to exchange significant glances because the Trio in Bee Sharp and Spellz Angelz were in the front two rows.

And while I'm feeling inspired, let me point out a spelling error that I've been seeing a lot of online lately.

This is satire:

This is a satyr:

See? Not the same thing. Also, it took me awhile to find an image of a satyr suitable for this blog. Those dudes have a reputation to maintain, and they work hard to maintain it. 

DOB was gratified not to be called up as an alternate on the team--his spelling is solid for ordinary purposes but not at the competitive level--but he is volunteering for team theme design next year. His thought is to call them the "Spell Casters" and have everyone dressed as wizards, including one dressed as Gandalf who, whenever another team tries to use their one free pass on a word, stands up and shouts, "You . . . shall . . . not . . . pass!"

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Stress and Motherhood

A survey is showing that three kids is the most stressful number to have, and after that it's easier. Since that is what my mother always told me, I will not complain to much about the lack of meaningful statistics given. She had cause to notice, having spread seven children out over nearly two decades. (I was the magic stress-reducing fourth child, too, so that may be significant.) I also noticed my stress level go down significantly when we went from three to four children, probably because I spent the whole time in between in labor.

This has not been enough to entice me to further exploits--not that an extra child would be so hard, it's the acquisition process I no longer have the stomach for (quite literally). Also, it was enough of a challenge finding a vehicle that would fit four kids and a wheelchair. Upgrading is not really an option.

But, I definitely believe I am less stressed than mothers with three, or two, or maybe even one child. There are so many things that just don't matter once you realize you don't have time or energy for them any more. I saw one mother write about how she found it so freeing to be reassured that "As long as your children are fed, clean, clothed, and loved, you are doing a good job." And I thought: clean? clothed? Why? Fed, yes. You can't get away without feeding them, although here economies of scale come in. Clean and clothed are definitely optional.

Or again, a lovely mother of one little girl posted on Facebook about the challenges of getting stains out of socks. And I thought: stains? socks? What are those?

Also, once you have four you have hit critical mass for playmates--chances are anybody can find somebody to play with at any given time. 

There are stressful things, like looking at the grocery cart and bill and imagining what they will look like with four teenagers. I try not to think about that. It's too noisy around here to think, anyway. I'm getting very good about not thinking about things. Which is, I suspect, the key to a low-stress life. 

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Rethinking Mother's Day

I am painfully conscious of the awkwardness of me writing this post, but, alas, that will not stop me.

It's about Mother's Day.

I have seen churches where it is a kind of competition, with the mothers standing up and prizes handed out to those with the most or the oldest or the youngest. This, understandably, has been criticized as cruel to the bereaved or barren.

Our current church, trying to be more mindful of the variety of human experience, recognizes *all* the women at once. I understand the sentiment, but I don't really see the point. Why call it Mother's Day, then? It's like having all citizens be recognized on Veteran's Day.

But I think both approaches misunderstand the holiday. (For one thing, why is this part of church? Isn't church supposed to be about, well, God? But that's another post.)

No, we're even missing the point of having Mother's Day. Did you know the woman who brought Mother's Day about as a recognized holiday, Anna Jarvis, did not have children? Mother's Day was never about claiming honor as a mother. It was about giving honor to our mothers.

Back in the day, as my grandmother taught me, everybody got a corsage on Mother's Day. Red if your mother was alive. White if she was dead--because loss is also universal. It wasn't about a status some people had achieved and other people hadn't. It was about being grateful for the tremendous gift of existence.

Not everyone gets to be a mother, but everyone had a mother. Someone's body nourished yours before you even knew you existed. Someone risked her life to give you yours, and will always bear the marks of it. Someone (maybe someone else) put food in your mouth when you still didn't know what your hands were, taught you to use food and the toilet. Maybe they did it badly, even cruelly, yet still they gave you the moon and the stars and that is something to be thankful for.

Perhaps if our focus on Mother's Day was outward, on gratitude and not status, we could better share it without slighting anyone.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Bad Parenting Confession

At Easter, the ducklings got bags of candy from the church Easter egg hunt. In a fit of hurried Easter cleaning, I tucked them out of the way up high in their closet, intending to get back to them later. We do not take a Wonka Sr. approach to candy, but we do try to dole it out very slowly and, in the past, under supervision.

Then I sort of forgot about the candy, or at least it sifted down to the very large receptacle in my brain labeled, "Things I Really Ought To Do Something About One of These Days." Until one day I was tidying up their room (let's not go into THAT parenting question) and came across a sizable stash of candy wrappers. Evidently they had not forgotten about them. So then I thought perhaps I really should address it except I wasn't quite sure how. They hadn't eaten all the candy, so evidently they were not consuming it recklessly, I hadn't expressly forbidden the candy, and mostly I just really didn't want to be bothered with it.

I continued taking the blind-eye approach until I saw the boys dashing past me outside with something in their mouths. This raised two red flags in my mind--one being that actively hiding something from parents is a different category from not bothering to mention it, the second being that just possibly they were eating something dangerous from outside (though on reflection, the latter was very unlikely). So I made them tell me what they were eating and assured them that it was fine--eating a piece or two of candy once a day was not going to hurt them, just not to bother me about it.

No such luck. Immediately, and ever since, I have been barraged with questions. Can you get the bags down? My bag is out and everyone else still has some! How many can we eat? Can we eat this kind?

I kind of wish I had just let them keep hiding it.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

It's time for a post

Because if I don't post, then all the posts I thought-about-but-didn't-make pile up deeper, and get muddled together, like the papers on my desk, and the bookcase, and the other bookcase, and the pictures of epic battles of merfolk get muddled up with the natural gas statement and the traffic ticket (ouch) and a rough draft of a map for the next role-playing adventure.

And then I never get around to recording the way the oven thermometer that exploded and destroyed the roast chicken, or how much I love spring coming because the ducklings play outside after supper--even in the rain--instead of jumping on the couches, or my mixed feelings about having work or not having work, or my brilliant insights on an issue I have since forgotten (that one must have sifted off onto the floor and gotten thrown away).

So now I have posted and we can think of it as a clear slate and the next time something drifts through my brain I can actually post about it instead of about not posting.

Now if I could just do the same for my desk.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Teaching to the Test

The Duchess turned 8 before this school year began, which means she has met the minimum school age in our state and must complete a standardized test every year. This isn't shown to anybody so it always has seemed a rather pointless requirement, but it is the law and if it makes them feel better, it is no great burden to us. Especially not now that (as I discovered) you can just get them done online. As far as Duchess was concerned, it was a freebie 3 hours of computer time she didn't have to earn. So what if it was all bland multiple choice questions?

When I was a kid, this was our big social event of the year, as we went down to our church's Christian school and did them in the nursery. We didn't usually actually do them with the class--that would have taken too long and we were always impatient--but we could go out at recess and play with the other kids. Also we got cooler snacks than usual. It was still very low-key--in fact, we often graded the results ourselves, or I graded them for the younger kids once I was done with mine. One year Rocketboy tested with the first and second grade class (I'm not sure why, he shouldn't have needed to take them yet--maybe just to keep him out of the way?) and brought home the chicken pox. That was most unfair to the rest of us, who being considerably older suffered far worse than he did.

I have mixed feelings about standardized tests. On the one hand, they pretty handily demonstrate all that is most wrong about systematized, impersonal, factory-model education. And building curriculum on the basis of scoring well on these tests is about the best guarantee of creating a curriculum that would bore anyone to tears.

On the other hand, they just don't seem that hard to me. Mind-blowingly dull, yes. But not hard. If you can read and think clearly, it's not that difficult to score well. And you don't have to be teaching to the test to teach reading and thinking.

Still, this was my first encounter as the teacher and I was a wee bit nervous. Especially about math. And grammar. I don't hold to the standard methods or sequence for teaching those subjects. Duchess has never done a page out of a math or grammar workbook. She reads a lot, she writes (or copies) a lot, we do lots of mental math and real-life problems and math games, but I have never shown her how to do multi-digit math problems on paper, or taught her the rules for comma usage, and I knew the test would be full of that sort of thing. Not that it mattered. But still. I figured we had reading comprehension and vocabulary and spelling covered, but everything else was up in the air. Mostly I didn't want to shake her confidence that she was good at math and that it was fun, and standardized tests are designed to have problems that are too difficult. Or there might have been a little bit of fear that I was teaching it all wrong. Maybe.

She did get a little concerned when she saw multiple-digit multiplication and other things she had never encountered before, but I told her to just think it through as best she could and give it her best guess. And she did. And it worked--in fact, she was off the chart in math concepts and way up in computation, despite never having done long division in her life. Grammar was the lowest, but even so she did fine, on the rather simple principle of "what looks right."

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming of making up word searches, designing historic paper dolls, and jumping off the bed.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Teachable Moments

For the last few game nights with the kids, we've been playing a role playing game I developed--basically a very streamlined version of GURPS set in the Olympics. They are all loving it, and the twins have finally overcome their fear of combat and were enthusiastically taking actions to take down a hungry cougar. Dot (a lizard) decided to jump on his tail to distract him, while Dash (a child) started digging frantically (he has been very fond of his shovel) and found several pails of water (why not? it was a beach and we are always losing pails there), which he then used to hit the cougar on the nose. This involves a lot of rolling and counting up dice, and taking away hit points when they are injured, and adding them on when they find healing herbs, so besides being a lesson in natural history and divergent thinking, it's a great math activity.

The next day, Dash was sitting more-or-less quietly while I read out loud to the older kids, until I noticed what he had drawing. On both sides of two sheets of paper, he had drawn recognizable scenes of his four favorite Magic: The Gathering characters and was conducting duels between them.

We may have the world's geekiest preschool curriculum.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Easter Monday

I kind of hoped that this would be the year I increased my blog postings up to those of the olden days, but clearly March was not the month for that to happen. I worked about as much in March as I have been doing in four months. Then there was school to be done. And Easter coming. And horrible colds.

So today we are taking a nice, slow, easy Easter Monday. Yesterday we had sundry family members over, lots of food, and a sunny seventy degrees. That last one is unheard of for a March Easter here. The ducklings insisted on getting out the wading pool and their small cousin joined in until they were turning blue.

Preparing for having everyone over meant catching up on all the housework that had been sliding for the past month. We got it done, thanks to Chore Wars. We are trying to make this a long-term chore system, turning in the XP or gold pennies for game time on the computer or with me. (I point out that therefore I should get to turn in MY XP for time by myself.) Duchess and Deux especially accomplished great things with the extra inspiration.

Two-thirds of the Duchy was involved in singing in church on Sunday. Well, Dot actually spent the time hitching her stockings up, and Dash suddenly discovered he was weak in the ankles and couldn't stand at all, but that is the expected function of four year olds in the children's choir. Duchess did a fine job with her solo, and so did DOB with his. I wrote the lyrics for DOB, and Deux did word searches under the counter at the back of the church. So everyone had a good time.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


The environmental attorney I work for has had a case that he thought was headed for settlement suddenly turn out to be headed for trial instead, which has meant I have suddenly had almost more work than I can squeeze in sorting documents. This is, on the one hand, not the most scintillating of tasks, but on the other, one that it is easy to keep at for hours on end even when I'm seeing cross-eyed (unlike research and writing which require a certain degree of mental clarity) and I am attorney enough to know the joy of billable hours.


Between work and school, then, I have been happy to let the cleaning part of life slide, until DOB started having dust reactions. He thinks it's more because of moving offices last week, but I'm thinking that not vacuuming in a month is not very helpful, so I have been getting reacquainted with the vacuum cleaner this weekend.


I came across this link that reminded me of another not-actually-in-the-Bible statement I should dispute: "God will never give you more than you can handle." Actually what the Bible says is, "God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can resist." We are promised grace for temptation. We are not promised that we will never be taken beyond our physical, emotional, financial, or spiritual breaking points. I've been there and I know it's not true.

But not only is it false, I wonder if the very presence of the idea doesn't make us cold to each other. It's a pat, comfortable thing to say, "Well, you know God won't give you more than you can bear." Or, in other words, "Depart in peace: be ye warmed and filled." If God's not going to give those folks more than they can handle, then the rest of us don't really need to get involved, do we? But sooner or later most of us are going to come across more than we can handle; that's why we are commanded to bear each other's burdens.


Late Friday evening I went to call the kids in for bed and discovered that Dot had outclimbed her range in the fir tree. Deux was up with her, being stuck above her in the tree. They did fine for a while pretending they were Tigger and Roo, but eventually Deux figured out  a way around and Dot began to panic. I climbed up to retrieve her while DOB talked with her about the advantages she would find from being a bird, which kept her distracted until she had to face the terror of me trying to lower her. Fortunately we had a friend visiting who helped bridge the last distance to DOB and solid ground.

Before we were up the next morning, they were all climbing the tree again, though Dot was careful to only climb as high as she was sure she could get down. I am very appreciative of gutsy kids, though I did wish a bit that they could have given me a little more time to recover.


After doing classes at the Y through the fall and winter, we have decided to call it quits for now. The kids are tired of going to classes, and I am tired of being in a loud building full of moving people for three hours every Saturday morning. DOB shall have to just do his workouts by himself. Except for all those loud, moving people. Maybe I will take the kids to the park. Or maybe I will sleep in while they climb trees.


I have moved and brightened up my homeschooling blog, so if you want to read the details of what we do and very occasional pontification on educational subjects, that's the place to go.