Monday, December 29, 2014

The Choring Curve

The thing about chores is, they are chores.

There is no system that will get around this. You can put purple stickers and happy unicorn balloons all over it and yet there is that nasty compost bucket still waiting to be taken out.

One does need a system, of course, but eventually the system grows old or wearisome. The choreishness comes uppermost. Then it's time for a new system.

It won't work forever. It won't get rid of the choreishness of chores. But it will help.

Chore systems work on the following curve:

Week 1: Enthusiasm for shiny new system. Considerable cooperation and only minor amounts of griping.
Week 2: Shine comes off. Griping begins.
Week 3-4: Agony. Chores are horrid and everyone wants to quit. Mother's will is still firm, though, hopefully, allowing things to proceed to:
Weeks 5-28: Routine. Chores get done, system works OK.
Weeks 28-end: Fraying. Chore system gets increasingly shrugged aside, fragmented, or just not followed. Mother gets distracted and cranky. Children are mysteriously nowhere to be found.

I used to have this feeling that if only one were truly virtuous and consistent, one would never need a shiny new system, one could just follow through on the same one, world without end, amen. But I think this was an error. Everything has seasons, ebb and flow, novelty within familiarity.

And now is the time of the new chore season. I relieved the kids of doing the hauling things outside chores (which they detest during winter, whereas I love the chance to go outside in any weather) and distributed more dish handling among them, which I could happily do less of. Today is the first day of shiny new system, and Duchess did a fabulous job on the breakfast dishes while I enjoyed my breakfast and Facebook.

The shine will come off. But it was nice today.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

We're . . . sort of . . . doing the Christmas thing

A week of catching up around the house and getting ready for Christmas wasn't nearly enough. I am, surprisingly enough, a really good planner. When I have time to plan.

When I don't have time to plan . . . well, baking day arrived without flour and I totally forgot to check whether I had green chiles for an enchilada-based Christmas dinner until the last trip into town had been made. I still haven't gotten the house up to baseline-level Stuff Doesn't Get Caught In The Wheelchair cleanliness, let alone Festive Christmas Cheer cleanliness. The children's rooms are still the disaster that makes me want to swear they will never get new things again, ever. I didn't even dust the piano. I'm not going to have time to finish one person's gift and I think it's too small anyway. I'm tired and I have a sore throat but I can't seem to lower my immune system enough to get good and sick and have an excuse.

I did manage three kinds of cookies (after getting flour). That's pretty pitiful for my baking traditions, but it's what I could manage. We tried these gingerbread cookies (with half the pepper) and they were fabulous.  And these flourless chocolate cookies were awesome for gluten-free relatives (or, you know, non-gluten-free people. They're really good).

But Christmas comes anyway, right? There's something to unwrap. There will be something to eat (even if a little short on chiles). I'll try to sweep. I hope.

I should have pretty low expectations by this time. Around here it's a good Christmas if no one throws up. But I still would like to have things a little more together. Maybe next year.

Monday, December 15, 2014

We're DOING this Christmas thing

Christmas had kind of gotten sidelined this year up until Sunday. Which was OK, right, because it's Advent, not Christmas?

Only Advent is supposed to be getting ready for Christmas, and we weren't doing that. DOB has been absorbed with the Thing Not Yet Announced, I was busy with working and school and the Remodeling Project That Grew, and the kids have been shifting as best they can and listening to a lot of audio CDs. We did manage to get out the Advent wreath and readings, but that was it.

But this past weekend I put in my last day of remodeling. It's not done, but I am. And it's really, really close, and detailed finish work is definitely not my talent. It is an amazing transformation. We have eradicated nearly every scrap of country blue in a house which was one solid mass of it. Hopefully the new and improved pictures will attract a new and improved set of showings.

And I made an executive decision to quit school a week early. Since I didn't make this decision until Saturday, we skipped the whole vacation brain final week, so that worked well. We'll have to keep going until the second week of June, but it's not too awfully long.

So Sunday we had the church Christmas pageant and chili cook-off. Dash is gratified that no one tries to recruit him to be a sheep any more. He has hated being a sheep since the role was first foisted upon his toddler self, and most recently declared his role in the Christmas pageant to be "100 sheep who are not there." As a long-limbed first grader, though, he's solidly into shepherd territory, and shepherds wear fuzzy bathrobes and carry long sticks, so they're cool.

Then afterwards we had an unexpectedly gorgeous day and went and found our tree. (It's on the smallish side, because most of the $10 yellow-tag trees were gone this late in the season, but on the other hand that meant the kids could decorate it entirely without help.

The kids even tried to bring in the boxes by themselves. Some of them were too high up, but the big kids got a number of them. Deux asked, "What about this box that says 'Dishes?' It looks like it might have something."

"Oh, no," I said, "All the 'Dishes' boxes only have dishes in them."

Then when they had gotten through all the rest they could reach, I went out and got down the rest. And we searched through them all and found everything except the Christmas tree lights. Which, of course, had to go on first.

I went back out and searched the other miscellaneous boxes. I found some more things, but no lights. I searched the boxes we had brought out again. No lights.

I went back out to the garage and noticed a small box labeled "Dishes" sitting next to where most of the Christmas boxes had been. A light began to dawn. I looked inside.

Deux was pleased with bragging rights.

 Nothing got properly cleaned, but the decorations are up. This morning I rescued the Christmas CDs from the heap in the boys' room after they decided to repurpose the CD box as a fortress. I put Bing Crosby on. We read our advent reading and did a craft. I have butter thawing to bake cookies.

We're going to do this Christmas thing. I think I'm going to start with a long winter's nap.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Dear Internet Writers, Please Stop Pretending You Know Me

Headline writing has always been the redheaded stepchild of literature, but the internet (which freeing us from typographic constraints, ought to have made things better) seems to have brought out the worst in headline writing. Or maybe it's even deeper, since the problem seems to afflict the entire article.

The formula that goes "Something Bland. You'll Never Believe What Happens Next!" was a lousy one the first time it was used. It has now been used 5,403,243 times. It really, really should never be used again. Yes, *I* will believe what happened next, because *I* know exactly how oversensationalized internet stories work. Everyone will burst into dancing, somebody will do something really nice without an obvious reason, and/or a crafter will make something quite clever. If it were something truly unbelievable, like a visitation from Narn or a rift in the space-time continuum, you wouldn't need to jazz it up with such a lame headline. "Giant lizards from space in awesome leather coats visit Munich" just doesn't need anything more.

It's probably the need for constant content. We just can't have these massive bandwidths of information and let them go empty, can we? Yet, giant lizards so seldom visit. So we must pretend that the adventures of our pet cats are Every! Bit! As! Exciting!

(You know another meme that needs to die now? "Keep Calm and . . . " Yes, it was a fine wartime slogan and the first 15 iterations were mildly amusing. It's done now. Let it die. Stop making t-shirts.)

But the *really* annoying thing is when this presumption moves from doubting my ability to believe completely believable things and begins making moral assumptions. Such as this article, titled "5 Ways You Are Unknowingly Destroying Your Husband and Killing Your Marriage." Well, I surely did not know I was killing my marriage in those ways, especially since the first one on the list was "Living beyond your means" and mentioned how I might have to suppress my desire for a Kate Spade bag. (Actually, I have no idea what a Kate Spade bag is, but I was pretty happy when my friend gave me a bit of silver wire so I could rewire the handle on the purse I got from the thrift store a year or two ago and hopefully get another couple of years out of it.) Without this article, I definitely would not have known my rampant spending was threatening my marriage, although I had noticed that at times the dry heaves I get at the prospect of ever spending money on anything do seem to cause a bit of a strain.

OK, at some point the article did throw a "might" in there. As in, you "might" have these problems. But, you know, let us not let the possibility that different people struggle with different things (and, oh, that not every minor stress in a marriage is sending it into a death-spiral) keep us from writing a sensational headline.

Why is it so difficult to just write what you mean? What is meant appears to be, "Here are some attitudes that can cause more problems in a marriage than first appears." Nothing's wrong with that.

Of course, once an internet article writer faces up to an honest, straightforward assessment of what they have to say, they might just discover that . . . it's not much. And that would let all that bandwidth go empty. We couldn't have that, now could we?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving Week

I have made it past my low number of posts from last year, and then I seem to have stopped.  I feel like my mind is too full. Two major things, one of which I would rather not talk much about, and the other of which I can't talk about just yet. (The first one is remodeling my grandparents' house in hopes of making it more marketable. Spending evenings and weekends steaming wallpaper in order to desecrate a childhood shrine is not a pleasant task.) The other thing is good but a little scary and should be ripe for revelation before the end of the year.

One other major accomplishment of this month was hosting my first large-scale Thanksgiving. It started smallish and grew to 16, but we managed tables for everyone and I only slightly overcooked the turkey. In anticipation of the meal, I had made up a bunch of post-it notes stuck all over the windows of things that needed done.

I figured I should get my grocery shopping out of the way early, as grocery stores would be crowded on Wednesday. (They were pretty crowded on Monday, actually.) But I figured we could easily get it done in the morning and be done by lunch. We stopped at Store A first and on our way out some people in the checkout line bought the kids a box of sandwich cookies. I wasn't too thrilled, but the kids were and I figured I would give them some in case we were a little late for lunch.

Then we finished up at the second store and were heading out to the car when Dash, running full-tilt through the damp parking lot, slipped and landed on his forehead. I rushed him back in to the bathroom where a very kind lady volunteered to bandage him, even though there was blood everywhere and the store people took awhile to find gloves. Dash tends to be very vocal about pain, let's put it that way. Or possible pain. Anyway, when I finally got him back out to the parking lot I discovered the other kids had unloaded all the groceries and were waiting for us in the car.

It was definitely into stitch-worthy territory, so we headed straight to Urgent Care. It turned out to be kind of crowded, and there were no interesting magazines and I hadn't brought anything along, but we survived on sandwich cookies and memory games. Later people asked me why I hadn't called to have someone else get the rest of the kids, but I kept thinking that it would only be a few more minutes, and continued to think so for all of four hours. It was only three stitches, but it was plenty of drama for all that. Dash is hoping for a Harry Potter-style scar, but I doubt it was quite enough to be lightning-shaped.

That would have put a crimp in Thanksgiving preparations, but I ditched wallpaper steaming instead.

Also I had a birthday on Wednesday and DOB got me a haircut and a new outfit (including a pair of jeans that I think qualifies as non-mom jeans, not that I approve of that terminology because why should it be a fashion offense to have children?) and we hung out at the mall on the day before Thanksgiving, which was curiously quiet and pleasant. My birthday is a boring square number this year, but next year it's my all-time favorite prime number. (BTW, given that I am an adult human under 100, that's enough information to figure out my actual age.)

Thursday, November 13, 2014


We've had another power outage already. I'm getting closer to prepared. His Majesty brought by an emergency stash of firewood, which the ducklings had put away in about five minutes flat. (Let's just say an emergency supply is a lot more fun to stack than an entire winter's.) I bought some lovely glass gallon dispensers for water storage, although we haven't gotten the taps tightened enough to actually put water in them. Still, closer.


I have totally messed up with Harry Potter. I let Duchess read the first four books and told her she could read the last three when she was thirteen. Only as soon as she had read them, Deux had to, also. (And since they are by far the thickest books he has ever attempted and finished, I wasn't going to stop him.) Then they wanted to get them on CD to share with the twins.

But . . . Duchess will be 13 before everyone else. And they'll all be clamoring for it. Oh dear. I should have doled them out one a year for everybody or something. DOB has insisted that it's what we'll do with the movies.

Meanwhile, our house has been turned into Hogwarts and sorted into houses (stuffed animals included).


We are almost finished with our first term of school. I am always astounded that we actually do this: we set out a plan and we stick to it, come hell or high water. I'm not sure where this is coming from, honestly, because I never really thought I could be that consistent. The big kids and I have finished reading A Midsummer Night's Dream together, Duchess with the graphic novel version. We're almost to the end of Robinson Crusoe, which started slow but has definitely picked up the pace with the arrival of cannibals. (In our curriculum discussion boards, people are always expressing concerns about the maturity of content as the years progress--in my experience, there is nothing to excite an interest in history and literature like mature content.) We also had due encounters with witch-burning, pirates, and battles of all sorts.

Teaching the twins is very different from the big kids--they take to listening and telling back the stories much more readily and pick up on the ideas very easily, but their progress in basic skills is more slow and steady. I'm not used to having to actually teach basic reading and math, so it's a change. Kind of fun, though.

Teaching everybody at once is usually totally insane.

Maybe if I think of four more items by tomorrow I can turn this into a quick takes Friday. But I probably won't.

Saturday, November 01, 2014


I may muddle up the order of the other novels, but Persuasion always comes last and best, as it should. Most of the other novels were written or at least started when Austen herself was very young, and although their heroines may seem quite grown-up when one first encounters them at fourteen, later in life they start resembling the Lord High Chancellor's wards: "All very agreeable girls and none/are over the age of twenty-one."

Undoubtedly Marianne Dashwood's assertion that "a woman of seven and twenty . . . can never hope to feel or inspire affection again" is meant to be a bit over the top, but the portrayal of twenty-seven-year-old Charlotte Lucas, with the choice of celibacy or Mr. Collins, leaves us in some doubt as to whether it was meant to be very far over the top after all.

Regardless, Anne Elliot (who is, in fact, seven and twenty) seems Austen's own answer to her youthful lack of perspective. She does fear that she cannot inspire affection again, but she has no loss of affection herself. Indeed, Persuasion is by far the most passionate of the novels. The undercurrent between Anne and Captain Wentworth, unspoken, unacknowledged, runs through every encounter. They speak to others, they look everywhere but at each other, but they are always so acutely aware of each other that everything and everyone else is only so much background noise.

The short version of the plot is that, eight years before, Anne had become engaged to Wentworth, then a lowly underofficer with no money or immediate prospects for marriage. Her family and friend opposed the match, and given the long and uncertain nature of the engagement, she is persuaded to end it. (I had not really noticed it before, but at Austen's time there appears to have been a clear double standard with regard to engagements--a lady could end an engagement without shame, but a gentleman could not, as witness Edward Farrars.)

As things turned out, however, Wentworth advanced rapidly in the navy and made his fortune in the Napoleonic wars. He returns to the neighborhood eight years later an excellent match, ready to settle down with any reasonably suitable young lady except, of course, Anne, whom he is certain he can never forgive.

Unfortunately, of course, he also realizes that he can never quite find anybody to match up to Anne. He tries to flirt with her teenaged relations, but his heart is never in it. They are younger and prettier and more lively, but they don't measure up. Meanwhile Anne--whom everyone has been thinking is quite on the shelf--goes through a bit of a renaissance herself, and acquires an even more eligible suitor.

The ending of course, is just as it should be and an eminently satisfactory response to the early novels' implication that love and life pretty much end at twenty-two. And in addition, there's the marvelous middle-aged Mrs. Croft, whose intelligence, energy and spirits make her the sort of person anyone would want to grow up to be, and whose marriage to the Admiral is perfectly delightful to see.

An interesting character contrast within the novel comes between Anne's sister Mary Musgrove, and Anne's school friend Mrs. Smith. Mary is not really a bad character, but she is a perennial whiner. She has everything anyone could ask for: plenty of money, a nice house, a kind and well-behaved husband, children arriving in due course (I suspect she's pregnant with number 3 during the novel, though it doesn't go on long enough to verify), decent health, pleasant in-laws. Yet she is constantly aggrieved at someone or something: someone is always slighting her, something is always going wrong and making her miserable. I do hope she grows up a bit (she is only 25, I think) or some of her blessings are going to go sour. Mrs. Smith, on the other hand, has next to nothing: alone in the world, money gone, health gone, living in a tiny room and supplementing her meager income with knitting. Yet she is constantly cheerful, interested in everything, entirely lacking in envy. I'm not sure one could want to be Mrs. Smith, yet one can still admire her from a safe distance.

Alas, though, now I have come to the end and must put something else in my novel slot. I've never given Sir Walter Scott much of a chance, so I'm trying Rob Roy.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Be Prepared

It's a phrase one will never hear the same way again after watching Hoodwinked.

Anyway, yesterday was our first real storm since moving into this house seven months ago. For those of you not in the Pacific Northwest, we just don't have storms in the summer. A brief thunderstorm might happen once a year, tornadoes are a thing of legend and thanks to ocean currents, hurricanes are impossible. But in winter, we get wind-and-precipitation storms, and they meet the trees and the wires.

Apparently ten years of city living have erased my memory, because even as the rain poured and the wind rose, and even when the power blinked for a minute, I completely forgot the rule number one of storms in the countryside: fill every available receptacle with water. (You would think after the well debacle of last month, this would be foremost in my mind, but it was not.)

So when the power went out for good, we had one half-filled pitcher and whatever was left in our glasses. Fortunately it was the optimum time for a power outage: after the supper dishes are done, just in time to go to bed by candlelight. (The one thing I *do* have plenty of is candles, thanks to cleaning out the estate.) It's not cold enough yet for the lack of heat to be much concern in a house full of warm bodies. And the power came back on in the middle of the night, before we had to start worrying about the fridge or anyone was desperate for a shower.

Now we've had a good reminder of all we still need to do. Get the stove checked and a backup stash of fuel, in case the power goes out in a snowstorm and we really do need heat. Get a proper water store.

We might get to it. But we're not mountain goats, so maybe not.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


My beloved cordless drill, which is the only power tool I have ever had any understanding with, has finally given up after more than a decade of use. Or at least the battery has. Nonetheless, thanks to the loan of a drill from Toolboy and the assistance of B5, we finally have a coat rack in the entry, instead of a large drift of coats underneath.

The twins and I are at loggerheads over math. I firmly believe in the value of hands-on, game-oriented math, especially in the first year of school. They want worksheets. Since I can't find a program with worksheets that uses the sequence of instruction I want, I've made the two weeks' worth. That is probably enough for them to get tired of the idea. And if it's not, I can make some more.

We attended the local bar's CLE and dinner yesterday. It was enjoyable as usual, except that to my everlasting shame I could not even get the right century for Joan of Arc's death during the evening trivia game. (When we asked them later, both of the big kids knew it, so I suppose I'm doing something right.) However, I did impress my table with my knowledge of where the asteroid belt is located, so that was something.

It's been a couple of weeks in which no new crisis has occurred and I am almost starting to feel caught up on sleep and inspired to deep clean the living room. Must be time for a new crisis. I have a suspicion about what it will be, but there are always the surprise ones, too. Might as well leave things lying as long as possible.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Mansfield Park

This is not the most popular of Austen's novels, and Fanny Price is probably the least popular heroine. But then, popularity is not something she would value. To love Fanny one must begin, as Mr. Crawford found, by seeking to get her to like you. Once you have learned what a challenge it is to obtain her good opinion, you begin to realize how very worth it is getting.

Fanny is in some ways the antithesis of Austen's most popular heroines. The novel is a triumph of character over personality. Indeed, in personality and intelligence Mary Crawford is very nearly exactly like Elizabeth Bennett; but without sound principles, her charm must pall. Both Elizabeth and Emma are outwardly-engaged people who must make a journey inward--Elizabeth must learn to slow down and judge others rightly, and Emma to know herself.

But Fanny is already adept at understanding herself and others; she does not need witnessed explicit roguery to see Mr. Crawford's flaws, nor the appearance of a rival to recognize her own attachment to Edmund. It is, indeed, her own acute awareness of her own feelings and those of those around her that makes this novel the most emotionally intense and least light-hearted. Her whole life is one of observation and thought, intensely internal.

Fanny needs to journey outward: to stake the place for her own opinions and conscience in the world. To have the courage to hold on to her own "no," even against those whom she respects the most. In order for her to become Edmund's lover, she must cease to be his mirror, for all real love is a love of the otherness of someone. In order for her to be valued for her principles by Sir Bertram, she must hold true to them when he cannot see how they apply. To complete her journey she must become an entity in her own mind: realize her ability to mentor Susan, and recognize that her role at Mansfield Park is not simply a poor relation, but the capstone of the whole edifice.

Mr. Crawford starts out the least far along the path of vice of any of Austen's villains. His worst established fault is flirting with an engaged woman. Indeed, Austen raises the possibility that had he managed to persevere a bit longer and won Fanny, he might have been reformed. (Nonetheless, Austen seems to have little faith in the Love of a Good Woman as a motif and refuses to submit any of her heroines to marital reform work.) His real flaw is vanity--he cannot bear to *not* be admired, and that both attracts him to Fanny and undoes him with Maria.

An interesting contrast can be seen between the favor Crawford does for Fanny (securing a promotion for her brother) and the favor Darcy does for Elizabeth (forcing Wickham to marry Lydia). Crawford immediately proclaims what he has done, and then presses his romantic attentions on her--in the very same conversation. He obviously expects a quid pro quo. Fanny feels the obligation, but does not let it shake her principles. And note that although it was obviously a great benefit to William, the cost to Crawford was nothing more than a bit of gadding about and socializing--hardly a sacrifice for him.

On the other hand, Darcy, who must undergo considerable humiliation and expense to deal with Wickham, tries to keep the favor a secret. His love is, by this time, entirely unselfish--his only thought is that Elizabeth be benefited, not that he be credited or even that she be won. (And indeed he succeeds, not because she feels obligated to him, but simply because it confirms to her both his character and his continued regard in spite of the obstacles.)

A few more random thoughts--although Austen has many characters in running for the Person Most Desirable to Slap Silly, surely Aunt Norris is in the very top running. Also, Mansfield Park gives us a more intimate picture of young men than seen anywhere else--it is the only place where the main character has close familial relationships with them. And seeing the way Edmund and Fanny interact, it is not hard to understand why cousin marriages were relatively common--with the allowed intimacy of the family circle, it must have been the only opportunity to really get to know another person, rather than having to select one off the marriage market on the strength of a few balls and card parties and a frank tallying of assets.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Leftover Symbiosis

This will probably totally destroy my intelligent homeschooling mother credibility, but I really like to play computer games. I know, I'm supposed to restrict myself to intelligent and domestic hobbies while bemoaning the devotion my husband and children have to the screen. But, although I love to read, I don't love to do it all the time. I read fast, and a half hour or so of reading gives me enough mental food to chew on all day. I don't often enjoy reading fluff. I don't like watching TV or movies by myself and I have less than no interest in sports. Although I have the full complement of domestic skills, I am too clumsy to do crafts for the fun of it. Plus, they involve mess and quite possibly the expenditure of money.

Computer games are not at all messy and, if one watches for sales, not very expensive. They may not sound impressive, but despite the specter of people sitting at their screens while they lose their job, families, and sanity, most people do not become hopelessly addicted (and those that do would probably have become addicted to something regardless, addiction being more a function of the mind seeking an anchor than the object that it ties to). In balance, they're like jigsaw or crossword or logic puzzles, or following politics or sports--a nice way to give the brain something to do when the body needs a rest. And for rainy days, long winter evenings, and recovering from the flu or a sprained foot, they are a lot more fun than staring at the wall and a lot less stressful than stupid internet fights or reading domestic blogs where everybody's house is better decorated, meals are better cooked, and children are better dressed.

Last weekend, DOB packed me off to Bookworm's under a diagnosis of an acute case of four children. He and B5 managed to hold down (or up? how many forts are in danger of floating away?) the fort in my absence, supplemented by cold cereal and hot dogs, both rare and awe-inspring treats around here. (Well, hot dogs get mixed reviews.)  I finished up the work project that had pushed me over the edge of frazzlement and then read a Wodehouse cover to cover and then some Sayers. After several hours of no one asking for food while I was trying to document the obligations of insurance carriers, my right eyelid stopped twitching.

And then I felt like a new computer game, so I bought one I'd been wanting for a long time: Reus. You get to control various giants who plant resources on a tiny globe, which is then settled by tiny people. The challenge is helping the little towns grow without letting them become too greedy. The graphics are pretty (and two dimensional, a deciding factor for me, since the tiniest whiff of the third dimension nauseates me). To get things to advance very far, you have to take advantage of the symbiosis built into the game: this thing next to that thing makes more good stuff, but that thing also likes to be next to the other thing . . . It gets quite involved and a makes for a fun puzzle with many possible solutions.

OK, so it is kind of like housework. Such as cooking with leftovers. My current theory is to cook up a big ol' chunk of meat on Friday nights--a couple of chickens, a pork roast, or a ham. (Not beef--the price of beef is insane lately.) After supper the bones go in the crockpot with water for broth. The uberhealthy bone broth fans don't talk about it, but ham and pork bones make a lovely broth that gels up just fine. Then on Saturday morning I can strain the broth, pick the rest of the meat off the bones, and make up a couple of casseroles for the next few days with the extra meat and any beans and such left over from earlier in the week. The broth goes into soup or beans for Monday. Tuesday night is usually pizza with the last remnants of meat and vegetables, which cleans out the fridge and makes easily portable leftovers for our weekly outing, which includes grocery stopping, at which we restock the fridge and have meals heavy on the fresh vegetables and extra frozen meat until Friday comes around again. When it works, it's a beautiful thing of symbiosis. And when it doesn't, nasty things start growing in the back of the fridge, finding their own symbiosis.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Working Things Out

The other day I took a wrong turn on the internet and wound up on a fitness video website. I admit that I try deliberately not to keep up with the current trends in fitness, but even so I was a little astonished. There were exercise videos to make one's rear larger. I know I'm a little fuzzy on these concepts, but I had the general impression that the goal of exercise was to make everything exercisable smaller, but apparently not any more.

What I really wonder is how one determines whether one is at the optimum level of callipygous achievement. With whom does one have this conversation? I mean, I guess I would be comfortable talking about it with DOB, but his opinion would be strongly prejudiced (albeit not prejudicial).

Then of course, there are lots of exercises to lift the rear, which also mystifies me. What is wrong with its current location? Where would one sit if it was elsewhere?

Also, it turns out there are special exercises to do to get "tank top arms." I always thought "tank top arms" were "arms that were too warm in sleeves," but apparently that is not sufficient.

Anyway, the rest of the videos were all done with incomprehensible initials and references. Nobody organizes them the way I would. If I were doing it, workouts would have titles like this:

"Routine to keep you from smashing furniture in February."
"Exercises to get that little tweak out of your shoulder thanks to spending way too much time with a mouse."
"This may make you stop feeling so blah, and if it doesn't, you can totally have a piece of cake and see if that works instead."

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Bad Housekeeping Seal of Approval

Good mothers teach their children to pick up after themselves right from the first. If a child can get out toys, they can certainly put them away. All you need is a place for everything and everything in its place. I once had a lady very seriously lecture me on these principles, back when I was pregnant with the twins, while she was doing the dishes because I could not move without vomiting. Since I also couldn't really speak without vomiting, I didn't try to point out the obvious flaws in her plan.

Anyway, we got a little behind. A lot behind. The place kept moving and the everything kept changing. (Who are these people who can actually design enough places to contain what their kids have? Do their kids not create an entire new fleet of paper airplanes, the frontispiece of three unwritten novels, and seven maps of paradise for miniature plastic horses every time they have twenty minutes of free time? Then there are those who say, "Oh, I can't think in a mess; it really stresses me out, that's why I keep things cleaned up all the time." Well, I also can't think in a mess. That's why it's still there.)

But I've always figured that the least I could do is not make us feel bad about the mess. After all, it's not the ducklings' fault that they don't have proper places to put stuff and I haven't taught them to pick up every day. And it's not my fault that I operate at a preschool level in sorting ability or have moved eight times and lost everything all over again. So when--about once a quarter--it comes time to actually face up to the mess, at least we pitch into it with a right good will. They actually get excited. No doubt we will uncover some lost treasures. There'll be open space for a day or two to get things out in.

I let them pick things up for as long as they stay interested. Then, when they drift away, I start salvaging anything that we will desperately miss. (Library books and clothes, mostly.) I throw away anything I am reasonably sure they won't scream if they find out. I put away anything really obvious that they missed. This process has already taken most of the day and we probably have slighted lunch and I am getting very crabby.

And then--here is my Bad Housekeeping Secret--I get a big box. Or two. Or three. An extra laundry basket sometimes, but the holes are a problem. And I just scoop up everything that's left, put it in the box, and shove it down in the basement (or, now, the garage). No, I do not sort it into Things to Keep and Things to Give Away and Things to Put Away Somewhere Else, because at this point in the project if I try to start sorting I will have to be committed as a danger to myself and others.

For several years I have been telling myself that I will get to these boxes and sort them out afterwards, in a calmer moment, if I can only wrap up the cleaning project and vacuum today. We do filch stuff out of them from time to time--large items of dress-up tend to stick out and every once in a dreadful while a library book misses the initial scrutiny. If I pull a few larger items (firemen hats take up a lot of space) out I can usually consolidate the boxes and keep them in manageable numbers. But they begin to accumulate. I think we're close on to a dozen now.

Some might argue that this proves that these items are of no importance and we could get rid of them. They would be wrong. I know there are all kinds of things in these boxes that *are* of importance and we very much want, like the glass gems we use for tracking life in Magic: The Gathering and also teaching math, and all the pieces of all the puzzles, and three of the Clue murder weapons, and spare golf balls which are essential if you don't have time to get to the chiropractor, and enough writing implements to prevent us from ever needing to buy school supplies again. When we moved this spring I finally found one of these boxes from a previous move and there . . . THERE! . . . was the favorite purple coat I had been hunting for every winter since we moved in, hoping to find it for one of the twins. Unfortunately it was a 3T, so it was no longer any good. But had I found it sooner, it would have been, you see.

But retrieving these items would mean sorting them out from the twenty mixed decks of old playing cards, the plastic ball mazes and pencils that don't sharpen from Oriental Trading Company, and the other toddler snow boot that I finally gave up and threw away the mate to, and I keep waiting for that calm and relaxed day to come on which I feel up to such a herculean task.

I didn't really mean to tackle cleaning the kid zone this week. (One of the many wonderful things about this house is the kid zone is large enough that I can herd the mess upstairs and the living room stays fairly neat.) I was only skirting around the idea and getting ideas. The trouble is, we run on ideas. And so as soon as I had posed the question to the ducklings, "What could we do to make your rooms better?" they were all on fire to get started. And I'm not one to waste energy. So this week we put up shelves and moved dressers and drew lines and sorted through the fall clothes. And when we started running out of steam, I started filling up boxes again.

Over time, with children getting older, the mess has gotten better. I really do think our latest reorganization is going to help. And if it doesn't, I'm sure I can find a way to stack the boxes more carefully so the pile doesn't come over.

Friday, September 19, 2014


Somehow it just seemed like time to re-read all the Jane Austen novels. (We also tried watching the more recent Pride and Prejudice, but mercifully couldn't finish it before it had to go back to the library. That was a painful experience.)

I saw a quote where Austen described Emma as a character nobody but herself would much like. I have to concur--I *don't* like Emma much. She's an insufferable snobbish busybody. In consequence I haven't read Emma nearly as many times as some of the others.

However, reading with more attention this time, I found much to enjoy in the novel, and although I still don't much like Emma, I think she might (after the book is over) grow into a person I could like. Most of Austen's novels turn on some disparity between perception and reality, but Emma's misperceptions are so willful that the novel broadly hints to the attentive reader exactly what is going on the whole time. So instead of reading it *with* Emma, you can instead read it to laugh at her.

I have come to the conclusion that Emma's mother must have found her health overtaxed by pregnancy and childbirth and gone into a gradual decline that began almost with her marriage (she died when Emma was four). Mr. Woodhouse, too self-centered to fully notice or comprehend what was going on, still felt vaguely responsible. That seems the only reasonable explanation for the intensity of his aversion to marriage as an institution.

When I was single it seemed to be assumed among my family and acquaintance that I would need to marry someone much older and wiser to counterbalance my apparent flightiness. (I am very glad I did not; it would not have suited me at all. I hate to feel at a disadvantage in information or experience, and I never respond well to being told what to do.) One friend suggested that I should marry a Mr. Knightley. After rereading Emma and paying more attention to the character of her brother-in-law, an attorney, devoted to his family but with a certain degree of moodiness and mild aversion to unnecessary social gatherings, I have concluded that she was simply mistaken about which Mr. Knightley would suit.

Emma offers a unique opportunity in Austen's novels to contemplate swapping the main romances. Nobody could seriously imagine Lizzie with Bingley or Darcy with Jane, but most of the middle part of Emma has us contemplating a Fairfax/Knightley and Woodhouse/Churchill pairing. It is plain that the first would be far too stodgy and the latter far too frivolous. Clearly this is a case where opposites attracting is a good thing.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Coming up Dry

This was a busy week, what with DOB going to the Seattle doctor on Wednesday (which means me driving to Seattle in morning traffic, always a terrifying prospect for all concerned). We didn't get anything particularly earth-shattering out of that visit, except for genetic testing confirming that DOB does have the disease he's had his whole life, but it's just the garden variety and no particular reason for it to cause any other weird symptoms.

The afternoon before this trip, I dumped DOB's water bottle out in the sink and turned the tap on to refill it. Nothing came out. I tried all the other faucets. Nothing. I talked to all the neighbors, and found out all about their alternative water sources, which should come in handy if the power goes out. However, it was clear that the trouble was with our system.

Failing that, I called His Majesty and Toolboy. His Majesty seems to be in the process of handing off the mantle of He Who Knows How Things Should Be Fixed to Toolboy, but he brought over several buckets and bottles of water. Toolboy and Rocketboy showed up (with more water) and began doing mysterious things in the well house.

After several hours, Toolboy emerged with the verdict that though most of the above-ground component had needed to be and had been replaced, nothing was happening still and it was time to call the well drillers. Except it was 8 p.m., so it wasn't time to call them.

Really, it was just as well it happened this week, because we were gone most of the day for the doctor's and the ducklings were already slated to spend the night at Their Majesties, so B5 (who recently moved in) was the only one who had to face the whole day without water. We called the well drillers, but couldn't get anyone until the following day. Faced with the prospect of at least four extra buckets of water to haul to the upstairs toilet, not to mention trying to fix breakfast for the ravening hordes while helping DOB look presentable for court, I begged and Their Majesties kindly conceded to keep the ducklings an extra night.

So by the time the ducklings returned in the morning, the big truck was here and the well was being cleaned out of nasty sludginess and the pump replaced. It was still nearly noon before the water came back on, and the one remaining above-ground component that Toolboy didn't already replace will have to be replaced within two months. And it turns out that one of the 1,567 things to be done immediately upon moving in that we forgot to do was add the well rider to the home warranty policy. Still, at least the well is shallow so it cost much less than it might have.

And, for the first time since moving in, we have actual water pressure: showers rather than dribbles, and the ability to run two appliances and flush all at the same time. So, all's well that ends well.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Let's Vary Piracy

This past weekend we took the kids to see their first live Gilbert and Sullivan performance, The Pirates of Penzance, at the same theater where they attend the summer drama workshop. (Indeed, two of the more youthful pirates were familiar faces from past workshops.) This was a pretty safe bet as far as kid enjoyment was concerned, being as there were enough girls in fancy dresses to satisfy the girls and enough sword fights to satisfy the boys. And we were not disappointed, except that we probably should have brought more snacks.

For those who are not already Gilbert and Sullivan fans, the thing about them is they combine beautiful music with total absurdity. Imagine a Victorian Monty Python with soundtrack by Handel.

Watching this always prompts us to fantasize about performing in one ourselves someday. DOB has always wanted to portray the Modern Major General, a dream that cannot even be dampened by being in a wheelchair as it would be, if anything, even better done like that:

However, this time it has occurred to him that the real barrier to portraying the Modern Major General is that he is NOT a tenor. What's more, he's never been one. So he is now amending his dream to doing a rather stiff Police Sergeant in braces, if everyone else can do the flopping about:

If I'm going to pick a dream role, and if it is going to be rationally limited by age and vocal range (and not by the fact that my voice would be best appreciated in the chorus), I would have to go outside of Pirates, though. Ruth is not too bad, especially not once she gives up trying to charm young men and pursues piracy consulting instead, but she's a rather pathetic figure. Really all of Gilbert and Sullivan's middle-aged contraltos are more or less pathetic, generally being wracked with unrequited passion and aging body-image issues. But at least the Fairy Queen from Iolanthe is on good terms with herself (she sees nothing wrong with stoutness, in moderation) and her celibacy is not because she chases young men who spurn her, but because she's true to her own code (which she later manages to amend). And in a very silly world, Private Willis is one of the more sensible characters to become enamored with.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Dead Letter Office

Eight years ago, as an excited parent of a toddler, I carefully researched and purchased some magnetic letters that would be the absolute best resource for teaching phonics. The right size, the right shape, the right letter frequency, the right color combinations.

That child hated phonics and reading lessons and taught herself to read by memorizing story books. The next one loved phonics and taught himself to read off cereal boxes and flyers before I got around to giving him any reading lessons. (And then lost all interest and devoted himself to game design.) The magnetic letters got used to make roads and free-form sculptures on the fridge.

But the twins have arrived at school age still needing a little nudge to start reading. (Due largely, I suspect, to having no motivation thanks to always having older siblings handy to read to them.) At last, I thought, I shall put these magnets to their intended use. I had a carefully-prepared word building lesson ready to go for the first day of school.

Instead of a reading lesson, we had a ten-minute meltdown over the ravages done to the game laid out on the fridge front. Apparently it wasn't phonics materials I bought, it was the foundation for an entire game world.

I'm printing out letters on cardstock.

Also inadequate in my first grade plans: too many stories about farm animals and butterflies, not enough big cats, thus inadvertently but inexcusably favoring the twin who likes farm animals over the twin who likes ferocious predators. I have accordingly moved the fable of the Lion and the Mouse and Kipling's "How the Leopard Got His Spots" up in the schedule.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Inspiring Bloggers

Wendy of Zoom Times has nominated me for the Very Inspiring Blogger award. Thank you!

So I'm supposed to come up with seven things about me you might not know. Hmm. 

1. Despite being of Scandinavian descent and spending 5/6 of my life in the Seattle region, I hate coffee. Don't like the smell. Don't like the taste. (OK, actually I've never tasted straight coffee, but once or twice I've had a taste of mocha-flavored things and they are nasty.) Since I also hate all carbonated beverages and pretty much any sweetened beverages, I made it all the way through law school and graduated with honors without the influence of caffeine.
2. I did get a caffeine IV once, though. It was supposed to be a treatment for a spinal headache after Deux was born. It didn't help the headache, but it sure did keep me awake all night, something I didn't exactly appreciate what with having a newborn and all.
3. I suffered from chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia/or something like that through most of my teen years (13-15 and 18-20). The first time I spent a lot of time reading, got very bored with novels, and got sucked into books about government, economics and law. This led to me deciding to enter law school, which is what I was doing when the second round hit, so I already had plenty to read. 
4. However, I pretty much quit doing any other kind of school at 13, so I call myself a junior high dropout. Fortunately I had, thanks to His Majesty's encouragement, already gotten through most of high school math. I do wish I'd done more science, but it's never too late to learn and I at least enjoy reading about it now.
5. Even though I am very thankful to have been fairly healthy (allowing for pregnancies) for the past fifteen years, I do still get bouts of insomnia. However, they don't worry me anymore. It's just a great chance to lie awake and compose blog posts.
6. Also when I was a teenager, I used to cook breakfast every morning for my grandmother (His Majesty's mother), when she lived in a trailer on our farm. She had the same four or five menus she rotated through in the same way every single morning for several years. I still got it wrong every time. Fortunately she was patient. Now I do the same thing to DOB. He is patient because he knows what's good for him.
7. Whenever I have a list of seven things to complete, I always run out of ideas before I get to number seven. But maybe you knew that.

Now I'm supposed to nominate some other bloggers, and I can't nominate Wendy since she nominated me, even though I find her science classes and her children's invented holidays highly inspiring.
Also, I can't nominate Ordo Amoris, which was one of my favorite inspiring blogs ever and just recently went offline. :-(
So here are a few others, by no means comprehensive.
Dewey's Treehouse: Education, cheap menus, and imaginary squirrels. 
Afterthoughts: School plans, great linkage, and goats. (OK, confession, I have zero interest in goats. Maybe if they were imaginary.)
Semicolon: If I ever need to know what's good among what's new at the library, especially in the children's and YA section, Semicolon is the place to go.
And while we're on the topic of bloggers who inspire me to read more (like I need that), Diary of an Autodidact has just indexed all of his book reviews, and Carrie at Reading to Know has finally gotten hooked on  Harry Potter.
The Jones Home: Which inspires me to spend more time at creeks and laugh.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Courtship and Dating: Where Next?

I've written before about the problems I've seen with courtship, but I'm deliberately refraining from making any pronouncements about what would be better. My children are too young and I am too married for it to be immediately relevant or even give me grounds for immediate observation. One thing I confess is that, like many people backing away from courtship, I still felt that "casual dating" was a rather dubious proposition.

This article has me rethinking that feeling: Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed. It's probably worth clicking over to read (though not the comments, unless you're in bed with the flu), but to summarize he points out that the problem with courtship was there was no mechanism provided for single people to get to know each other *without* the pressure of an exclusive relationship, which naturally leads to heavy emotional and often physical involvement.

Courtship was a reaction to the dating culture of the 80s, at which point it had become routine for even young teenagers to date with the goal of forming serious boyfriend/girlfriend relationships as quickly as possible, maintain for several months or years, break up, then reattach to someone new. The courtship proponents were quite right that this is not a particularly healthy thing to promote--better practice for serial monogamy than permanent monogamy. So they rejected it--but they neglected to put something in its place. They just raised the stakes on the long-term, exclusive relationships by naming them courtship and putting the pressure on to move to marriage as quickly as possible.

Meanwhile, the dating scene was scaring off nearly everybody. Even when I was a young single, I noticed that hardly anybody I knew "dated," whether they were into courtship or not. People just hung out together. Because I mostly knew church people, it was apparently limited mostly to hanging out, but people in wilder circles had a similar phenomenon, only with hooking up added on the side. Either way, the formal emotional commitment that we had come to associate with dating was way too scary. Apparently, this phenomenon continues and dating is something of a lost art down to the present. 

Umstadd suggests we might do better to look a little farther back, to how dating was practiced by our grandparents (or maybe great-grandparents for today's teenagers). He calls it Traditional Dating. I think of Norman Rockwell:

The idea was, that there was expected to be a time period of dating in which young people were expected to go out with a number of people, not forming a serious attachment with any of them, but simply getting to know a number of different potential partners in a number of different settings. Dating was different from "going steady," which was a state that was expected to wait until the people were close to marriageable age and probably headed that direction.

He then goes on to offer some advice for singles, but since my interest in this topic is less immediate, I'm more interested in stepping back to some broader social questions. The challenge is, one person cannot single-handedly form a social convention. So it is worthwhile for people not currently in need of a partner to stop and think about what social institutions are beneficial and worthy of promotion.

I am analyzing from the Christian/traditionalist/romantic assumption that a reasonably amicable, permanent, monogamous relationship is the best and healthiest means for the expression of adult sexuality and upbringing of the next generation, and that it is in the best interest of society to smooth the path of its rising members into entering into such a relationship if they so desire. I'm not going to delve into the why of this assumption because this post is already far too long and I've barely gotten started.

The question for now is, How? Arranged marriages is one option--and some courtship advocates come very close or even openly advocate this--but no matter what you can cite for the success of such marriages in other cultures, the fact is that they have not been practiced in *this* culture for centuries, and we have not the slightest idea how to go about it. Ripping up a custom from one culture and stuffing it wholesale into another culture without all the related customs and support is like trying to transplant a cactus in the rainforest. It's not going to take.

So that leaves us with some variation of what Western cultures have long practiced--people choose their own mates, with more or less guidance from the rest of society on how, when, and whom. I notice that the time period of casual interactions has good precedents. No, it doesn't always look like the Norman Rockwell trip to the soda fountain. It might look like a social round of balls, dinners, etc. Or, at a simpler level, church socials, singing schools, and riding out together. But somehow, someway, the precedent seems strong that when people must choose their own partners, there is benefit in making a time and a place for meeting a number of different potential partners, and getting to know them on a casual basis before making a selection.

Some people will cite examples of how two people miraculously met each other in totally unexpected ways, after totally failing through normal means, as proof that such ordinary means are unnecessary or inadequate. However, as put in the film Operation: Danger, "There is a difference between recognizing miracles and depending on them." (You probably haven't seen Operation: Danger, which was a private production done by a friend from law school, and so you are missing out here.) Whatever may come about in exceptionable circumstances does not mean we should fail to promote easier circumstances for the ordinary course of events.

In reality, most of those of us who practiced courtship--especially those who practiced it more or less successfully--did have such a time. We went with what was currently acceptable and flew under the anti-dating radar--we had friends. We chatted (a lot!) online. We hung out in groups. This had some advantages. Friendship is an admirable basis for marriage. Talking is one good way to get to know each other.

It had some disadvantages, too, though. One obvious one is that, in courtship circles, it was always somewhat suspect. It wasn't supposed to lead to anything more. You were supposed to be totally disinterested, always, and if you were rather shy or if your parents were rather strict you didn't even have the option of friendship. So while it served as the necessary prelude to deeper relationships, it could do so only as long as everyone successfully pretended that it wouldn't. This was hardly a healthy situation. Even among groups that are not philosophically anti-dating, there seems to be a great deal of confusion as to whether friendship might be an acceptable prelude to romance or an absolute bar to it, and as to how or when one signals the transition. As another law school friend put it, "People are friends. Then they are confused. Then they are engaged."

I see another disadvantage to the "friendship" paradigm, and this one applies across the board: friendship is, by its nature, an open-ended, loose-formed relationship of mutual and spontaneous convenience. One doesn't *ask* someone to become a friend. It just happens. Nor does one demand exclusivity from one's friends (unless one is an obnoxious, jealous person). Nor does one have the obligation to persevere with a friend when things become difficult, or rearrange your life to preserve the friendship in its original form. I have many dear friends whom I communicate with once or twice a year.

But all these things are necessary to build a stable, monogamous sexual relationship. At some point you *do* have to make a deliberate choice. It *is* exclusive. One must rearrange one's life, and persevere in the face of difficulties. Friendship is a fine basis in one sense, and a grossly inadequate one in another. And I have to wonder if this is not a factor in the increasing delay of marriage and fear of commitment--the diminished opportunity to practice these things during the preliminary stages.

Because it seems that other getting-to-know-you settings *did* contain practice in these things. As Henry Tilney pointed out (yes, I'm still on an Austen kick), the country dance was a miniature of the marriage customs: The man had the right to ask, the woman to refuse, they both had to remain exclusive for the dance, do their best to accommodate their partner, and not act like they wished to be elsewhere.

And in another setting, the casual date of the early twentieth century provided a miniature of that era's customs: still the man has the right to ask, still the woman to refuse, there was still an expectation of loyalty for the duration of the event (as my mother would put it, you must "dance with the one who brung you"), and, reflecting the changing economic realities, the date was expected to cost money and the man was expected to provide all of it.

In other words, you had some practice, not in having a long-term intense emotional connection to another person which you then break off and try elsewhere, but in making choices, facing the possibility of rejection, focusing your attention deliberately for a season, all in a setting that openly acknowledged that finding a life partner was a worthy and deliberate goal without pressing you into a choice too soon.

This certainly does not eliminate the possibility of heartbreak, bad choices, or never finding a mate (human relationships will never come with a money-back guarantee)--but it does seem like it does what human society *can* do to help the next generation on. And I do think grownup society has such an obligation, rather than leaving the next generation to figure out sexuality from scratch, any more than we would expect them to figure out medicine from scratch. Roles and scripts can be too confining if taken too far, but if you start with nothing you spend all your time negotiating and not enough having fun.

But we can't import another generation's practices wholesale any more than we can import another culture's. Still, we can learn from what has been done and do our best to find parallels today. Perhaps in reflection of today's consumer but egalitarian culture, costs and the obligation of asking must be more evenly split. Friendships are all very well, but there needs to be a recognition and, yes, encouragement of the other dynamic. And some practice in deliberately asking, choosing, showing loyalty, in a way that does not insist on premature long-term attachments.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Book Review Mashup

Books are usually reviewed one at a time, but I personally never read only one book at once. In fact, I usually have six or seven going at various speeds, and at least two fairly intensely. Not only does this better accommodate various moods and various locations in the house, the ideas tend to feed off and illuminate each other, even in very different books. So it makes sense to review them together.

Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined, by Scott Barry Kaufman--a book on the ways schools and society define, measure, and predict intelligence. I've been reading it slowly for the past few months and finished it at the library at the end of its renewals.
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen--which needs no explanation, and which I was rereading for the umpty-eleventh time after watching the 6 hour miniseries, because even 6 hours has to leave out so many good lines.

Ungifted was particularly interesting because it was written by a man who spent most of his childhood in special ed due to a delay in language processing, yet who went on to become a cognitive psychologist. His look at the limited and self-fulfilling nature of intelligence testing and classification is therefore both deeply personal and thoroughly supported. The book examines many of the variables that go into achievement independently of intelligence (such as grit and passion); the obvious limits of many gifted programs that base massive outcomes on the strength of a single test at a young age; and looks at what intelligence tests are good at (predicting overall scholastic outcomes) while questioning whether that is really measuring intelligence or just shows that school is tailored to a few factors. If there was anything that disappointed me, it was that he didn't come to proposing his *own*, broader definition of intelligence until the very end of the book.

However, here it is: "Intelligence is the dynamic interplay of engagement and abilities in pursuit of personal goals." This is a pretty intriguing starting place, and I immediately thought of the people in the P&P world: How would their intelligence be evaluated by this standard?

Mrs. Bennet: Mrs. Bennet has one of the most baldly stated and consistent personal goals of any character in literature--she wants to get her daughters married. Her engagement in this task is high. She thinks and talks of little else. But what about abilities? Here she flounders--most of what she does in hopes of furthering her goal works against it and, most damning of all, she never notices. Her blatant and empty-headed speech, her bad manners, her nurturing of Lydia's wildness, nearly scare off the truly eligible. It is in spite of her that her older daughters get married at all. Therefore, we must concur that by this definition (as by nearly any other), Mrs. Bennet is of low intelligence.

Mr. Collins: Now, Elizabeth describes Mr. Collins as "the stupidest man in all England," but is this fair? What is his personal goal? A respectable and comfortable living. What abilities does he engage to achieve this goal? Blatant and unrelenting flattery of Lady Catherine. It may not be a particularly noble goal, but it is certainly one he is fully engaged in and he knows very well how to use his abilities to achieve it. However, it does not require much adjustment or growth to continue achieving, so, although we cannot concur with Elizabeth that he is the stupidest man in England, we do not need to rate his intelligence very highly.

Darcy: Darcy's goal, at least as it evolves through the book, is to win Elizabeth. He starts out on completely the wrong tack, of course. However--here is the great point--he recognizes what doesn't work and tries again with something else. Abandoning the method of insulting her family and presuming any woman would accept him (and as one of the richest men in England and looking like Colin Firth, it was not necessarily an empty presumption), he remains fully engaged with his goal but tries civility, hospitality, humility, and using his money to get her family out of a terrible jam without presuming anything in return. It's a brilliant change of strategy, and when you combine it with the less-prominent but still obvious in the background abilities he uses to manage his personal business, it is evident that Mr. Darcy is a very intelligent man.

Elizabeth: I admit, I'm rather challenged here. Obviously Elizabeth is intelligent, but how is it manifested? What is her goal? (And if one of the most beloved protagonists in English literature doesn't have a clear goal, what does *that* say about writing truisms?) Marriage is not really her goal. Mostly she seems to want to observe and understand people and avoid being excessively embarrassed by her family, but the latter is one she cannot do much about. She does exercise her abilities extensively and in varying ways in coming to understand more about other people, but somehow it just doesn't seem to capture enough. I feel like either the definition of intelligence or my understanding of her motivations are too weak here.

Edited to add: Perhaps I have it. I think Elizabeth states her goal to Lady Catherine: to secure her own happiness. Stated as that, it seems a rather selfish and narrow goal, but I think Elizabeth's choices and behavior indicate that she means it in the broadest and best possible sense: to live well; to attain happiness through virtue and wisdom. The philosophers would approve. And part of pursuing that goal is observing and learning from others; part finding out her own wishes; part simply learning to enjoy and make the best of the moment she is in, even if it is at a ball with too few men. She remains engaged, flexible, creative, and charming in her pursuit of a worthy goal. Intelligent indeed.

Wickham: Mr. Wickham's goals appear to be to get as much money and as many girls as possible. Unfortunately, since he plans to marry for money, his two goals are in conflict, but he drifts along trying to accomplish them both. His failure to see the conflict clearly and hew to one course or the other marks him as considerably less intelligent than he manages to convey at first blush.

Lydia: Lydia appears to have but one goal, she is fully engaged in pursuing it, and she achieves it. That her goal is quite limited in scope and very easy to accomplish for an uninhibited 16 year old girl at a military encampment in any era prevents us from forming a very high estimation about her intelligence even so.

After evaluating these characters, I do think the definition has potential, as long as you allow for the intensity of abilities needed to pursue a goal--successful pursuit of goal that is easily achieved cannot indicate as much intelligence as even failing at a difficult one. Worthiness of the goal is another concern, but not strictly an intelligence one--obviously an evil mastermind will have unworthy goals, but that does not indicate he is unintelligent in his manner of pursuit.

Monday, August 11, 2014

What We Did on Our Summer Vacations

DOB: Constructed the LEGO Tower of Orthanc. Slept in very late. Tidied up his alcove. Went swimming in a nice, clean pool.

Me: Read several frivolous books and laughed very hard. Organized and decorated the master bedroom and bathroom. Took long walks. Avoided cooking, mostly.

DOB and Me: Watched the Lord of the Rings Director's Cut (12 hours in one day). Watched Firefly and Serenity. Watched the 1995 Pride and Prejudice. Ate brownies and ice cream. Played Scrabble and cribbage.

Ducklings: Met new friends. Swam in lakes. Various lakes. (His Majesty had the bright idea that the lake next to their house, which had been closed due to contamination earlier in the summer, would be the best lake to swim in since (1) the water quality would be closely monitored; (2) no one else would be there. So far everyone has been in excellent health, and Duchess and Deux have reputedly both learned to actually swim.) Performed dinner theater on the garden wall (lots of sword fights and falling).

It was, in short, a very lovely and relaxing time for all of us, if somewhat lacking in the exciting adventure department, and the only fault Duchess had to find with it as a summer vacation was the lack of spending money (which, as DOB pointed out, would have been to little purpose since they didn't go anywhere to spend it). I'm feeling a lot less brittle than I was. DOB is coming to where he can honestly take stock of how much energy he has and what his limits are.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

In Which I Face My Fears

Although our new house has many wonderful advantages, it has two main drawbacks. One, of course, is the size of the mortgage payment.

The other one is the yard.

We have always lived in places with very small yards, and back when the big kids were babes in arms whom I could not safely leave unsupervised while I turned on a slathering beast of a gasoline-powered mower (something I never got the hang of), I got a little push mower which never needed the gas refilled nor had difficulty starting. It made a pleasant soft clattering noise and didn't smell at all and I could use it in perfect safety with infants playing close by. Indeed, as soon as they grew tall enough to hold up the handle, they could take a turn with it themselves.

Then we moved here. At some point a predecessor in title had looked at the lovely indigenous forest, which still stands in large swatches throughout the neighborhood, full of fir and cedar and huckleberry and salal and fern, all self-maintaining and some of it quite tasty, and decided they would rather see the sky occasionally.

So we have nearly an acre of mangy grass, dandelions, plantain and a few more sinister and prickly weeds. There's a small yard up front that is pretty much pure grass and easy to maintain. But the back is a steep and gravelly hill which takes better to weeds than grass. And there is an awful lot of it. One look at the size of it and I passed my beloved little push mower on to Wondergirl, who had just moved into a development with tiny, grassy yards.

That left us the problem of mowing. It was intended that we would eventually get one of Grandpa's lawn tractors, but of course that took time and arrangement and meanwhile the grass and weeds grew as grass does in the springtime and DOB sneezed as he does when the grass grows in the springtime. The neighbor took pity on us and mowed it once and some people from church did it another time, and B5 started to mow once after we got Grandpa's mower delivered, but then it broke down and took some time to get it fixed. And then DOB's father was out and he mowed it while they were here.

Eventually, though, the mower was fixed and no one else was around there really wasn't any good reason why I, myself, should not do the mowing instead of begging it done elsewhere. Except that I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to run the thing. Not that I had never done it before--Grandpa taught both Toolboy and I to run the tractor as soon as our legs were long enough. But that was a long time ago, and I have a natural antipathy to machinery as strong as Toolboy's natural affinity for it. (It's not a gender expectations thing; I was just as terrified of Grandma's sewing machine.)

I debated calling up someone for instructions, but it was embarrassing and I am terrible at following instructions anyway. I turned to Google instead and found a page entitled, "How To Start a Riding Lawn Mower." Those instructions didn't make sense, but I printed them out and took them with me to the mower. I was unable to identify any of the parts I was supposed to do things to except the brake and the key, but I put my foot on the brake and turned the key several times and much to my wonder, the thing started.

Indeed, it was very excited to start and began tearing around the yard at an alarming speed, belching fumes. After a while I began to get the hang of it, and then I noticed that it wasn't actually cutting anything. More experiments with everything that could be prodded in one direction or another and I found the lever that turned on the blade. I was actually mowing! And after a while I discovered where to move something else so that I could move at a reasonable pace. Indeed, the only thing I never did figure out was how to work the parking brake, but that was only a problem once when I ran out of gas on the uphill slope. And it didn't make it all the way to the pond, so no harm done.

Thus I tamed the mighty beast and conquered the lawn and felt very proud of myself. I'd still much rather have woods, but unfortunately letting it return to woods on its own would mean putting up with twenty years of blackberries and scotch broom first.

Monday, August 04, 2014

You've (not) Come a Long Way, Baby Weight

Several eons ago in internet time--last month, maybe--Facebook was filled with a happy little meme on the theme of "Let's End the Mommy Wars," with women holding various signs showing that they can be friends despite different parenting styles and achievements.

Being the sort of person I am, I can hardly let such harmony and goodwill go uncriticized. So I'd like to hone in on one of the pictures, the one where one mom is holding a sign that says, "I lost all my baby weight," and the other mom is holding a sign that says, "I'm still working on losing the baby weight."

In other words, guess what is still *not* an acceptable option in this love fest of moms who do and don't breastfeed, co-sleep and eat organic? That's right--it's not caring about the baby weight. You don't have to lose the baby weight, necessarily, but you have to *try.* If you cannot return your body to its mythical pre-baby state, you at the very least should have the decency to feel badly about it.

(And before someone starts droning on about the Serious Public Health Problem of Obesity, let me point out that the mom holding the "I'm still trying" sign is not, by the most extravagant stretch of the imagination, fat in any way that threatens her health or even would be noticeable to another human being. It's the scale and the idealization of the Pre-Baby Body that is driving her quest.)

In the interest of honesty, let me say that I am, by the official government numbers, overweight. I never lost the baby weight, and carrying twins full term packs on a good bit. I breastfed for a year, I eat a well-balanced diet of whole foods, and I exercise moderately but regularly because I like to. Doesn't make a difference. This is the weight I am (I'm not going to say a number because comparisons are exactly the thing I'm trying to get away from here) and, barring extravagant measures, this is where I'm going to stay.

Yes, I'm noticeably heavier than I was pre-children. I also don't melt down into a screaming lunatic at 5 p.m. if I haven't eaten. Or need to take a nap in the morning despite an uninterrupted night's sleep and working at a desk. In other words, I'm healthier and stronger. And heavier and bigger around. (Ironically, although it never bothered me much, I really did think I was on the chunky side back in those days, when any sane person could, and sometimes did, tell me I was borderline emaciated. My family runs to large bones and dense muscles and the BMI doesn't really apply.)

Increasing stoutness with middle age, and especially with child-bearing, is not, after all, anything new or tied to our evil modern lifestyle. It's the normal human condition, in settings with adequate food. There are always a few naturally slim folk who avoid it, but it is not especially virtuous or healthy to try to dodge it if you aren't one of those. (And I'm not going to call them lucky. They're not luckier, they're just different. There are tradeoffs to everything. As you get old--which I'm sure we all want to do, given the alternative--less fat just means more wrinkles.) 

If we really are seriously concerned about problematic obesity, then the *last* thing we should be doing is encouraging mothers to worry about how their body will look after the baby. Because restricting a mother's diet before the baby is born sets the child up for metabolic syndrome and truly serious weight problems.

It's good to encourage people to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet and to exercise regularly, because those things really are beneficial. But they won't necessarily make you thin, especially not if you've been through an event that may have reset your base weight, like pregnancy. It's important to be honest about that. As soon as thinness becomes the goal, people start being lured into diets and exercise programs that are not really healthy and not really sustainable.

Please don't tell me about how you have found the one common-sense dietary program that really works. In five years it will be discredited and you yourself will have forgotten about it. They always are. They all boil down to some combination of (1) not eating specific kinds of food; (2) not eating enough food; (3) not eating often enough; (4) following rules for eating so complicated that it's just too much trouble. All of those have problems in the long run.

And exercise is fine, but intense programs that lead to injury and then inactivity are not good for your long-term health. Better to do something moderate and unimpressive (but fun) that you can keep doing for the next 50 years.

Guess what? It probably won't make you thin. It will help you live longer and leave you free to laugh and enjoy the time you have and eat ice cream occasionally without making a big deal about it.

Saturday, August 02, 2014


These are old pictures, from 2012. We had a photographer friend come and take a whole series of them, and they were beautiful. Somehow she managed to make our weedy backyard look like a fairyland and a broken bench look like a deliberate prop. At the time I was a little uncomfortable with the pictures. They felt dishonest. It had been a rough summer. I had sprained my foot in a way that persisted in not healing, and that had put too much strain on DOB. DOB was beginning to feel the cumulative effects of life on his feet in such a way that his beloved Camaro would have to be sold in the next month so that he could buy a truck and start using a wheelchair full time.  And that, in turn, precipitated a whole series of changes that still have us reeling and trying to find solid ground under our feet. It hadn't all happened yet that summer, but we could feel it coming.

Looking back on that year and those pictures, I realize they weren't dishonest. Our weedy backyard was a fairyland. DOB only got to enjoy his Camaro for a couple of months, but he did have it. The bad things happening were true, but so was the beauty. And I am glad we stopped to notice it. Because what do we have in life, at the end, but a few memories? And if we are lucky, we have held on to the beautiful ones.

A week ago Duchess and Deux finished up the drama workshop they like to do in the summers. It had a science-fiction theme, and they together played two heads of a three-headed monster; Deux was also a sample body for a mad scientist and Duchess a talking dog. We thoroughly enjoyed the show and then we went and got ice cream cones for everyone at Carter's, whose peppermint chip ice cream is otherworldly.

With a little difficulty about curbs--because fewer places are ADA compliant than you might think--we took our cones to a little gazebo by the water, where we watched dusk falling over the harbor in the soft coolness of the summer evening. It was a beautiful moment. It didn't make the worries about health and life and work and money go away, but nothing does. Life keeps needing to be lived. But it keeps bringing beautiful moments, too. And that is why we have words and pictures and hearts, to stop and take notice and hold onto those moments.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Full Stop

We still don't seem to be any closer to answers on what's going on with DOB. He still has episodes of paralysis, especially after stress or exertion. The neurologist thinks it must be psychological and the psychiatrist thinks it must be neurological. He tried driving once and found it too draining so he is back to the passenger seat, an unpleasant situation for both of us. We're going to try to talk to more neurologists and do more tests, but getting anything scheduled is on a scale of months.

In the meantime, one thing that seems clear is that whether or not it is entirely caused by exhaustion or not, it is certainly heavily correlated to exhaustion. And a break is something that DOB hasn't really taken . . . well, ever, except for an overnighter here and there. We haven't even had a good bout of the flu in over a year. And between trying to keep DOB and his law practice propped up while dealing with four kids and a house and a move and an estate, I was pretty near the cracking point myself.

So, thanks to Wondergirl and Their Majesties for taking the kids for several days each, we are taking a long break. (Unfortunately, it means we are also missing B3's wedding, but there was no way we were in condition to travel 3000 miles.) We're not going anywhere (except places like the chiropractor and Papa Murphy's). We're not making any plans. We're not doing much of anything. So far I've read three completely frivolous novels, finished beating all the encounters in Magic 2015, and started writing a science-fiction story based on Greek mythology. DOB has slept in very, very late, reached the next level in his game, and gotten halfway through rearranging his hot wheels. We're watching Crusade in the evenings, an offshoot of our all-time favorite Babylon 5.

It's nice. I'm still tired. But a little less frantically tired.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman

Really the title only properly describes the first two-thirds of the book, which delves into the differences between the intuitive, snap judgments our minds make and the slower, rational processes. This brought together many different but related issues, such as how much basic presentation techniques affect persuasiveness, since the brain tends to perceive something easy as true; or how powerful hearing only one side of a case is, even if the facts are relatively neutral; or how people's perception of risk is drastically skewed by what comes easily to mind.

One of the more intriguing aspects was the limitations of expert knowledge. Or, more properly, the limitations of expert prediction. Prediction in general tends to happen by a cognitive slip--we substitute an evaluation of what we know now (e.g. current grades) when asked to predict the future (e.g. how a student will do in college). And experts really don't do any better than that--they go with their gut. But the future is too variable to fit well with predictions, and guts, whether layperson or expert, don't allow for the statistical limitations of their knowledge. Which is why financial gurus will be quite, quite certain about their stock picks, even though, statistically, they are no better at it than monkeys with darts.

Not to say every expert snap judgment is unreliable--but generally, they are better at recognizing and assessing what is (i.e. Is this a forgery?) than what will be (i.e. Will this criminal be a repeat offender?) The quicker and more definitive the feedback, the more likely that the judgments will reflect reality. In general, in making long-range predictions, numbers and averages are more effective than experts, but experts themselves seldom believe that.

There's also an extensive section on how the humans of reality differ from the ideal, profit-maximizing entities of economic theory. Humans value things differently based on whether they currently have them or not, fear loss far more than they desire equivalent gains, and, perhaps most intriguingly, find a loss from an unusual activity far more grievous than one that occurs in routine. (This may explain the harsh reaction to parents who allow grade-school children to be unsupervised, which is no longer a "normal" activity, even though the risks to the children of driving them around are drastically higher, and nobody bats an eye at that.)

I found the final section the most fascinating, however. It looks at humans as two selves: the present, experiencing self, and the self that remembers what has happened. These two are often at odds. For instance, when observing our present experience, we would prefer misery to end quickly and pleasure to go on for a long time. But when it comes to how we actually look back, we ignore duration and only remember the moments: the highs, the lows, and how it all ended. And so our actual experience of life doesn't necessarily match up with our personal assessment of it.

We may be happy day to day but assess our lives as difficult because an unpleasant recent event looms large in our thoughts (or vice versa life may be going on much as normal but a recent achievement raises our satisfaction level). We get used to most things, and so they stop affecting our happiness level--a change in climate or health or wealth. More money does make life more pleasant up to a point, but after that there's no gain in daily happiness--but if money was your goal, it can still increase your overall life satisfaction. (He didn't mention it, but I'm betting it works the same way with more personal goals, like marriage and children.)

Anyway, quite a fascinating book and one that would definitely be beneficial reading for anyone who wants to pay more attention to the choices and judgments they make.