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.