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.