Friday, January 31, 2014

A Book Post to Fill Space

It is the last day of January and I have not yet filled my goal of two posts per week, nor have I made as many posts as last January.

So I will write about books, which are handy, but which I have always felt rather shy about posting about.

Books Read in January:
The Lost Gate and The Gate Thief  by Orson Scott Card

Quite enjoyable new fantasy series I picked up on a whim at the library. Looking forward to reading the third.

Areopagitica by John Milton. Read on Diary of an Autodidact's recommendation. I really enjoyed it. 17th and 18th century English political writings are sort of weird comfort reads for me. Despite the hopelessly obscure title, it's an excellent defense of freedom of the press whose arguments foreshadow many later incarnations and a sterling example of the kind of gentle and reasoned argument that seems to be forever gone from politics.

The Year of the Boat by Lawrence Cheek. This was for the church's book club (a selection strongly influenced by the utter lack of old people with Alzheimer's, which featured too prominently in some of last year's selections). On the one hand I felt considerable sympathy with the struggles of a clumsy wordsmith to construct something in the real world. And who does not love a sailboat? On the other hand, I found it full of the sort of pretentious navel-gazing I would expect from a suburban Seattleite. Who cares if your wooden boat building is a morally significant activity? You are not a significant person. Just build the boat and stop angsting over it.

Books Still In Process at the end of January:
The Living Page by Laurie Bestvater. This is my schoolteacher read, as recommended by Brandy at Afterthoughts and others on Charlotte Mason lists. It's about using notebooks in education. I'm only mediocre at notebook use. For one thing, I can never find a pen that matches and then I get annoyed at the mismatched pen color. But I am trying to start my own commonplace book again and we have actually done some quite nice work in timeline books this year.

The Nothing that Is. I think Diary of an Autodidact's suggestion, also. History of the concept of zero. I always enjoy books about math that don't require me to do actual calculations.

Our Culture, What's Left of It. by Theodore Dalrymple. Classic curmudgeonliness for modern times, and in a culture where people still confuse change with progress, a good dose of curmudgeonliness is always necessary. I saw this on someone's blog, but I forget whose.

The Well at the World's End, by William Morris. Saw this mentioned on a Facebook discussion of influential fantasy novels. Slow to start and sometimes that 19th century faux medieval language gets old, but increasingly gripping as it goes on. Some amazing writing and characterization under the quaint words. I may do a full blog post on this one, when I get to the end. It makes me want to reread George MacDonald's Phantases, a book of similar vintage that I read a long time ago and probably wasn't ready to understand yet.

Paradise Lost, by John Milton. Since I had the Milton volume down anyway, and since we are reading about his era in school, I thought it was time to tackle this. Long poetry intimidates me and I'm not so good at reading it; I start skimming and then I realize I've read twenty lines and have no idea what's going on. However, there are certainly some striking lines in here and vivid pictures (and a bewildering heap of mythical allusions; however, no one could have figured the place of sin so vividly and nastily without them). I haven't decided if he paints Satan too much the hero; I think he rather realizes it, but also realizes that all good things come from God and Satan couldn't do much if he didn't retain many admirable qualities after his fall. But we'll see how it unfolds.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Home Improvement

One of the joys of selling a house is finally being required to do all that stuff you vowed you'd do to the house when you moved in.

This is the first time we have moved straight from one house to another, so there is also all the stuff to be dealt with before moving in: quite a bit in this case, because of the need to make the entrance and master bedroom and bathroom wheelchair accessible, at a minimum. There are a lot of other things that would be nice to do, but can wait, like putting a full bath in the master bedroom or repainting the hideous 80s dark wood flat-front cabinets. 

DOB proposed that we divide and conquer--I would handle the old house (a few random handyman projects that I could either do or be here when kind friends and relations came to help with) and he would handle the new house (getting bids, making lots of decisions, and hunting up funds). It was a logical system, but the lines invariably blur somewhat.

I am not handy. This is not a gender thing, it's a complete physical ineptitude thing. Still, I want to do my part, besides just calling people up and fixing sandwiches.  For the most part, I stuck to demolition. I managed to rip out the old wallboard in the basement stairwell without poking through into the laundry room or breaking my leg on the stairs, so that was an accomplishment. Also it involved burying two rats that had drowned in one of the garbage cans.

Two more big-ticket projects were replacing a broken window and painting under the eaves. Fortunately a friend suggested I check out the Habitat for Humanity store and there was, amazingly enough, a window that almost exactly fit in our very strangely-sized window slot for a third of the price of the special order from the hardware store. Also cheap paint in a color that didn't match, but no color would have matched. The color of our house is unique in human history. So it all came out much cheaper, which always makes me happy.

For a few brief moments I felt the glow of handiness and visions of improvements on the new house, planned and undertaken solely by me, danced in my head.

Then I returned to earth, where the children had reorganized the house, there was nothing to eat, and I was so exhausted I wanted to spend the entire next week in bed. I may decide that 80s dark wood cabinets are just fine.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Presence of Children

There were a few posts that were arousing lively discussion on Facebook feeds this week. I'm not going to bother to look up links, because if you were lucky and missed them, you have undoubtedly seen their like. One was a columnist whining about how his extremely expensive dinner was interrupted because some fellow diners had the gall to bring their 8 month old along, and the baby cried. Another was some random blogger ranting about how she despised people who had children because that was, like, so lame. (OK, I confess, I didn't even bother to read that one.)

That doesn't really concern me. There are always going to be some cranks in the world who cannot stand being made aware that other people are doing their part to perpetuate the species. What bothers me is the number of conscientious parents who respond with statements that amount to, "I would never inflict my children on other people."

Not just explaining that they taught their children to behave in public . . . no, acting as if they must apologize for their children's mere presence, and keep them out of the way of other people and never, ever expect other people to suffer even a moment's awareness of their children's existence, in any setting not specially designated as being for children. Asserting that they understood that just staying home and away from various settings was the price they paid for indulging in having children in the first place. Claiming that it would be "selfish" to expect other people to deal with the presence of their children.

This is itself a symptom that many good and dedicated parents have internalized the message that children are a private hobby of the parents, for which they alone are responsible, and with which they alone must concern themselves. But children are not puppies nor appendages of their parents. They're people in their own right. If they are in a public setting, whether onlookers think it was wise to bring a child to that place or not, it is only asking simple human courtesy to expect them to be treated with decency and respect, instead of resentful glares.

I don't take my children to fancy restaurants or symphony concerts because fancy restaurants and symphony concerts aren't my thing . . . but if they were, I certainly would. How do we expect to perpetuate our culture if we exclude the next generation from participation? You only learn culture by participating in it; if you wait until people are cultured enough to participate, it will already be too late as they will have been getting used to something else in the meantime.

People may rightly complain about the bad behavior of some children; honestly I see more parents feeling a need to crack down on their children than I see children running wild, but I'm sure there are some hooligans. But in a way, this private hobby approach to child-rearing only makes the problem worse. Modern parenting is a lonely job. Facing skeptics at every turn only makes it worse. It's hard to stage a production when everyone's a critic instead of a support cast.

What I don't understand is why there should ever be this hostility. I certainly don't look down on people who don't have children--my children's lives and my own are richer for knowing other adults whose lives are not consumed with child-rearing. My children are better behaved for being reminded of proper behavior from other adults--when their right to exist and be present is not questioned. And the people I know in real life without children, unlike the internet cranks, seem to appreciate the fact that other people are making sure they don't have to grow old on an empty planet.

And here's something I will bother to link to: G. K. Chesterton (who, by the way, never had children) on Baby Worship.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Push! Push!

When I was in labor with Duchess, and had been pushing for an hour or so, I got rather tired of the whole process (no wonder, I'd been at it for three days!) I finally begged the doctor, "Can't we *please* make it stop for a while?"

She just said, "You're not going to feel any better until you get this baby out." And I got back to work.

Looking back to 2009, I can see that selling a house *always* reminds me of labor. I can't believe, looking back to 2009, that we did weeks of showings with four preschoolers. I am deeply grateful that we only needed one this time. And that we found a house to move to so quickly.

Two weeks from first talking to our agent we had a contract to sell and a contract to buy. The new house will be closer to the freeway, has a master suite at one end of the house, an open floor plan for the main living area, and a two-bedroom, one bath, big playroom kid zone upstairs over the garage. It's twice the size and twice the yard of this house (and twice the price, but what does one expect?)

Even everything going smoothly is almost too much. For months now, we've been just barely surviving. But there was no way to make things better without moving. And there is no way for moving to be completely stress-free. So, nothing to do but push and keep pushing. And hope it really does make things better.

Because nothing can fix everything. Not walking is still not walking, and it's still a completely different world than not walking very much. Right now, we just are hoping for a place where we can sometimes think about something else.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A List of Good Manners

The ducklings have been compiling this on the board:

1 don't talk with your mouth full
2 say "Excuse me" when you leave the table
3. be quiet in the house
4. don't put your elbows on the table while your eating
5. chew with your mouth closed
6. don't turn lights off on people
7. don't walk into the bathroom on people
8. do your chores without wining
9. sit in your chair during the meal
10. don't stuff your mouth during a meal
11. say "please" when you ask for something
12. Say "Thank you" when somone gives you something

So now you know how to behave around here.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Run for your life

Why yes, I am going to bother to deconstruct a harmless Facebook meme, why did you ask?

This cropped up in my news feed a couple of times last week, posted by some very well-meaning and nice people:

Now, what's wrong with this? Rather a nice idea. Keep God first, and all that.

Well, for starters, it suggests that marriage (and relationships leading thereto) are for spiritual overachievers. First get your spiritual life in order, then find someone. (Without actually looking for anyone, because that would be unspiritual. It has to look like an accident.)

It's the churchy parallel to the theme in our culture: get your financial life in order, your career started, your nice house bought, then get married. Marriage becomes the crowning achievement of personal and spiritual life.

Except for the most part it works better the other way: Marriage helps people behave in responsible ways, leading them to greater financial stability and spiritual involvement. (Indeed, does the Bible ever suggest spiritual maturity is an essential prerequisite for getting married? Kind of the opposite--it suggests that having trouble keeping your pants zipped is the primary reason for getting married.) Raise the bar for marriage too high and you prevent the very goal you're trying to achieve.

Now, it is helpful to date and marry someone with some basic shared values. That's just common sense. If you want to raise orphans in Africa dating someone who yearns after the corporate high life is not going to work out well. But spirituality is not a competitive sport.

And that's the deeper problem--the idea that we can somehow chart our own or someone else's spiritual growth and measure how close we are getting to God. That our spirituality is measured by the intensity of our efforts. That we should reject as inferior anyone who can't keep up with us. When in fact the intensity of our efforts may be leading us farther from resting in God. And the more spiritual we think we are, the more in danger we are.

Paul spoke of running the race, but he never suggested that the race was a contest to get closer to God--Jesus ran it too, and he already *was* God. The race is just the journey of life, and God is already with us on that one.

Just as a practical measure, it's not that great of advice for young people. If you've been on the planet long enough you've known people--probably lots of people--who were all set to be spiritual superstars in the early years, but who burned out, washed up, or just walked away. (And on the other hand people who came to spiritual devotion late but strong.) The intensity of a person's visible fervor at 21 is not a strong indicator of what kind of partner they'll be in twenty years. Really, none of us know this for ourselves, either.

I wish I could come up with some sort of pithy counterstatement, but I'm no good at dating advice. Although "It is better to marry than to burn" could possibly serve as a Facebook meme. With the right picture.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

On the Move

I thought I might set a goal of blogging twice a week this year, which would double my posts over last year.

I'm already behind. Also, I haven't started on any of the end of year and end of quarter paperwork which is the (very, very) dreary side effect of having my own practice.

On the other hand, I *did* clean and reorganize the house from top to bottom last weekend, which wasn't on the schedule at all. DOB thought it was time to start looking at selling our house so we can move to or build one in which he can get to the bathroom without summoning assistance. The real estate agent (who sold us this house) said, "Actually I know somebody who is looking for a house just like that. How about Monday?" So we'll see if it works out. Otherwise I have to *keep* things clean, which is nearly as bad.

Someday, I'm going to deep clean the house without having to move out of it. But first I think I'd have to live there more than three years. Maybe this will be the time. Or rather, the time after this, since we're probably going to rent for awhile.