Sunday, September 18, 2016

Is there life after school?

I have from time to time seen people with grand "afterschooling" plans of all the great activities they do to enrich their children's lives after regular school is over.

After the first week and a half of school, I would laugh uproariously at such a concept, but I lack the energy. My afterschooling activities consist of trying to come up with enough calories to sustain everyone and trying to convince the relevant descendant either that doing homework will not kill them or that failing to get straight A+s will not kill them. That some people manage to do school and other things like sports and music fills me with awe. They do stuff at school, right? That's enough, right?

I'm sure it will all get easier once we are used to it, and once the aftermath of the car accident has sorted itself out, and once I've figured out the Holy Grail of easy breakfast and lunch that everyone will eat and survive to the next meal on. (I have my doubts that easy even exists after a certain critical mass-- basic sandwiches for four kids who eat two or three sandwiches each is a whole lot of sandwiches. And having them make their own means somehow coordinating the movements of four people through a confined space while all of them have very strong opinions on how everyone else should be moving.)

Right at this particular moment, though, Dot is listening to a book on CD, Duchess is reading a book for fun, and the boys are coloring pictures about life in medieval Europe. So maybe we're not doing so bad at enriching life after all.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Time Change

It's been a long summer.

I haven't posted.

Big changes happening.

Let's stick to two of the obvious ones:

1. The descendants (they really are too big to be called ducklings any more) will be going to school in the fall. Which, as you may have noticed, is practically upon us. Although schools around here seem to be the last ones in the country to still hold out for after Labor Day. It's a big change and we will miss homeschooling, some more than others. But running the business and homeschooling both was just too much for the grownups, and bills have this pesky way of needing paid.

Their Majesties have very kindly made it possible for the children to attend the church school where Her Majesty teaches math. Deux is finding the prospect of being able to do whatever math he is up to about the only consolation for facing the prospect of doing school with other human beings in the room. Duchess is finding astonishingly trendy ways to style the uniforms. Dot and Dash are just waiting to see how it all shakes out.

I am sorting through mountains of school supplies.

2. We have increased the number of dependents by 50%, albeit strictly in the non-tax deductible, furry category. In other words, we got a kitten. And a puppy. They are cute. They are furry. They are prone to chewing on things and digging up the flower bed. The kitten (white with black spots, name: Smudge) started out small and fragile and we couldn't bear to leave him outside, so we started keeping him inside and penning him in the bathroom at night, but he grew quite a lot and is showing a temperament more in keeping with an outdoor cat, so we are transitioning him out to the garage. The puppy (black lab, name: Panther) we have managed to stay strong and keep her outside, as she is going to get much bigger and even chewier.

We tried to make the change of a new (to us) car for DOB, whose new wheelchair assembled better sitting in the back of a small hatchback, but it got taken out by an inattentive driver and even once DOB's back allows him to drive again, he is thinking that driving in big trucks has its merits.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Dog Days (and Panda Days)

Duchess has a small stuffed panda with obnoxiously large and sparkly eyes. He is cute. This is a highly valued commodity among today's youth--I blame manga art--I would have been embarrassed by such considerations when I was a child. But anyway, Poncho is a small panda who rides everywhere with one or the other of the children.

Having something that small and helpless and beloved is always a risk. During the chickenpox Poncho went missing for two miserable days, only to be discovered sitting in plain view on the side table.

Far more perilous was two weeks ago, when Deux had happily had him riding along in his shirt while he built forts in the woods only to realize he had vanished. Finding a small stuffie in a hundred yards of knee-deep brush proved to be a hopeless project and we bid Poncho a sad farewell. Until the next evening, when it turned out he had been sitting on the staircase under somebody's abandoned laundry the whole time.

Last weekend Poncho vanished again, and after a brief spat of searching it turned out that I was sitting on him. Well, if he *will* sit in the crack in the couch, he will get sat upon.

It does seem to be about time we got an animal that at least has some homing instinct, and we are planning to get a dog in the near future. Most of them are thrilled with this prospect, but there was a bit of skepticism. Until the day when they picked up a stray lab, fed it and took it for walks, and it spent the night. That was enough to win over all the skeptics. Unfortunately, at that point they found the owners. But we now have a stash of dog food and a leash and find the prospect just a little less intimidating.

Another milestone which has passed is equipping everybody with knives. I have been thinking about this for a long time, but confess I had anticipated nothing more exciting than standard pocket knives all round. DOB, who collects blades himself, had much grander notions, and gave everyone the chance to choose their own style from his extensive catalogs. Duchess chose a Bowie knife with an intricate handle, Deux a machete nearly as long as himself, which has the blackberries on the property trembling; Dot preferred a small green-handled blade that DOB already had in stock, while Dash practically chose a multi-tool which has 12, no 13, no 15 different uses, not counting clonking someone on the head with it. Actually so far everyone has been very responsible with them.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Books Read in March

Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis: I don't have words for how much I love these books. Together (they can only go together, they are two parts of the same story, not a series) they are 1000 pages of pure bliss. Yes, it's convoluted and confusing and time travel probably doesn't make sense. I don't care. The second time around I was actually able to follow the characters in their different personas and make sense of what was going on. The first time through, a few years ago, I couldn't and I didn't care. They're about World War II, of course, but mostly they're about heroism and patience and love and whether goodness really matters in a world that usually doesn't make sense.

It was really silly of me to check out the first one on a whim and then start it before I had the second one in from the library. Actually, it's really silly of me not to own these.

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold. It's kind of disappointing in a series that began with epic planet-destroying threats in every book to have petered out to a plot line built on petty contractor disputes and exploding insects. Also the morals were way too, well, "Betan" for me. There were some nice musings on aging and parenting, though.

Paradise Lost, books VII-X. Mankind finally falls. Is it the woman's fault? Or is it built into the system? Regardless, the demons all turning to snakes was a great moment.

Father Brown, by G. K. Chesterton. I can't remember which books I've read, because I'm going through the Omnibus but haven't finished it yet. Anyway, this was necessitated because we tried watching the newer Father Brown BBC series that stars the actor who plays Mr. Weasley. Well, the casting was perfect--few actors could capture that blend of unassuming exterior with deep insight so well. But the writing was frankly terrible. It moved the whole setting forward to the 1950s and converted it into one of those standard village homicide series with a nosy amateur that have presumably decimated the British countryside. None of the exotic locations or fantastical atmospheres dispelled by Father Brown's flash of insight and ability to distinguish between the truly and falsely spiritual. We made it through about three episodes and gave up in disgust. After a few books the taste is mostly out of my head.

Oliver Twist. We must have finished this early in the month. It was a tough read for Duchess and Deux, but I think they grew through it and Duchess at least was enjoying it by the end. (Deux doesn't admit to enjoying much that isn't an equation or a game with an inordinate amount of rules.) Now we're reading Kim which I am determined they shall enjoy, so I'm reading it out loud.

We finished The Phoenix and the Carpet. I still think the chapter when the Phoenix demands the worship of his "priests" at the Phoenix Fire Insurance Agency is one of the funniest ever. I tried reading this to the ducklings years and years ago and it went completely over their heads. This time they were rolling on the floor. DOB was rolling his eyes. We are now reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. 

I'm pretty sure I must have read some other books, but I can't for the life of me remember what they were. They must pass into oblivion.

The Pox Departeth

We have survived.

We are never, ever, ever going to do that again.

I hope.

Duchess came down on Tuesday night and the twins followed on Thursday and Friday. By Saturday everyone was pretty much down to sucking on Pedialyte popsicles and watching endless episodes of Get Smart while lying limply on the couch.

Well, except for Deux who was feeling very left out, since he had never gotten that sick. So he had to get his being sick time in with everyone else even though technically he was much better. He didn't rank a seat on the couch, though.

Fortunately the grownups' immunity held strong, although I did get a nasty cold that was much exacerbated by sleepless nights with itchy kids. So I think this weekend I get to lie around and be sick, although I don't care for Pedialyte popsicles or Get Smart that much.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Bunnies and Chick(en pox)

This year will undoubtedly go down in family lore as "The Year We Had the Chickenpox on Easter."

Except we didn't *exactly* have it on Easter. Deux had pretty much scabbed over by Easter, and Duchess didn't come down sick until Tuesday.

Still, chickenpox has loomed over all the festivities, keeping us out of general gatherings, and keeping away everyone except those confident in their immunity or desiring to acquire some. (I did let asymptomatic kids go to the sunrise service--I figured outside they could adequately avoid everyone else.)

We did manage to dye eggs with friends (who were hoping to catch it) and have a reduced family gathering on Easter. It hasn't been entirely without festivities.

So far Dot and Dash have not had any definitive symptoms. Duchess is in the throes of misery as the eldest sufferer. Deux endured the whole thing with relentless stoicism and a whole lot of Alphabears on the iPad. (His verdict: having chicken pox was not worth the extra iPad time.) Where Deux acquired them in the first place I cannot imagine, as he does not exactly vigorously seek new acquaintance and I haven't heard of anybody we actually know having them.

I have laid in a stock of movies and now am just hoping for everyone to get it quickly and be done.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Horror!

I promised myself that I would *never* do this, but I did. I couldn't stop myself. The twins were complaining, yet again, about the fact that they were expected to work on the exact same math page at the same time, not to mention having to write down some of the answers instead of doing it all orally.

Finally, I blurted out, "You know, in regular school, the kids all have to do the same math page. Twenty or thirty of them."

Dash: "They do? Not at the same time, though?"

"Yes, at the same time."

Dot: "Well, not the same page."

"OK, technically not, but copies of the same page. And they have to write in all the answers by themselves."

Dash: "I never, ever want to go to regular school."

Sunday, March 06, 2016


The last couple of weeks we had a round of nasty colds go through (I think there were at least two separate viruses swapping back and forth).

So last Sunday I took the time to just sit on the couch and Be Sick all day. Except for about fifteen minutes of standing up and chopping long enough to get this chicken soup cooking. This chicken soup contains pretty much everything I've ever heard of being useful against a cold, and if you're not into healing properties of foods it's just an incredibly easy and delicious soup, with none of that grandiose roast this and blend that nonsense that people keep cluttering up honest, simple soup recipes with. Between the soup and the resting, I was back to functional by Monday. All amounts are wildly approximate.

Chicken Curry Cold Cure Soup
 2 onions, chopped
A big ol' spoonful of minced garlic
A glug of olive oil.

Sautee in the bottom of a large pot.

2 quarts chicken broth (Way better with proper homemade broth from bones, of course)
Two cups or so each of chopped carrots, celery, and potatoes
Two cups chopped, cooked chicken
1 T grated fresh ginger
2 T curry powder
1 t. turmeric
1 t. oregano
Salt and black pepper to taste

Cook until the veggies are soft, about twenty minutes. Add 2 cups frozen broccoli and the juice of one lemon; let it all get hot again and serve.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Books Read in February

The Long Mars, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. Mostly enjoyable as a final (I assume) book in the series. I did find myself a bit annoyed by the depiction of the "Next," though. Why is it that when we imagine the new, improved humans they're always much smarter than us but also arrogant, entitled jerks? Why can't the human of the future be kinder, humbler, more empathetic? Maybe there's something to Original Sin after all.

The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin. Duchess recommended this after reading it for the library's book club. Surprisingly dark (not in an overwhelming evil way, just in the little pettinesses and life struggles) for a children's book from its era, but not, I suppose, for a mystery. I saw much of the solution in advance, so at least I scored there.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Beautiful and heartbreaking and sometimes hilarious. I especially admire her ability to convey the feelings and perspective of a child, something hard to reconstruct after the years. And her insight into the ugliness that can build in victims. A very real book.

True Justice by Robert Tanenbaum. His Majesty left this at my house and suggested I might try it. I picked it up skeptically as legal thriller is definitely not a genre I usually enjoy. However, I enjoyed it in spite of myself; the characters were surprisingly relatable despite the vast differences between the fictional life of criminal attorneys in New York City and the real life of estate attorneys in rural Washington. And the legal and ethical issues raised were worth pondering.

A Duty to the Dead, by Charles Todd. This was the current pick for the church book club; someone thought we needed a more cheerful read, so we did a murder mystery. (Well, murder mysteries are rather cheerful books on the whole. At least the ones where we find out whodunnit and they get caught.) It was a good read. Spoiler: a rather disturbing conjunction between this one and the previous was that in both a cold-blooded serial killer turned out to be a ten year old boy. I checked with Deux, but he has no plans to kill anything but zombies.

Paradise Lost, Books IV-VI. Still reading this along with an online group. Much more fun this way, but I'm falling behind and need to catch up.

Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull: In Duchess's estimation, if I cannot still instantly recall all characters and plot points in a series of books for discussion, then I need to read it again. So I read it again. It was a good way to spend a weekend with a cold. I think Mull is going to prove to be one of those prolific authors whose writing improves as he goes along. His inventiveness is amazing. The writing is not eloquent but not awkward; just a lot of fun to read. A little preachy in spots, but not really in a bad way.

In Process:
Hell's Foundations Quiver, by David Weber: Honestly, I'm not sure why I'm still reading this series. The first few were very enjoyable, with their depiction of a world deliberately kept in technological ignorance for its own safety by means of religious control, and the attempt to disentangle truth from mind control. However, at this point the world-building and global war have gotten way too cumbersome for my tastes. When we're learning the fabric content of the polar army's long underwear, it's just too much. However, I haven't quite let go yet.

Longitude, by Dava Sobel: I finally caved in to being middle-aged and got a large purse. This means I can now keep a book with me to read instead of reading three-year-old Good Housekeepings in waiting rooms. This is that book, which I found at the library sale shelf. Navigation, shipwrecks, and politics. Promises to be awesome.

Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens: The big kids are reading this for school and I realized I needed a refresher on this to adequately discuss it with them. Dickens is rather opaque--this book is definitely a stretch for them, but seems to be rewarding the effort.

As a family, we finished up Five Children and It and are reading The Phoenix and the Carpet. I tried reading the latter to the children when they were much younger and thought the scene where the phoenix insists on receiving his due homage at the fire insurance office was the funniest thing ever, but of course they could not fathom it at all at the time. This time they got it and also thought it hilarious, and composed their own ode to the Phoenix.

We're also reading Hiawatha. All of it. I don't think any of them realized a poem could go on that long.

Monday, February 08, 2016


Sometime in the last several years, my sinuses started clogging up. I didn't notice, because I don't notice little details like that, and it came on gradually, and I don't go to the doctor very often but I finally did and she said, "Wow, your sinuses are awful."

So we tried nose sprays and allergy  medicines and antibiotics and things got a little less stuffy so that if I took all of everything I could breathe somewhat on occasion. And she said, "You should maybe go see a specialist."

But I have a pretty low tolerance for going to doctors and I already wanted to pursue TMJ treatment first because my jaw hurts a whole lot worst. That took me to a sleep apnea specialist, and he looked at my sinuses and said, "Wow, your sinuses are awful. You should take more allergy meds and go see a specialist."

So I thought about going to a specialist after the TMJ treatment, but that was going to be awhile, and it was going to cost money (as were all those allergy meds being consumed in copious quantities), and my sinuses still hurt pretty bad.

Then one day I suddenly said to myself, "Why don't I just see if it's something I'm consuming all the time. Like, say, milk?"

I stopped consuming milk. Within 24 hours I could breathe while on the allergy meds. Within a week I could breathe even off the allergy meds.

I should be very happy to save myself the trip to the specialist and future allergy meds.

But mostly I just miss milk. Milk milk milk milk. And yogurt. And cheese. And milk chocolate. And stuff that claims to be dark chocolate but actually has milk inside it. And a tall, cold glass of milk alongside all those things.

Every time I find myself reaching for something dairyish I stop and breathe very deeply. Through my nose. It helps, a little.

I still want milk!

(Yes, I know other people suffer with far worse and more extensive food issues. Hey, I've had them myself. I still want milk.)

I'm hoping it's just a temporary intolerance and I can handle it again in moderation after going off it for awhile. Because I don't want any of that faux whipped stuff on my pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.

Sunday, February 07, 2016


We are observing the inevitable February Slump this year by taking things a little slower in school . . . spreading three weeks out over four . . . just enough to allow for those mornings when getting out of bed doesn't seem to be an option. (Although, in the usual perversity of things, if I let the children know that the next day is off school, they will be up hours before dawn, though I can barely get them up by eight-thirty on a school day.)

Mostly school is going quite well. Deux and Duchess are doing Year 5 of Ambleside Online, which is pretty much awesome. But AO is in the process of revamping their science selections (I am *so* excited about what we'll be doing in future years) and Year 5 hasn't been revised yet. When my students kept complaining that their anatomy book was too easy--not a common complaint with AO selections--I decided to try to find something else.

We wound up with The Way We Work by David Macaulay, which they tackled with enthusiasm based on their affection for The Way Things Work, which Deux took to bed with him for many years. It was a good thing they were enthusiastic, because much of it was over my head, especially with the biochemistry up front. But with the help of some Kahn Academy videos, we made it through and are on to large body systems which are a little easier to envision.

Still, just reading and sketching was a little dry, so I was happy to come across an old human biology experiments book at the library sale rack--one of those older ones that dates from the days when any determined youngster with a garage and the dangerous chemicals readily available at his neighborhood hardware store could unlock the mysteries of the universe. So now we have some supplemental experiments to do.

To go with breathing, I thought we could start with a simple experiment that involved exhaling through a tube into an inverted jug filled with water. The idea was that your breath would force out the water and then, by measuring how much empty space you created, you could estimate your lung capacity. This sounded like fun. And it was. Especially when I ignored the, "Do this in the kitchen sink" instructions and the water fleeing the force of Duchess's lungs erupted over the counter, dirty dishes, and floor.

"And this, children," I said, "Is why your mother is a lawyer, not a scientist."

Deux, with the reflex of young students, asked, "Then why do you make *us* study science?"

"Because it is awesome," I said. And he didn't argue.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

January Books

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver: I did finish it, and barely in time for the church book club discussion. Really, really good. I was relatively isolated in liking it, though. It's definitely a dark read and much longer than I was expecting. I was most impressed from a literary perspective by the kaleidoscope of impressions as the same story is told from five different points of view--the mother and four daughters--all distinct, all with their own strengths and limitations. The story is of a cult-of-one renegade Baptist pastor who decides to take his woefully unprepared family to Belgian Congo--just as Belgium pulls out and the family is left to fend for themselves in a land that has been exploited for centuries by white people.

The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Steven Baxter. Somehow I had fallen behind on this series and came across the third book at the library, so of course I had to go back and read the second. What I love about this series is how it feels exactly like it could happen--like tomorrow I might open my Facebook to see a link to making a homemade "stepper" that would allow crossing into infinite alternative dimensions of non-human-inhabited Earth, ready to be explored. And then, of course, the difficulties and changes that would ensue. Highly enjoyable speculative fiction.

Paradise Lost by John Milton, Books I-III. This is for an online book club; I read it on my own a couple of years ago and it is definitely much more comprehensible the second time around, and with discussion. It's much easier this time around to follow Milton's convoluted sentences and appreciate the majestic roll of his phrases.

For family read alouds we have done By the Great Horn Spoon and now are in the middle of Five Children and It. Both have been big hits.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

New Digs

One of the big projects of the past month has been moving our main business location from an overcrowded spot at the other end of the county to a roomy (currently cavernous) location a few miles from home.

This means for the second year in the row, the Christmas season has been dominated by remodeling. Fortunately a lot of it was able to be done by volunteer or in-kind labor, but DOB still put quite a bit of time in himself. He found that crawling along the floor and taping things up was actually a pretty good stretching routine. I only showed up for a day or so, but I did add an extra layer to my already stiff as a board painting jeans.

The new location looks quite amazing, though. Like *real* lawyer offices. We are hoping to sublet a number of the offices to other attorneys, and have a couple of them spoken for. DOB reserved the biggest office, and now we no longer have to climb over his various mobility devices and rearrange them for every client meeting.

My office is small, since I'm only in two mornings a week, but we're going to put custom shelves up so I can stand or sit as the spirit moves me. I am not very good at staying in one place for long, and I expect this to be much more comfortable for me than a standard desk setup. It's a cozy, not-too-office feeling space with antique chairs (from my great-aunt) and table lamps.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

The Way of Things

Like most pithy statements, it has coalesced into a Facebook meme, but it certainly floated about the ether before that:
The most dangerous thing to say is, "That is the way we've always done it."
It's the quintessentially modern approach (and by modern I mean the past 200 years or so, it's a short time in human history). Always we should be blazing trails, innovating, rejecting the old and outmoded ideas of five months ago.

Our pace of technological innovation and information generation mandates it. We must be ever adapting and embracing change. Enough of life is in flux automatically that flux itself is considered a necessary or desirable state.

"Way" is a beautiful word, though, with far more meaning than we usually notice in it. It is a path, a road. Something that is both the sequence of steps between here and there and an entity in itself. "The way we have always done things" isn't just an arbitrary list of procedures; it is a path that has been tested and refined through the experience of much time and many people. To preserve it inviolate is not the nature of a way; a way adapts over time to changing circumstance. But to always be ignoring it and starting over is to waste a great deal of information that has had the opportunity to coalesce into wisdom.

What we have instead of ways is random data points. I saw an article recently, one of hundreds like it, about "9 Things Insanely Healthy People Do In the Morning." Individually, most of the things were reasonably likely to have been proven to be healthy in one regard or another--like drinking water, or exercising. Collectively, no mortal under the constraints of the space-time continuum could have accomplished them all, even if they lacked such common accessories as children and a job. It was most certainly not based on the actual practices of healthy people, but on this study over here and that study over there.

It is the nature of current scientific inquiry to be primarily concerned with isolating one factor and trying to find its causes and effects. Which is well enough as far as it goes. But at a human scale, factors do not live in isolation. This thing we are doing here influences four things in sixteen different ways which then influence each other in other ways. One small change that fixes one small problem may set off dozens of larger problems. A six-month study looking at three things has only the smallest of insight on how to actually live. Which is why in another six month another study will come out saying the exact opposite and there will just be more fodder for the wars of We Have Everything Figured Out This Time.

It takes the actual experience of many lives to find ways of living, and they will never be reducible to individual factors. They will be ways, the way we have always done things, and if you try to poke at the individual parts they will always be full of flaws or opportunities for theoretical improvement.

Speculative fiction tends to split on whether our technological innovations will usher in apocalypse or paradise, with apocalypse the more popular outcome. Odds are against extremes, but if we are to have progress and not just change, it will be because we have found ways of being through lifetimes of experience, because we are willing to pay attention to the whole picture not just the data points, because before we throw out the old ways as relics of an unenlightened past we are willing to pause and find out why they were where they were.