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."