Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Confessions of a Book Glutton

The library is just too strong of a temptation. I can be strong in a book store, if I don't go in for more than five minutes. These things cost money! Spending money is evil! So the voices in my head go, and if I leave quickly enough they will not be drowned out.

Ah, but the library. At the library, everything is free. Free! That uber-libertarian voice in my head intoning that libraries are not a Proper Role of Government is not nearly so loud as the tightwad voices. Furthermore, the library has an online catalog, where no one is watching me indulge my passions. Just one more search, it whispers to me, one more book. I find another website with another booklist and it makes me want to check again.

Now I have not only myself to reserve for, but also the ducklings, and then there are books to preview for them to read in future years. It's always good to get plenty of extra because you never know which one will be just the right book.

As much fun as browsing online is, with the entire county's books at my disposal, it has never eclipsed browsing on the shelves. This is where the serendipities appear, the books that were looking for me. This is where I wind up with mammoth photo books of castles and obscure biographies of people I wasn't meaning to read about.

Unfortunately, I don't get to browse when the ducklings are with me. They want to browse, too, and somehow their browsings don't precisely correspond with mine. The train table, which might keep them predictably still for five minutes, is not within sight of many interesting books. As for the rest, I'm lucky to keep the ducklings in one place long enough to check out.

Checkout. Here is where the accountability comes. Here is where my gluttony is called to task and the pile of books I managed to browse combines with the pile of books I had reserved--always three times the size I thought it was--to make a unified pile of terrifying proportions. Keep in mind that on most days I must get out to the car while holding two hands of wayward toddlers, and then tell me how I am to transport the twenty-seven large books I just checked out. Big thick ones for me and big wide and long ones for them.

I purchased a large and classy-looking bag for transport purposes, but it's always strained at the seams. One of these days it will disintegrate on me. Those crates on wheels look practical, but too small. My mother used a laundry basket, but laundry baskets don't leave free hands.

What I really need to do is grow some older children who can carry piles of their own. Except they'll become book gluttons, too, and then how will we get out the door?

Monday, March 26, 2007

A Bin for All Seasons

It is not true that I am hopelessly impulsive. I can mull about a piece of writing for days . . . months . . . years. (Someday I really do want to finish that blank-verse adaption of the book of Job.)

But when it comes to things that have any practical use, I admit, it generally happens right away or not at all. One idea floats around in my head for awhile, another one drops in, they collide into an explosion of activity, or they drift off into nothingness.

The idea that had been floating about for awhile was the need for a place to compost. I cannot be truly happy without a compost pile. Without compost, I am a rootless, parasitic lifeform. With compost, I am a valuable part of the cycle of life. This is no doubt one of the reasons I cannot be happy in an apartment, although I suppose I could try doing it with worms.

Saturday DOB and Uncle Steve went up to B2's house to rip out old carpet and cabinets and other nasty, nasty jobs which small children should be nowhere near. So I stayed home with the children and Aunt Bettie came over later to keep us company. We were playing in the backyard when she arrived--I was pulling a few weeds with no grander intentions than a trip to the park--and then, suddenly, I saw her and I saw the pile of scrap lumber that we drug out of the basement when we moved in--and the explosion happened.

"Do you want to help me make a compost bin?" I asked.

"Sure," she said.

So I ran inside and found tools of various sorts and even some large and sturdy nails (which may or may not have belonged to DOB's father) and we got to work. The basic structure used to be something resembling a very rickety table; when we discovered we couldn't get the top off, we turned it on its side, ripped apart the rickety parts and nailed them back together. From other, unidentifiable structures, we ripped off extra wood pieces and sawed them into reasonable lengths and nailed them on.

I supplied the vision and unskilled labor; Aunt Bettie supplied the information on how things should actually be done and pointed out useful concepts like the value of having a sturdy surface and good angle before swinging the hammer. The ducklings were consoled for postponing the visit to the park by being allowed unfettered access to the tools. D1 used them for making mud pies, and D2 tried out all the socket wrenches to see which one would best fit his fingers. They also handed us nails.

In the end we were all hot and muddy and hungry, and D1 was soaked from falling in the pond out back, but I sustained the only injury with a scraped knuckle. Now we have a compost bin, although it is still lacking chicken wire to hold the sides in and keep the two halves separate. I just hope I can pay enough attention to it to keep it from smelling too terribly bad.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Quest for the Garden

In epic quests, the hero can never go straight to his destination, or get directions right there. He always has to go to the one end of the earth first to get directions clear round to the other side of the earth to get the magic sword, and at last he finds out what he wanted and can go next door and rescue the princess.

Last week DOB had to work on Saturday, so he took today off in exchange. We had grand plans to go to a special nature park for children, Glenwood Gardens, all morning. Thunderstorms were forecast for noon, but we thought if we arrived when it opened at ten we could get in a couple of good hours before storms arose and we sought shelter for lunch and headed home for naps.

Only we overslept a little, of course, and then it does take awhile to get everyone dressed and fed and DOB's exercises done and just as we were heading out the door D2 had the Dreaded Diaper of Doom and we had to stop and change him entirely. (That, at least, made the delay worthwhile.)

It was after ten when we finally left. The directions were so very simple we didn't need to take a map. Everything was going fine--we saw a sign pointing to Glenwood Gardens--we turned down the road on which the park was located. And then, nothing. No sign of a park, or anything that might remotely resemble the possibility of a park.

DOB does not insist on forty years of wilderness wandering; he will stop to ask for directions. So we stopped and I went in to a drug store and asked if anyone knew the way to Glenwood Gardens. The lady behind the counter did not. The lady in front of the counter did not. People who live near an attraction never know where it is; the people walking the streets of central London have never seen the Tower of London. They probably haven't seen London Bridge.

An elderly man nearby thought he did know where Glenwood Gardens were, although initially he was under the impression I was looking for a housing development. When he understood it was a park, he gave me some directions in which, for some reason, I had less than complete confidence.

Sure enough, we followed the directions and spotted a small and shabby playground tucked in the middle of a block. Not the intended destination. We meandered around until we found a touristy old square which looked like it might have people accustomed to answering questions. Unfortunately, things weren't open, so I asked the mailman parked and sorting his mail. He didn't know where Glenwood Gardens was, but he did know the way to Winton Woods, another park in the same system.

Hoping to get some directions or a park map there, we followed his directions, which did prove to be right. Unfortunately the rangers were all still vacationing in Tahiti. There were no maps. County parks are dull places on Fridays in March. I did, however, find a mom playing with her daughter on the playground, who was able to give me directions to a nearby petting farm that was also part of the park system.

It was better than nothing, I figured, and it was already nearly eleven. The sky continued to look threatening and it seemed advisable to do something, anything, to justify the hour spent driving around. So I persuaded DOB to drive there next. I then took the ducklings through to look at the animals while DOB, unwilling to abandon our original plans, set off in search of some human being who might know the way.

We looked at the various animals--we didn't try petting--and then we took a few spins on the slides. D2's interest in a park is directly proportional to the speed and danger of its slides. DOB caught up to us and announced that he had at last found the magical being who could give him directions to Glenwood Gardens. Despite the lateness of the hour, we decided to give it a whirl.

We followed the directions carefully, and in less than ten minutes found ourselves right back at the original intersection. We should have gone straight instead of turning; the gardens were right there. And they were lovely, even so early in the spring. The forecast thundershowers turned into peekaboo sunshine. We had our lunch; the lady at the gift shop gave us free entrance to the children's garden and we watched the train and the fish and climbed in the tree.

Now we know the way. The family pass is a quarter the cost of a pass to the zoo or the children's museum, and it looks like it will be even more fun when things begin to grow.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Really, it sounds too giddy for me.

I'm terza rima, and I talk and smile.
Where others lock their rhymes and thoughts away
I let mine out, and chatter all the while.

I'm rarely on my own - a wasted day
Is any day that's spent without a friend,
With nothing much to do or hear or say.

I like to be with people, and depend
On company for being entertained;
Which seems a good solution, in the end.
What Poetry Form Are You?

Maturity, According to D1

I was in the bathroom on Sunday morning, putting on lipstick. D1 came in to observe.

D1: Can I have some?

QOC: No, not yet.

D1: I want some lipstick! When can I have some lipstick?

QOC (picking a random number, like all good parents): When you're sixteen.

D1: Yes. I will be as tall as Mama. And I will drive.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Liking Books

Every once in a while I find myself liking a book unexpectedly, or disliking one, or otherwise pondering what it is that appeals to me or doesn't in literature.

The most important thing is that it be real. This has nothing to do with the setting. It can be set in my neighborhood or in a parallel dimension; the characters can be stuffed animals or mythical gods. But it must be real about the human condition. You should be able to read it and think, "Yes. This is true. This is what being a human being is really like."

It's currently fashionable in literature to confuse being real with being sordid. Details about bodily functions or sex or death are irrelevant to the question of whether the book is real. I already know about the physical details from personal experience--I want new perspectives on what physical experiences mean. Being ugly or shocking in a quest for meaning is one thing; being ugly or shocking to sell books is not going to sell me one.

Also, I want some form of moral resolution. Things must come out right-side up, which does not necessarily mean a tidy ending with all the good rewarded and the bad punished. But it must be clear what good and evil are, even if the entire book is written upside down (like Screwtape Letters). Even empathy with the evil characters is not a bad thing--indeed, it can be a very good thing--so long as we are still able to say, "His choice was understandable, but it was still wrong."

So a piece that surprised me in its appeal--that I literally stumbled upon--was Medea, by Euripides. It's an ugly story. (Medea was a princess and sorceress who ran off with the adventurer Jason when he came to steal the golden fleece, killing her own brother in the process. She then helped Jason kill his way into power. In this play, Jason is dumping her for a new wife--in revenge, she kills his bride, new father-in-law, and her own two children by him.)

Medea and Jason are alive. The words could be written in fire, the story could be headline news. Even though Medea is a witch, literally and figuratively, her rage is comprehensible, her grievances real. There could be no happy ending, yet it is obvious she chose, and chose knowingly, the worst possible one, one that destroys herself and everyone around her. It's an unpleasant but convicting look into the reality of our own wicked hearts.

Finally, there ought to be words to savor. Phrases that are sweet on the tongue, sentences that make you want to jump up and find someone to hear them. Something that makes you think, "Yes, yes, I knew that but couldn't say it so well."

So: True, Good, Beautiful. Not a very original criteria, I suppose, but originality is highly overrated.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Loose Ends

As of this morning, I've had one full week's worth of sleeping well all night long. I can't remember the last time that happened, but I'm pretty sure it was a long, long time ago. When I get no sleep, the world is a dark and dismal place, the house is a mess, the ducklings are cranky, and we're lucky to remain fed and clothed. When I get sleep, the world is bright and beautiful, the house is tidy, the ducklings and I have marvelous fun together, and putting food on the table is hardly an effort at all. It's a shame to be so dependent on such a mundane activity, but such is the trouble with having a body.

But having sleep leads me to a new problem: What does one do besides survive? I can't remember. I know there is more to housework than dishes and laundry, I know I had heaps of projects I want to work on if I ever had the chance, but I can't remember what--or if I do, the number of choices are too overwhelming to choose among.

It reminds me of when I came off of a very restrictive allergy diet and could eat anything I wanted all of a sudden. It was quite disturbing for the first week or so. I had gotten used to the challenge of turning the six available items to eat into something palatable, I could hardly deal with the challenge of choosing among all the food in the world. Maybe that's why people keep themselves overcommitted and run the tv in the background--it spares you the trouble of figuring out what to do in an idle moment.

Anyway, the consolation is, I probably won't have surplus energy for very long. No doubt someone will come up with a new nighttime disturbance soon enough.

Friday, March 16, 2007


Seven reasons not to paint with toddlers:

Dancing and painting are two art forms that really don't mix.

Poster paint tastes terrible, and it will be your fault.

Green paint is very difficult to get out of blond hair.

You don't want to hear "I need to go potty" while you have the bathroom full of paint cleanup.

They think this, like all other activities, can be conducted in your lap.

They're so short they trip on Papa's t-shirts when they wear them for smocks.

The basement floor doesn't need yellow splotches.

Two reasons to paint with toddlers:

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Grocery Shopping

If you're at all interested in eating on the cheap, you can't miss the Iron Chef Moms Challenge this week, with a faceoff between the Aldi Queen and Meredith, who will be shopping the loss leaders. I bet Meredith will win in the price department, but for us, the convenience of Aldi's far outweighs the slight savings we might get by hitting half a dozen different stores. Of course, Aldi's doesn't have much selection, but that's the beauty of it. If there's little selection, it's easier to tell your husband what to get without thirteen calls to clarify or (depending on the husband) having him come home with exactly the wrong thing.

We're also fairly picky about how healthy the food we eat is, so we do a mix of things: produce, basic canned and frozen goods at Aldi's, and lots of ground turkey, milk and eggs. For convenience health foods (unsweetened applesauce, whole wheat pasta and when I'm really tired, bread), loss-leaders (chicken goes on sale a lot), and miscellaneous other stuff, I hit Meijer every other week. We buy grains and beans in bulk from the co-op, and split spices from there with DOB's family whenever it's a spice they use. (Pity, DOB's mom can't stand marjoram.)

Even so, it seems to us like we spend way too much on food. Maybe it's our standard of comparison (which for DOB is none, before he got married, and for me is the amount I split with my two female roommates). Maybe it's just the amount we eat. I don't have a dainty appetite, even when, as now, I'm not feeding someone else while I'm at it. DOB always eats enough for two or three, and as for the ducklings, they missed the memo about toddlers being picky and sporadic eaters. (Which is not to say our mealtimes are entirely without conflict--the conflict is just over whether they are going to finish every thing else before they get more tomatoes.)

Maybe it's just that food is such a mundane thing to spend money on, when you could be buying books.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Springing Forward

The coming of the spring time change is usually something to hate. Losing a whole hour--having to go to bed early and get up early--is hardly compensated by how easy it is to move the clocks forward. But this year, we felt quite differently about it. We moved the clocks ahead in the middle of the afternoon just to be one hour closer to bedtime.

The ducklings have made it to week eight of non-stop colds, and one or the other had been up coughing most nights the past week. I took them to the doctor on Friday, and he confirmed that it was, indeed, just a cold. So I took them home, counting on a few days of warm air and sunshine to help us finally knock it.

Spring finally has come. It still surprises me, out here, how suddenly it does come. Monday we are shivering in our heavy winter coats all through a ten-minute trip to the backyard. Friday we are swinging at the park in our shirt sleeves and leaving our windows open all afternoon.

But once again the light at the end of the tunnel proved to be an oncoming train. Just as I was hoping to get to sleep more often than every other night, D2 came down with the stomach flu at eleven o'clock at night, on the night when we had overnight guests. So that night none of us got any sleep, except for D1 who couldn't understand why everyone else was so listless on Saturday. I'm just hoping that when she threw up earlier in the week, it was the stomach flu and not just coughing spells, as I dismissed it at the time. And I hope this time--to balance things out--we've got the bug that only infects children and leaves the grownups alone.

At any other time I would welcome the news that the chicken pox is going around church, but just now, I'd really rather not deal with it.

Poor D2 is still so tired he fell asleep on the floor this morning. I wish I could join him. DOB, meanwhile, has declared himself a miscosmist (which is one who dislikes the universe at large). But I say a guy who will lie awake all night and let a toddler barf on his shirt is something else entirely.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Calling Morris the Moose

D1 and I were playing "Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear" game today, whereby I call out actions, preferably rhyming ones, and she runs and does it. I said, "Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, run to the stairs. Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, go to the chairs."

She went to the piano bench.

"No," I said, "That's a bench. A chair has a back."

Immediately she put her hand on her own back and announced, "I am a chair!"

We were outside for a little while yesterday afternoon and she was entranced by the neighbor's greyhound, who must have been cooped up like us all winter.

"We're watching the dog," she said, "And the horse."

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Visual DNA

HT to Carrie. Word of Caution: IMHO, some of the picture options are a bit much.

Random Intriguing Questions

If you could get yourself transformed into a book, which book would it be?

If I knew I could get back out again reasonably soon, I'd really like to go to Wonderland or perhaps through the Looking Glass--odd and disorienting, but a very intriguing place to visit and learn the rules. But if I was doomed to stay the rest of my life, I'd probably want to go to somewhere quiet and livable like Avonlea. Entertaining as Middle-Earth or Narnia might be, I'm not really adventuresome enough to want to live there. (Yes, I am reading the Inkheart books.)

If you weren't a Christian, what would your religious/philosophical beliefs be?

I would almost certainly be a hard-nosed nihilistic materialist. Only what is scientifically provable exists in any meaningful sense. Truth and beauty are human constructs, pleasant enough but with no basis in reality. Neat, tidy, and eminently intellectually respectable these days. I wouldn't miss the hereafter, because I have trouble believing in next Thursday, let alone immortality. I would miss an objective basis for truth and goodness, and so would occasionally be tempted to become a high pagan or something like that, but I would never have the nerve.

How about you?

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Name of Mud

With the possibility of spring returning comes the realization that we are completely unprepared for mud. At our old house, I was the only one capable of getting mud on my shoes. Last year, we lived in an overgroomed apartment complex in a neighborhood where mud violated the restrictive covenants. But this year we have mud: red, sticky, glue-when-wet, cement-when-dry mud. And D2 has a remarkable talent for falling face-first in it.

Playing out in the mud is fine. If it weren't for D2 falling down in it, we really wouldn't even get mud anywhere but our shoes, as they are mostly interested in poking the mud with sticks.

The problem arises when we try to go inside. We have the choice between the front door, which leads us straight into the living room and the piles of books we forgot to put away before we went outside, and the back door, which still doesn't even have a rug and which is wedged between the dishwasher and the kitchen table. The mudroom was a great invention, but this house predates that. It may, perhaps, be older than dirt.

So we trek through the entire house to reach the bathroom, shedding chunks of mud all the way. In the bathroom, I have three pairs of shoes to remove, while those who have their shoes removed will invariably wander right into a pile of shed mud. Then D2 usually needs to be mostly stripped, under severe protest, because what he wants to do is take his mud-caked shoes and put them away immediately.

When I try to scrape the mud off the shoes first he protests, and when I give up and set them aside to dry, turning my attention to the new garden plot on the floor, he sneaks them out behinds my back. Unfortunately he gets sidetracked on the way to the shoe bin and instead sits down on D1's bed, spreading mud all over the sheet.

So at this point, I have a bathroom coated with mud and filled with muddy clothes, towels and shoes, a bed covered with mud, D1 wandering around getting mud on her white socks because I haven't found her slippers yet, and D2 sitting on the muddy bed half-dressed and whimpering that he wants to go night-night. Everyone's nose is running and they think lunch should have been served half an hour ago.

D1 has a book called The Marvelous Mud Washing Machine. I wonder where they sell those. Or maybe we should just wait for a drought.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


Today normal life is more or less resuming. (Although I still don't have to cook supper! Yay!) The kids are back, showing no signs of psychological trauma from being gone. They grew up about three months while they were gone. D2 is now talking in sentences, if you are willing to interpolate the fifteen words he left out. ("Mo-bahk" means "I would like some more soup when Mama gets back, please.")

It was a bit of a shock to have them back yesterday afternoon. I had never noticed just how much I get up during an average meal. (Fill everyone's bowls. Sit down. Refill D2's bowl. Sit. Take D1 potty. Sit. Refill D2's bowl. Sit. Take D1 potty. Sit. Refill mine and DOB's bowls. Sit. Refill D2's bowl. Take D1 potty--frequency of trips inversely correlates to her fondness for the food.) It's a good thing I don't like to sit still and know how to eat fast.

I spent a lot of the morning lying down and reading Goodnight, Gorilla over and over. D1 could "read" it just as well as I can, but it's always better when I do it. I also wiped a lot of runny noses. These never-ending colds are getting downright ridiculous.

Today I must wash laundry, and I am commencing on a new theory of Not Folding, except for my shirts and slacks. Everything else either hangs up or is just going to get wadded anyway.