Sunday, January 27, 2013

It hasn't all been coughing

DOB did have the time to get the truck properly adorned. Though not fully washed.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Brief Diversion

>>>>>Regular Life Stuff<<<<<<<<
DOB apparently picked up the flu in addition to the sinus infection and now we all have it, except possibly Deux, who is keeping everyone else entertained with battles between plastic figures. DOB is doing slightly better; by "slightly" I mean "able to breathe occasionally." This means that we missed the big annual bar dinner, at which DOB was being recognized for his contributions to the local legal community by getting the Young Lawyers organization up and running again. We watched it on Youtube, but it wasn't the same. Today I am missing the newest neiphling's baby shower. In fact, it's probably best if we draw a veil over all the things we are or might soon be missing and rant about random things total strangers have said on the interwebs.
>>>>>End Regular Life Stuff<<<<<<<<<

So some well-known pastor I haven't heard of writes publicly in answer to a question from an inquirer as to why previously-married Christian singles shouldn't fornicate since they can't get married right away for financial reasons. The writer actually does a pretty decent response right up until he gets down to what he thinks is the heart of the matter: a lack of concern for God's kingdom. Because if they were really, really sold out and on fire for God's kingdom, they wouldn't have TIME to think about such things. "Why do you lie in bed with your lady friend when the King has called you?"

Apparently if we were all really doing all we could to bring the Good News to everyone, everywhere, we would not be so bored that we fall in to sin. As an example, he cites a story of a secular couple who were so obsessed with rescuing Jews from the Holocaust that they had no time for their own passion.

If that's the case, though, it ought to apply just as well to married people. Really, Mr. and Mrs. Christian, what are you doing "sleeping in" when you could be out working for The Kingdom? Or to a lot of other things we could be doing with our time that, last I checked, weren't actually wrong but are not grabbing people by the collar and telling them the gospel.

Now, he also says--and I agree with him here--that if we actually believed God's laws were given to us for our good we would be more willing to obey Him. But he's gotten it mixed up with the wretched urgency that turns the Christian life into an exhausting treadmill of multi-level marketing. It is not normal or healthy for human beings to spend their entire lives in all-consuming missions. It takes a terrible physical and emotional toll. You can do it for a while in response to a great crisis, but you're going to get burned out, and fast. And meanwhile somebody's got to be making food and money and babies or the world isn't going to keep on running anyway.

Moreover, it repeats the idea that if we were just totally committed to God, really serving him, we wouldn't be sinning. Really? Let's face it, a lot of the worst sins--pride, anger, selfishness--don't take any free time at all. You know that meme people like to repost about how God can use anybody; how Noah was a drunkard, and David was an adulterer, and Elijah was suicidal, etc.? Stop and think about how many of these heroes of the faith ran into their big problems AFTER their great spiritual achievements. Sometimes RIGHT after. We've got this crazy idea that God takes sinful people and turns them into something else, when the truth is God takes sinful people and uses them anyway.

It also maintains that the work of the kingdom is somehow radically different from ordinary life, which doesn't seem to be the message of the Bible at all. "Study to be quiet and to do your own business and work with your own hands." "What does the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" What the original questioner should be doing about the kingdom of God is learning to love God and his neighbor, and that might involve asking himself what it says about his professed love for his girlfriend that he is more worried about his financial status than about committing to her publicly.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Waiting for the Apocalypse

Around the end of last week, it became evident that the old, lingering cold that we all were fighting off over New Year's was turning, in DOB's case, into something more sinister.

We tentatively diagnosed it as a sinus infection and tried to treat it at home with tea and broth. On Sunday morning the agony was sufficient that he went to Urgent Care, where the doctor confirmed that it was a sinus infection and that it should be treated with tea and broth, as they are stockpiling antibiotics for the zombie apocalypse.

So we did more tea and more broth. DOB usually handles illness by passing out in bed for between 12 and 36 hours, depending on the severity. Although this freaked me out on our honeymoon, I have come to appreciate it. All I need to do is pour water down his throat every few hours and wait for him to reemerge, leaving me free to concentrate on other things. However, a sinus infection does not cooperate with the "lying down" part of this equation, and so he has had to deal with being sick while being up and miserable and it is taking far longer. Especially at night.

Monday night he started having an asthma attack on top of the sinusitis. (Probably triggered by me thinking that that afternoon was the perfect time to go on a quick shopping trip with Duchess, leaving him alone with the younger three kids, and then they thought they smelled something funny, which is hard to confirm when you have a sinus infection, and then I couldn't hear my cell phone because it was covered with clothes we were going to try on, so that by the time I got home they had all been sitting outside, DOB bundled up in blankets with a towel over his head, for a couple of hours.) Anyway, he couldn't breathe and his chest was tight and he couldn't move or do much beside moan, so I called the 24 hour nurse hotline. The fellow on the other side was doubtful, possibly because it was me on the phone, which meant the conversation went like this.

QOC: "Hi, my husband can't breathe and his chest is tight, but I think it's just his sinuses and his asthma, so can you please tell him he's not going to die, and if it's OK for him to use the inhaler?"
Nurse: "Hmm, that's a little concerning. Do you think he might be having a heart attack?"
QOC: "Nah, it's mostly in his head. I mean, he can't move or anything, but he gets like that when he's sick."
Nurse: "Well, let me talk to him."
DOB: "Graaahwww."
Nurse: "Well, you could go in if he seems to be doing worse. Or you could try the inhaler."
Ducklings in background: "Hey mama! Mama! Mama!"
QOC: "It's an awful lot of trouble to take him in."
Nurse: "I can tell."

So we didn't go in and he used the inhaler and came to the regretful conclusion that he was going to live, after all. And things went along and he got a cough to go with the sinuses and this afternoon he decided that he needed to call the nurse hotline again. This time he talked to the nurse himself, and this time it was a different nurse. He thought he was answering all the questions right, but perhaps he shouldn't have used terms like "zombie green" in describing bodily discharges. This nurse told him to get back into urgent care immediately, because, while it might just be the sinuses doing their thing, it might be some far more serious condition she was not at liberty to disclose.

He took himself into urgent care and they did various tests of his mental functioning and decided it was still just the sinuses doing their thing. But at least they gave him some medication that may help with sleeping, which hasn't happened in a while. They never did tell him what the serious condition they were concerned about was, but I'm thinking it was probably the zombie plague. I should possibly wear a helmet to bed, just in case.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Most Excellent Books about the Middle Ages

The Zoomlians are studying the Middle Ages, and they are posting all sorts of cool projects and fun links.

I appreciate these, because we are studying the Middle Ages, too, and I am not very good on the fun projects end of things. In fact, my idea of a good project is one the kids think of themselves and do without consulting me. And clean up afterwards. I am going to try to do the stained glass one, though. And I may point out the helms to them as it might fall into the do-it-yourself category.

What I (unsurprisingly) do better at is books. So, at Wendy's request, here are some of the books about the Middle Ages we have loved the most, or that I expect we will enjoy when we get there. Most of these selections come from Ambleside Online, which is our primary curriculum source.

The Little Duke: This is an old book, but it is definitely worth the occasionally dense language and slow start. It's based on the life of Richard I, Duke of Normandy--great grandfather to William the Conqueror and grandson to Rollo the Viking. The story of an eight year old boy navigating a confusing and dangerous world of warrior and Christian ethics, gruff allies and flattering enemies. It's got a lot of food for thought and discussion and a good bit of adventure.This is the book the ducklings scream in protest when I announce we have come to the end of the chapter.

Our Island Story: This is actually a full history of England for children, but we are reading the Medieval kings this year. I think what I love about this book is that it was actually written for the reason we want the ducklings to study history at this age: to understand more about human beings, and to think long and hard about what it means to be human, what makes a hero, a good king or a bad one, and to begin to develop nuance and recognize the complexities of human existence and choices. It's heavy on the interesting people and even the legendary stories.

Castle and Cathedral: Because, you know, it's David Macaulay and therefore awesome. Nobody is better on how things were built and why. Also, there are movie versions which are wonderful.

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood: You have to get the real one, by Howard Pyle, and it better be unabridged. (I got cheated on that once.) If you want to listen to someone who can really roll the language out and sing the drinking songs, the Blackstone Audiobooks reader is awesome. Yes, it's pure fantasy of the Middle Ages and meant to be. Sometimes the legends are the most important part of history; as Chesterton once observed, the legends were written by the hundred sane people in the village, the history was written by the one crank. If Pyle works for you, then you could go on to his other medieval books, like King Arthur and his Knights, and Otto of the Silver Hand.

The Door in the Wall: We haven't started this yet, but it's one I remember enjoying very much as a child. It's about a boy who wants to be a knight but must find another path to greatness when he loses the use of his legs.

The Sword in the Tree: I wouldn't do this as a read-aloud, but it is a well-done early chapter book of knightly adventures.

The Apple and the Arrow: A very nice story of William Tell. We actually read this a couple of years ago, when we were studying Switzerland, but it fits nicely in the Middle Ages, too, especially if you feel the whole knights-and-nobility thing has gotten overplayed.

As for the twins, mostly they just tag along. They are fond of fairy tales and picture books about King Arthur and his knights.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Universe

We do poetry regularly for school, which consists of reading poetry. This is one of the kids' favorite things, perhaps because they are not required to do anything but listen, but they do really seem to enjoy poetry itself. This term's poet was Walter de la Mare, who wrote mystical, evocative poems on themes that mostly appeal to children. We read this one today and it seemed the perfect description of their world:

The Universe
by Walter de la Mare
I heard a little child beneath the stars
        Talk as he ran along
To some sweet riddle in his mind that seemed
        A-tiptoe into song.

In his dark eyes lay a wild universe,--
        Wild forests, peaks, and crests;
Angels and fairies, giants, wolves and he
        Were that world's only guests.

Elsewhere was home and mother, his warm bed:--
        Now, only God alone
Could, armed with all His power and wisdom, make
        Earths richer than his own.

O Man! -- thy dreams, thy passions, hopes, desires!--
        He in his pity keep
A homely bed where love may lull a child's
        Fond Universe asleep!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Dorothy Sayers on Why Life Is Not a Detective Story

I've just finished reading The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers, a fascinating book on how the concept of the Trinity reflects and is reflected in the creative process. It's an unusual thesis, but one she develops well. If you want to read a lengthy discussion on the whole book, go see Cindy at Ordo Amoris, who's doing a whole series, chapter-by-chapter. If you want miscellaneous rambles on the last chapter because that's what I feel like writing about, well, here you are.

In the last chapter, Sayers looks at people--not just writers or painters, but everybody--as essentially creative, as being made in the image of God the creator. Thus, we act most in accordance with our natures when we approach life creatively. The modern tendency (and it hasn't gotten better in the last 80 years), though, is to look at life primarily not through a creative lens, but through an analytic lens. Life, social structures, events, are a set of problems, for which we seek a solution. If we just find the right solution we will solve the problem and all will be well.

In short, we treat life as if it were a mathematical equation, or a mystery novel. In a mystery novel (as Sayers, who wrote some of the best of them, knows full well), the author has already carefully taken all the untidiness out. There is a definite, ascertainable answer. All the data necessary to determine the answer are present. Any question that cannot be answered is never asked in the first place. There is one, and only one, right answer; all others are wrong.

All of this is fine as light entertainment. But it is not the way the real world works. Yet it is reflected in how we approach life; if we are ill, there must be a proper medicine or dietary adjustment to solve the problem. If there is a conflict between individuals, then there must be a procedure to resolve it. If a disaster occurs, there must be a way to prevent all future similar disasters, and we must find it.

But no one has gone through the universe for us, tidying it up so we can find a definite, right answer for each and every identified "problem." And when we look at life as a series of problems, we gain only frustration as we find solutions ever elude us. Public policy and personal choices become disjointed, slapping down one patch on top of another.

It doesn't work because it's not the way we were made; we were made to approach the world as creators. The stuff of life, good, bad, and indifferent, are the paint and canvas we have to work with. In our personal lives we have not a set of problems we will someday get through and all will be well, but today's set of raw materials to make of what we will. In public discourse we have, not a set of social problems to which we must find solutions, but the need to establish social structures that reflect a dynamic balance between competing ideals like liberty and order, justice and equality. 

It's not that it's wrong to ever identify a problem and find a solution--analytical thinking is part of human nature, too. It's just that we must constantly keep in mind that in doing so we have simplified matters nearly to the point of absurdity. In a real-life detective's life, every passing comment is not actually a key to the current mystery. Or in the mathematical context, it reminds me of the one about the mathematicians trying to resolve a question about a chicken eventually coming up with the formula, "Assuming a spherical chicken . . . "

We are the authors of our lives, not the readers. And when we realize that, we no longer need to gripe about the plot holes. Or ignore the shape of real chickens. We can take the raw material we are handed and make of it something, not perfect or final or settled, but beautiful.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

What We Did On Our Winter Vacation

We measure our holidays by the yardstick of contagious diseases. If we don't have a communicable stomach disorder, it's a good Christmas.

It was a good Christmas.

We did have communicable disease--a nasty cough that lingers on for weeks. And we did have some stomach disorders--I'm suspecting a migraine, though we shall have to wait to see if more materialize. But we didn't have both. So it was an improvement. We even made it to the family gathering on New Year's.

In between Christmas and New Year's, I stayed in bed. Or tried to. That's maternal life--taking a light day because you're exhausted just means eighteen meals, two loads of laundry, five potty runs, and seven squabbles. The ducklings are interested in cooking, but their actual repertoire extends to quesadillas, and they can't get the refried beans open without help. As usual, I bribed them into getting the chores done with a new computer game that I got for Christmas. (It's Bookworm Adventures! It's educational! And besides, how could I not love a game where my prowess comes from being able to spell long words?)

I did not make good on any of my plans to clean the basement. I think I need to stop planning it, as it seems to guarantee that I will spend all of the vacation time on the couch.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

The New Blog Look

Do you like it? Is it crunchable, precious? Is it tasssty?

Or is it too orange? Is the photo too much of a contrast in color? (I tried it with a blue background, which went well with the water but was just wrong.) Can I get some kind of recognition in bravery for putting a picture from an unflattering angle as my cover photo?

One awesome thing about the upgraded templates is that now, when there is only one comment, it says "1 comment" and not "1 comments," which always made me want to go and add an extra comment, even if I had nothing to say, just to make the number agree.

Mostly I wanted the labels cluster and the hierarchical post history, because the main reason I keep this blog is so that I can look back over my life, most of which I have already forgotten, and my past life on the blog was getting too long. Now I can see how my posting has dropped off over the years. It took a major hit when we moved. It seems to be trending upwards again, though. Perhaps I shall do better this year.

But I'm not making any promises.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Heroes of the Coast

If you are still casting around for a good piece of advice for the new year, I'll recycle some of C.S. Lewis's advice: read old books. There's no substitute for it. It's helpful, yes, to read modern books by people from different perspectives, but they're still coming from the same set of assumptions, addressing the same set of issues. A good book from a different era has the power of cracking your head open in a way that a modern book never could.

And there's no excuse about availability: almost every book that is in someone's library somewhere and is more than a hundred years old is available for free online somewhere. Whatever might slightly interest you is out there, and you can download it to your e-reader and read it in bed.

One book I came across recently is a collection of legends from the tribes of the Northwest coast. It's called Legends of Vancouver, which is a bit to the north, but the cultures were very similar up and down the coast before the Americans and English decided to draw the line somewhere. This is the world my great-grandparents invaded, looked at from the other side.

The author was one of those people uniquely positioned at a conjunction of cultures. Pauline Johnson, or Tekahionwake, was the daughter of a chief of the Six Nations in eastern Canada and a woman from England. She grew up on tribal lands reading the classics of English literature, traveled widely lecturing, including to England, and settled down in British Columbia in the early 1900s, becoming close friends with the local tribal leaders. This book is of the stories they told her.

Nothing tells on the values and goals of a culture like its legends. Not just what behavior is rewarded, but what the rewards are. Perhaps the most astonishing thing about these legends is that the most exemplary persons are rewarded with being turned into stone and forming one of the numerous coastal rock formations. Imagine that happening in a European fairy tale. The typical rewards of a European fairy tale--wealth, power, and sex--are notoriously hard to enjoy in a petrified state. However, once you realize that the reward is meant to be never being forgotten, it translates a little better.

As for the behavior being examined, it is, strangely to us, nearly all about parenting. Chief Joe Capilano, the teller of most of the tales, begins the first legend by explaining their custom of throwing a feast for a girl upon reaching womanhood: "During these days of rejoicing the girl is placed in a high seat, an exalted position, for is she not marriageable? And does not marriage mean motherhood? And does not motherhood mean a vaster nation of brave sons and of gentle daughters, who, in their turn, will give us sons and daughters of their own?"

And most of the stories turn on this theme: the young father-to-be so concerned with following the purification rites before the birth of his child that he won't even get out of the way of God's canoe. The tribe foolish enough to ask for a boy-child for their chief's first offspring, instead of welcoming a girl and the accompanying good salmon runs that would secure the future of the tribe. The father who devotes himself to ten years of solitary confinement to guard against an evil omen that may come on his tribe from the birth of twins. And most beautifully and sadly, the deluge story in which the adults place only the children of the tribe in the great canoe together with one young mother and one brave to look after them.

The thing that strikes me as so very different about these tales is how parenting is treated as the execution of the noblest service to the tribe. Imagine telling Chief Capilano about surveys attempting to determine whether people are more or less happy after having children. He would not see how the question could even be asked. What is more noble than securing the future of the tribe? And what greater happiness is there than in doing what is noble?

Compared to that, moderns of every persuasion treat parenting as a high-end hobby, and one that comes at a high cost in the things our society does value as rewards: achievement, wealth, sex. Something to be evaluated on the basis of personal fulfillment. Something to be tolerated in other people if it doesn't get in the way. Or, alternatively, something to be promoted rabidly as justification for the vast amount of personal investment it has taken.

Mothers and fathers are recognized as doing something valuable for their children but not for everyone. Yet, even though we do not face the fear of extinction as a culture as they did, what is more important for the future we must grow old in than that children have, before they have schools or streets or social programs, parents who love them?

This, I think, is the root of the "Mommy Wars." We feel the need to imbue with significance a task whose cost is vastly out of proportion to its shrinking returns. And so we add to the labor, stake out our own territories and proselytize our various approaches. Parenting is personal and therefore competitive.

When perhaps if we listened to Chief Capilano we could recognize that we are already heroes. Everyone who brings a child into the world, everyone who feeds them and rocks them and gives them a roof to sleep under and tells them stories is serving all of us. And maybe we could face our tasks with more calm and courage if we knew we were performing, not a personal act, but a public service.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Year In Review. (Warning: Guest Post.)

This looks interesting. So I'm going to do it, too. And I'm going to do it here because nobody ever reads my blogs. Mainly because I never post on it/them. But I don't post because people don't read them. Etc. You get the idea.

1. What did you do in 2012 that you'd never done before? 
Wore shoulder-length hair. Other than on stage.

2. How did your goals for the year come out?
Didn't have any. Worked out fine. Of course, I wanted to increase revenue by 50% and pay off all my debt, but that was just wishful thinking (i.e., an obsession).

3. Did anyone close to you give birth or get pregnant?
Thankfully, nobody has given birth close to me for nearly four-and-a-half years.

4. Travel?
A mansion in North Bend. A bed-and-breakfast in Port Townsend. A vacation cottage in La Push. A rental house in Moclips just down the road from where they train psychopathic cops to give low-overage tickets to mothers with small children. And a motel in Port Angeles with sticky-fingered staff.

5. Did you move anywhere?
Ditto QOC on this one.

6. What was the best month?
June 2007. This question is not appropriately qualified.

7. What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012?
Hobbit Legos.

8. What date(s) from 2012 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
March 2. I have lost control of vehicles many times. I have been in multiple car accidents. But never both at the same time. Until that day.

9. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Voluntarily taking time off work for the first time since 2007. Five whole days off. In a row.

10. What was your biggest failure?
Working the first week of the two weeks I had scheduled for vacation. Then feeling guilty about being gone the second week.

11. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Let's skip this one.

12. What was the best thing you bought?
My Camaro. *sigh*

13. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Mine. And QOC's. We continue to slog along through life looking for a paved road. Or at least a path that isn't mostly sludge.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Vehicles. Fixing up the '77 Plymouth to sell. Buying a sports car. Fixing a wrecked sports car. Replacing critical components of the station wagon. Replacing a broken wheel on the sports car. Trading for a truck.

15. Compared to this time last year, are you: i. happier or sadder? ii. richer or poorer? 

16. What do you wish you'd done more of? 
Time with kids.

17. What do you wish you'd done less of?

18. How will you be spending New Year's Eve/Day?
Wishing people would be quieter.

19. What was an unexpected surprise? 
Ditto QOC on this one, too.

20. Did you fall in love in 2011?
I love QOC. I have fallen many times, but never in love. It sounds painful. I do not like falling. Falling is bad.

21. What was the best event you've been to this year? 
I spend most of my time at events trying to fix or not notice all the problems in my surroundings.

22. What was your favorite TV program?
Yes, Minister. And Yes, Prime Minister. I laughed 'til I cried watching those two. Apologies to Monk, which is likely the most helpful show we've ever watched.

23. What authors did you discover this year? 
Jim Butcher. David Weber. Both great discoveries.

24. Random Memories from 2012? 
Standing barefoot in the ocean. Finding a queen ant on my legos in my room. Creating killer backspin when returning a pickle ball serve. Driving with the wind in my hair and the bass cranked up.

Okay, now back to your regularly scheduled programming. And with good reason. I might post on here again in another half-dozen years. It only took me 45 minutes to get the formatting just right on this.