Friday, August 31, 2007

Rephrase That

QOC: It's time for D1 and D2 to come unload the dishwasher!
D1: I don't want to.
QOC: That's not what we say. Let's try again. It's time for D1 and D2 to come unload the dishwasher!
D1: D2, you need to go unload the dishwasher.

* * * * * * *

D1 (running out of her room with the perennially broken piece of unidentifiable doll furniture):
Mama, we have a protein! Can you fix it?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Next Question

The proverb about doctors' and shoemakers' wives do not apply to the spouses of life insurance agents. This, no doubt, is due to premium credit. Anyway, I've been through the interview process more than once, and the past couple of weeks had to do it again.

If you never have experienced this (have you not? Call DOB today!), in addition to figuring out all the financial questions and how much money your grieving family will need to still put dinner on the table (a lot to replace me), they also must figure out if you are strong and healthy, since if you're about to keel over they'll have to charge you more.

The medical part is called a paramed, and is done by a nice lady or gentleman who comes to your house at a time when it's convenient to you to have not eaten for twelve hours, and they take your blood and weigh you and squeeze your arm and all that stuff. That does not bother me. I have been through two pregnancies, and I can be bled with the best of them.

It's the questionnaire that throws me. No, I haven't smoked or chewed tobacco in the past ten years and I don't plan to take up sky-diving. But at a time like that, little details like dates and names of doctors flee from my mind. I see a chiropractor every week. It's just for maintenance. I'm not going to die from anything. But I can never remember his full name. He's Doctor Matt! Matt! (Chiropractors are the social butterflies of medical professionals and always go by their first names and greet you like their long-lost cousins.)

And then there's trying to explain the details of medical personnel in a way that fits into the nice little boxes. My primary care physician would be Dr. X, but I haven't actually seen her in three years because I only go for babies and she stopped doing obstetrics and just does family practice now, so I went to her partner Dr. Y but I don't go there now because we moved but Dr. X moved her practice too so if I did need to go to a doctor for anything BUT babies, she's the one I'd go to even though I've never actually been to see her at her new office and does that answer your question? And no, I don't know the address. And I don't know WHAT tests were done the last time I saw a doctor, I had a newborn baby and a toddler with me, I could hardly remember my own name!

Once this agony is over with the nice lady, sometimes for quality control you have to call someone at Home Office so they can check all your answers, presumably to cross-check them. I tremble. I am sure my answers do not match at all, although I still haven't taken any illegal drugs or broken any laws on purpose. And although as soon as the first lady left I could remember the chiropractor's name, once again it escapes me as soon as someone picks up the phone. For me a phone is a instantaneous brain wiping device. Anything I might have known or remembered is gone at the word, "Hello."

So I muddle through the interview, confusing the poor soul on the other end even worse than I am confused. Of course I should write things down. If I did, I would lose the paper the instant I answered the phone. I gave up ordering things over the phone because the instant someone connected, my credit card would vanish until I hung up again. This is disconcerting.

At last the interviewer was satisfied, or exhausted, thanked me and hung up. I went downstairs to change the laundry. Unbidden, it floated into my head: Hakes! It's Doctor Hakes!

I'm glad the lady on the phone can't measure my blood pressure now.

Children's Museum

The Cincinnati Museum Center hosts a free Friday several times a year, when the standard exhibits are all free and open several hours later than usual. The price and time are both right for us. Unfortunately this is the only one we'll get to go to this year, but now that I know that you have to look on the press release page, not the calendar, to find out when they are, we should be able to take advantage of more of them next year.

We went last year and, although it was fun, it was overwhelming and the kids mostly played with things they could do just as well at home. This year they really got into some more complex areas. D1 put some new ideas from her recent doctor visit to use treating the animals at the vet clinic, and D2 and DOB built a giant arch (out of soft blocks) a dozen times over, recruiting a new group of bigger kids to help them each time.

Of course, they still have a perverse desire to play with things they have at home. D1 mostly played with the shopping carts and the toy food. It did inspire me to start saving her empty cans and boxes to use in her shopping cart in the basement. Maybe then she'll get over her unquenchable love of dumping all the smallest toys into the cart, mixing them together, and trailing them all over the basement.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Fall Housecleaning Survey

Which you're welcome to take even if you don't get inspired to clean house in the fall. Right now, it's anything to help me pretend cooler weather is coming even though it's supposed to hit 102 today.

Rate your house's current cleanliness on a scale of 1-10.
5. It can look decent with a little bit of work, but there's always a lot of stuff piled around the edges.

Rate how clean you would like the house to be on a scale of 1-10.
7. I don't expect a house with children to be toy and fingerprint-free, but I would like to know everything had a place and it was reasonably easy to get it there. I would also like the ducklings to be more frequent at picking up their own toys, but we are making good progress.

Homemaking means balancing a lot of different priorities. What are your top three?
Enjoyment~that we all enjoy living here together
Frugality~that we spend no more than is needed
Simplicity~that we spend our time and space and money on things we really care about

Biggest mental block to better organization?
Feeling guilty over getting rid of anything that was a gift or handmade. I don't feel *quite* as guilty if I can trade it in for money or re-gift it, as I figure at least I got some good out of it. But that 18" stained-glass fruit basket sun catcher is still waiting to be broken in the attic, since I can't figure out who on earth would want it. Or how to get it to them.

Biggest logistical block to better organization?
It's just hard to move things up and down stairs to wherever they go, because something with lungs usually wants to be carried instead. It's getting easier though. Progress is being made. Someday those little lungs will be attached to legs that can navigate stairs while carrying things and then watch how we go!

Biggest weakness in stuff-accumulating department?
Books, of course. Plus anything else with remotely educational/artistic value.

Deep cleaning job you most anticipate?
Washing windows. Maybe it's just the prospect of opening the windows again.

Deep cleaning job you most dread?
Files. The files. Office files. (There's a poem that starts that way. By Kipling, I think. Mocking Poe. Very funny.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Cleaning Up, Clearing Out

The approach of (or despairing wish for, as the temperature shoots back up) fall brings out my urge to organize. It's probably the fear of being stuck in this house all winter and if I don't get rid of some of this mess I'll go crazy ahhhhhhh!

Yesterday it rained, so even though it was hot we were able to go up into the attic and whack out a good-sized area where it is now possible to walk without stepping on anything but carpet. I cleaned the last of DOB's clothes out of the buffet up there and put my tablecloths and place mats in their place. I transfered the random piles of stuff for the thrift store into plastic bags. The ducklings were very happy carrying stuff around and piling it up in their own mysterious configurations. Next time we go up there I'm going to tackle the outgrown and to-be-grown-into clothes and move them into a more accessible part of the attic.

Today it did not rain, so we descended to the basement instead and the ducklings splashed in the pool while I unpacked at least one box that hadn't been touched since we moved in and cleared off the Stuff Accumulating Table. (Supposed to be a folding table, but I hardly ever fold clothes in the basement. In fact, I don't really fold clothes, except my own.)

What I really need to get back to is working on the filing cabinet, but it's so much more fun to work on almost anything else. It's always good to have a really loathsome job that you really ought to do--it makes you so much more productive doing everything else.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Things to Do With Tomatoes

My drying tomato experiment resulted in about five successfully dried tomato chunks. The rest burnt in some spots while mildewing in others. I think I have the wrong kind of tomatoes; too juicy and not pulpy enough. Perhaps next year I will try growing some Romas.

In the meantime, Her Majesty informs me that you can just toss them in the freezer (inside a Ziploc) and they will be perfectly good to pull out and make salsa or soup from later. So that is what I am doing with the surplus this year.

Also, as DOB was beginning to look askance at yet another platter of sliced raw tomatoes, I tried making broiled tomatoes for supper last night. The recipe was a little too greasy--next time I will cut down on the butter and probably use olive oil instead. And the tomato halves were hard to eat, so I might go with my initial instinct and slice them. But there will definitely be a next time. Seriously yummy.

We picked a few more tomatoes today, in between trips down the street to watch the men working on the sewer line. The plants seem to be slowing down production, though, which is perhaps just as well. Or maybe the squirrels are getting more of them. I suspect the squirrels of evil designs on the pepper plants, too--I don't think I'm getting as many of those full grown as seemed to be budding. Maybe next year I'll plant hot peppers. That will teach them.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Because I Finally Unearthed the CD

These are some of the fabulous pictures taken by our friends from Blue Castle Photography while we were out in Washington. If you have any pictures to be taken in the Corvallis, Oregon area, I can heartily recommend them. Unfortunately that's hardly ever where we are.

Monday, August 13, 2007

You Say Weed, I Say Native Plant

I proudly exhibited my tomato plants to DOB the other day. He then looked over at the weeds towering over the patio. "The tomatoes look good," he said, "But it's like investing in tech stocks in the nineties. Everything goes up."

Being new to this garden, and not wanting to waste anything that might already be happily growing, I went easy on weed-pulling this spring. Some of those unidentified leaves might prove to be flowers. Some of them did. The others just got larger and weedier.

Next thing I knew, they were too big to be pulled by hand. I needed clippers. I forgot I owned clippers. Turns out there was a set ($2 pink yard sale tag still on the handle) in the basement. This morning I finally ventured forth to use them.

Too late, again. Clippers were not what was called for; I needed a hatchet. Little George Washington could be happily and productively occupied under our patio for quite some time. Unfortunately I haven't come across a hatchet at a yard sale. So I hacked, snapped, and mangled until I at least lowered a portion to within a foot of the ground. I caught an enormous yellow grasshopper and the ducklings watched him, fascinated. D1 tried to get him to jump on cue, but he did not catch on.

The tomatoes are doing very well. They have passed our ability to keep up with eating them; they have passed even the ability of the squirrels to keep up. I don't think I have quite enough plants to ever do a canner load at once, though, so perhaps I shall have to look into freezing them. Or drying them. (Can anything sun-dry in this humidity? I have an electric food dryer, but everyone always talks about sun-dried tomatoes--do they work any other way?)

I'm excited by the success of this year's garden. It is very small still. In a few more years, I shall have more helpers and be more ambitious. I was chatting with an elderly lady who grew up in the neighborhood of DOB's office, reminiscing about the huge garden she and her parents grew in their back yard. So did my grandparents, though it was long before I was born. People used to grow food (and even raise animals) in the city and suburbs as a matter of course. Now we all drive twenty minutes to the organic produce section of the nearest megagrocery.

The search for a simpler or more authentic lifestyle seems to send most people to the country. It brought us to the city. We were tired of driving fifty minutes one way for work, twenty minutes another way to church, and knowing no one nearby because they were all driving different ways, too. Here, we can spend our time living instead of driving, and we can still grow tomatoes and watch bugs. And if everyone who cares about homegrown tomatoes leaves for the countryside, what will become of the city?

In this line, there's a wordless picture book I came across at the library, called Home, by Jeannie Baker. It depicts what time and love and work can do for a place, even in the city.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Three Years

Three, I'm sure, is positively infantile from the perspective of a mother of teenagers. But it's as far as we've gotten, and it's a very long way from the floppy newborn with which we began. And despite the undeniable challenges of this age, I like it.

D1 just discovered drawing this week. She covers page after page with little huts with doors, and sometimes adds a sturdy capital A for good measure.

She has learned how to set and clear the table--some mornings, she even starts setting it just to get breakfast moving along faster. (Other mornings, she fights with D2 for lap space. She has not yet reconciled herself to the fact that thirty-five pounds of squirming little girl is hard to hold.)

She can almost (almost!) dress herself. She asks "why?" a thousand times in a day, and sometimes she even wants to know. She remembers why mosquitoes bite, and what we were going to do today, and she can tell when the big hand gets to the seven.

She invents long and complicated games, incomprehensible to adults, but utterly absorbing for D2.

I'm sure I'll like four and five and six even better. But three is pretty good.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Off the Road

There's been a lot of fun links over at i have to say's Back to Homeschool week as people tell various things about their homeschooling journey. Today's topic is getting out and about, which reminds me that we do not.

Yes, the ducklings are small. But it seems like even people with very small children have them enrolled in music classes or gymnastics or second language programs. Or they have zoo and museum memberships. Or they schedule frequent play dates. Or all of the above.

The very thought makes me tired. Especially right now, when the only activity that sounds fun is lying on the basement floor, pouring ice water over my head. But even in more clement weather, loading up the diaper bag and strapping everyone into the car is usually a long way down on my list of Fun Things to Do.

It's probably a warped view from my childhood. My mother had narcolepsy, so she did not drive if she could help it. We had twenty-two acres to play on, and we had each other to play with, and if we were bored there was a very long list of chores to do. Taking a trip out was reserved for the dentist and the doctor once or twice a year.

We tried doing story time at the library. First we went to the active-song time for 18-36 month olds, to which all the Hip Young Mamas go. It was fun, and it did inspire D1 to try some novel things like jumping. (She was not physically adventuresome when she was smaller. Now she likes to climb eight feet up.) But there were usually more than thirty kids, plus parents, and it was crowded and overwhelming. The ducklings love playing with a couple of other small children; they do not like large crowds of small children. I don't blame them. Small children and large crowds don't mix well.

The other story time was smaller, quieter, attended mostly by grandmas, and involved actually reading books. The ducklings liked it, mostly because they were allowed to color with markers. I did not like getting the marker off of their clothes (which is why they use crayons and colored pencils at home--also better for finger strength). The book selection was usually not too impressive, either.

Anyway, the whole matter was settled several weeks ago when we sold our second car and decided to just do without for a while. Now I don't need to worry about whether I should be taking them out for more Stimulating Events, because I can't. We take an evening out as a family to a park or library once a week, and we go to church.

There is still the park to walk to, and if we can't watch the animals at the zoo, we can learn a lot about the habits of squirrels and rabbits. We may miss out on group classes, but maybe we'll have the chance to get to know the kids who live on our street. (It's hard, though, because they're not home much. But someone has to be available.)

We still don't know the names of all the weeds that grow in our backyard, or the kinds of birds that hide in the bushes. We can't go to a farmers' market, but we could grow more things ourselves. They are missing out on high-energy-tons-of-kids social opportunities, but they are getting lots of chances to learn to play well together.

I'm sure there's lots of good things we could be doing, and probably someday we will, but I think for now we'll do just fine as it is.

According to the Ducklings

Song heard in the night: "The wise man built his house upon the rock, all around the town."

D1, reading from her Gideon testament: "Go forth and tell God that I need to go potty."

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Once and Future King

This phrase has echoed in the back of my head for two decades, like a call from a bird flying too high to see. I don't know how long it was before I realized that it was the title of a book, nor am I quite sure why it took me so long to read the book once I discovered it. Perhaps I was afraid that the book could never live up to the title.

I cannot say I was disappointed, exactly, even though it was not exactly what I expected. (But who would want things to be exactly what was expected? How dull life would be.) There was much to appreciate, and some to dislike. The book (or really four books) is full of too many things--comedy, tragedy, obscure details of medieval life, psychoanalysis--full like an overstuffed chair, and like an overstuffed chair, hard to get out of once you get in.

As a straight retelling of the Arthurian legend, it is not so good. Most of the auxiliary plot lines are left out; Gawaine (always my favorite) gets short shrift and most of the gallant knightly adventures are alluded to only in passing. (I like Rosemary Sutcliff's retelling for finding out what was happening.) But then, it wasn't really meant to be that, and it is hardly fair to critique a book for not being what it doesn't want to be. It is more of a commentary on the Arthurian legend (though still in a story form) and what it tells us about human nature and governance. Certainly from that perspective it will color how I read the story in whatever form.

One thing that annoyed me throughout the books was that the entire story line was moved forward to the twelfth century. Now I know Arthur is always presented in late medieval trappings, but the story still belongs much earlier; it's like reading a retelling of the Bible set in seventeenth century Holland to go along with those paintings of Bible characters in the clothes of Dutch burghers. The multiplied layers of racial conflict this caused (Norman vs. Saxon vs. Celt vs. Pict) just got to be mind-boggling, although I suppose the real reason for the time change was because the ideals being critiqued were best illustrated by the Norman nobility.

The books focus on Arthur's (and behind that, Merlin's) efforts to fight the rule of force in the world. First Arthur tries the Round Table and chivalric ideals to put Might on the side of Right. Pretty soon the knights run out of bad guys to fight, however, and inner conflicts begin to surface. Then Arthur hopes that spiritual questing can take the place of battle, and the knights search for the Holy Grail; this too fails in establishing a just order on Earth, as the best knights all leave for Heaven. Finally Arthur tries to establish impartial justice in a civil code, but even this is turned to bad ends through Mordred's scheming.

What makes the Arthur legend such a complete tragedy is that the evil is completely bound up with the good. Doom comes not as some relentless fate you can neither duck nor explain, like Oedipus Rex's mysterious obligation to kill his father and marry his mother, nor is it the consequence of milder quirks of circumstance that you can wish away with an "if only." (If only the friar had delivered the letter in time! If only Cyrano had talked to Roxanne before Christian died!)

Given Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere being who they were, bad things were bound to happen; turn them into other people, and the Round Table never could have happened at all. You could wish away Mordred, but to be effective that would require undoing the malice of Arthur's sisters, and to do that you would have to undo Arthur himself. The Arthurian legend is not so much about why good people do bad things, as to how bad people can accomplish anything good at all. And yet they can.

What finally spurred me to read the books this time was noticing their place in the reading list at Ambleside Online. Well, the first two books are on the list for the early teen years--The Sword in the Stone, which focuses on Merlin's tutelage of Arthur, and The Queen of Air and Darkness, which focuses on Arthur developing the ideal of the Round Table while also following the youth of Gawaine and his brothers and their mother's idle but malicious scheming. After that the series takes a more grown-up turn, and The Ill-Made Knight focuses primarily on Lancelot, Guinevere, and Elaine, and the motives and results, public and private, of adultery and seduction. It's not particularly graphic, but definitely not for children. At the same time, it shows the Arthurian court declining into a middle age of disillusionment and decadence.

The Candle in the Wind concludes the matter by showing the unraveling of the court. And it was on the last page that I was most frustrated. After reflecting on how each thing he has tried has failed--chivalry, religiosity, legality--and other ideas, like communism, seem just as insubstantial against the evil in human hearts, Arthur has one last bright idea that if only people could learn to disregard the imaginary borders of countries, perhaps through education, then war and strife could cease. He is going to die in battle tomorrow, and has no time to put it into practice. But still, he thinks it would work. I can't figure out what the author is trying to say here--is he really so blind as to think internationalism and education will succeed where everything else has failed? Or is it ironic, one last foolish notion of Arthur's in his old age?--in which case, what a horrible way to end!

At any rate, the exact ending is not that important in a book whose ending is ordained from the first, nor does it destroy the value of the understanding throughout the book of the great difficulty present in trying to do right and establish justice in the world. And the series is certainly not pessimistic. The title of the last book sums it up--public justice is like a candle in the wind. Always it is in danger of being snuffed out--and yet, there it is. Worthy of protection. Beautiful in its very fragility.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Dog Days

August is not a month I enjoy. I've tried to acclimate, I really have. Last summer I kept nudging the thermostat up, trying to take it a degree or two warmer. I hit the wall at seventy-four. At seventy-four degrees, I can function. At seventy-five, I start to melt. I know you southerners are snorting in your sweet tea, but that's as far as I'm willing to go.

This makes spending time outside a little tricky this time of year. Usually we abandon the breakfast dishes and head straight outside. At ten o'clock my internal thermometer starts setting off alarms and we can come in and clean up then.

After a week of very hot, still, muggy weather, though, even the early morning air wasn't worth the bother of breathing today. Every exhaust fume from every morning commuter still lingered in the air. I went out and got the wading pool and we set it up in the basement, where it stayed below seventy-five all morning.

Only four more weeks to September.