Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Bright Moments in Capitalism

It is time for the toy catalogs to appear, which means it is time for me to mock the ideas toy manufacturers come up with in an effort to keep people coming back for more.

Actually we get a few toy catalogs which contain a fair number of toys that even I could see some sense in, given an unlimited budget and space. (Feeling at my capacity for Seeing Toys Get Picked Up, though, I'm not that wistful over them.) There is still always something to mock.

In one catalog, for $9.99, you could purchase for some eager young crafter, ages 3 and up, a paper chain kit. That's right, in case you couldn't guess, it contains paper strips and a glue stick. You don't even get to cut out the paper chains yourself, so no scissors are included. That would probably make it too dangerous. Although there is still the peril of paper cuts--perhaps the edges of the paper are sanded?

It does remind me that D1 is starting to be interested in scissors, and would probably enjoy making a paper chain some rainy day. I already picked up some glue sticks, for fifty cents or so at the back-to-school sales. Now all we need is some colorful paper. I think I have just the thing.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

Lately D1 has been quite intrigued by the intersection of physics and eschatology, or more precisely, by the idea that everything on earth will fall apart but we will go to heaven where everything will last forever. I forget why I brought it up, but I told her that our house would fall apart someday but Jesus was getting one ready for us in heaven.

D1: "What about our car?"
QOC: "It will fall apart, too."
D1: "But we need our car to get to heaven!"
QOC: "Jesus will come and get us."
D1: "Oh, does Jesus have his own car?"

Sometime later that day I heard her trying to convey this idea to D2, who was not interested. She finally called out to me in frustration, "Mama! D2 doesn't want to fall apart or go to heaven." Perhaps, like the child in the old joke, he was concerned that she was getting up a load for tonight.

Today while getting changed she commented, "Pretty soon we will have no house and no clothes."
QOC: "Why not?"
D1: "Because when our house falls apart it will smash our clothes."

I tried to assure her that nothing was going to fall apart any time soon, not that she seemed at all distressed at the prospect. Meanwhile D2 would rather put a blanket over his head and be a monster, until he runs into the furniture. Perhaps the thought of being eternally secure against a bonked head would render him more interested in his future state.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Revenge of the Clothes Boxes

My last post was the thousandth. I should have thrown a party. Or given something away. Anybody want an 18" suncatcher of a bowl of fruit in primary colors?

We had a fabulous weekend of hiking, canoeing, and generally enjoying the absolute pinnacle of beautiful fall weather and colors.

Now it is raining, and raining, and raining. Which means I must face my promises to take the ducklings up to the attic and--shudder--organize the clothing boxes. Somewhere I read advice to the effect that you should just consider the thrift store your attic and donate all your children's outgrown clothes there, and then go buy others when you needed them. Whoever said that could not have had (or planned to have) very many children. That, or they must have loved shopping.

I hate shopping. Even worse than I hate organizing. It takes a lot of time and hassle to assemble a decent-looking wardrobe from hand-me-downs and my very, very occasional forays into second-hand shopping. I certainly don't want to throw it all out as long as there's a possibility I might need it again someday. Truly, if I had tons of money I would just mail-order them a few basic pieces that could all coordinate with each other, and donate them when they outgrew them.

Since I don't have tons of money, I keep piecing things together. This is a messy process. Especially when the boxes have been moved a few times, and winter clothes were shoved in random spots by one fleeing from the summer attic heat, and seasons never change all at once, and children never outgrow an entire set of clothes simultaneously, and the ducklings' very favorite game to play is packing for a trip, and one very foolishly asked certain younger relatives to move the boxes without making it clear that THROWING them was not the proper method.

I sort through the debris and wonder why clothing manufacturers cannot get their act together on children's clothes sizes. Just when I've figured out that 18 months is the same size as 12-18 months, NOT as 18-24 months, and when I've figured out how many pounds that is, some other manufacturer decides to throw an "extra-small" at me. Every once in awhile a European garment shows up to completely throw me for a loop. I can excuse the Europeans, but not the Americans. There is no excuse here like there is for adult clothes, where they must all compete to make us feel as skinny as possible. Toddlers Do. Not. Care. what number is on their clothes. Just set some industry standards!

Furthermore, long experience has taught me that dresses should be put in a size down from what they say, or they're likely to be too short when they come out; and on my kids, at least, pants probably belong in a box up. So um, this is a 2T dress, which means it goes with the 18-24 month clothes, but this 24 month dress needs to go in the 12-18 month clothes while the 24 month pants need to go in the 2T box . . . and meanwhile somebody has fallen down and gotten stuck in an empty box and somebody else is wanting to help by moving things from one box to another, just like Mama!

I got the main sorting done this morning, and if it can just stay sorted until I can get back to it, I'll go through and weed through the clothes until I can easily close the box (paper boxes DOB brings home from work), one box per size and gender. (It seems to me only fair to allow a summer and winter box once they get old enough not to grow into a new size every season, though, so I'll probably keep two boxes of D1's most recent size.) This is when I can get rid of anything with yucky-feeling fabric, or anything that long experience has taught me is too much trouble to put on. Sometimes I look back at things I picked up before D1 was born and wonder what I was thinking. I got a little too desperate when the first few yard sales I hit didn't have much good. I should have just been patient.

So here's my hard-earned thoughts on children's clothes. These are all buying recommendations; I will temporarily take hand-me-downs that don't quite meet up if I don't have enough clothes to rotate in a particular size.
  1. Only get 100% cotton. Anything with polyester will feel yucky really, really fast, if it doesn't already. And 100% cotton is not hard to find anymore. (As to whether you want to pick up wool things, I leave that to your dry cleaning bill.)
  2. Choose a color scheme for a child. D1 pretty much gets pink and purples, D2 pretty much gets orange, red, or sometimes green. (These are colors they like and look good in, for the record. I hate pink.) They both get denim, which goes with everything, right? The more I do this, the fewer odd garments they have that never seem to go with anything and clash horribly with their coats and shoes.
  3. If you're buying an isolated garment, as opposed to a set, make sure it either is neutral (jeans, khakis, simple solid or striped tops) or will go with a readily-available neutral. You are never, ever, ever going to find clever matches in second-hand clothes if they don't come together. For little girls, denim pants or jumpers with a little mixed-color trim can usually be matched to something, so I count them as neutral.
  4. Don't get things you don't like. Children may have clothing preferences when they are old enough to earn their own money and drive to the store. OK, maybe a little before then. But while you can give them choices, you're the one who has to look at it and pay for it. Personally, I shudder at TV characters on clothes, so those always go straight out.
  5. From birth to four months, look for how easy it is for you to put them on. Snapping all the way down the front usually works best for me. Slipping a newborn head through any neck hole is a challenge. Fussing with elaborate fastening procedures on someone who spits up at every feeding is just not worth it.
  6. From four to eighteen months (more precisely, from rolling over to walking very well), look for mobility. Long, loose garments are going to tangle them up and slow them down. Shirts that snap underneath are perfect, since their tummy stays covered and their legs are free. I try to avoid long dresses for girls at this age, except for Sunday morning. All-in-one outfits should be cut pretty tight or have elastic around the waist, or they'll get tangled in them.
  7. From eighteen months on, avoid those snaps underneath, and anything in the overall or coverall line. Not only will you be ready for potty training whenever it occurs, but I've always found it much easier to dress a wiggly toddler standing up than have them lie down long enough for all those snaps.
  8. All clothes for two year olds and up should be purchased with an eye to how easy it will be for the child to learn to get them on and off by himself. I try to stick to wide-neck knit tops and elastic-waist pants, plus over-the-top dresses and jumpers for girls. It is a happy, happy day when your child can dress herself. Don't delay it by stuck zippers and tiny buttons.
  9. Make sure you hold onto a few less-than-perfect things sturdy enough for playing in the mud.
  10. Don't count on sizes--hold the clothes up to each other and make sure they are close. Some manufacturers consistently run large or small. (Unfortunately, I can never remember which.)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Gnus and Other Creatures

Last night I was getting the ducklings' jammies on them. (Actually D1 can now do this almost entirely without assistance, an event whose import of joy on both sides you could only understand if you knew my skills at child-dressing. When I first visited my family after D1's birth, with six months of mommyhood under my belt, my siblings all came down and lined up on the couch while I was changing the baby, not because they wanted to see me or the baby, but because they wanted to be there for the show. They were not disappointed.)

For some reason something reminded me of a snatch of song from an old British comedy duo and I started singing:

"I'm a g-nu, I'm a g-nu,
You really ought to k-now w-ho's w-ho."

Unfortunately that was all I could remember. And according to DOB, I was butchering the melody even on that part. But the ducklings were delighted and insisted on hearing it over and over.

Now, singing the same two lines of the song repeatedly, and getting even those wrong, gets frustrating after awhile. So when everyone was installed in their jammies, I went to Google and hunted up the lyrics. That was all well and good, but my attempt to sing them required me to make up half of the tune, and believe me, I'm no composer. D2 was satisfied, but I was not.

Then I went back to the Google results and great was our joy to realize we could watch the entire thing on YouTube. The ducklings were satisfied, except of course they wanted to watch it a great many more times than was reasonable, what with it being bedtime and all. How did we survive before Google and YouTube?

The gnu featured in a lengthy discussion D1 and I had today on mammals, or rather, Which Animals Drink Milk from their Mamas. Pretty much any topic we approach comes from the food angle. Earlier this morning we counted buttons into bowls and they became soup. On Tuesday we made an apple pie and saw the world. I should just make alphabet soup to round out the course offerings.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Random Thought

Not to slight anyone's denomination, but it struck us while driving past the Deerfield United Methodist Church that if you're a United Methodist, it must be pretty tough to come up with a church name that doesn't have lousy initials. Clearly more thought should have gone into naming the denomination.

Think of the possibilities:

Southern Cincinnati United Methodist
Greater Louisville United Methodist
Boston United Methodist

Monday, October 15, 2007

How Cool

I've been meandering my way to the Norman Conquest, even reading a novel (OK, a YA novel) on the Bayeux Tapestry, and behold, yesterday was the 941st anniversary of the Battle of Hastings.

This is too much fun. I can't wait until the kids are old enough to do all this with me. Of course, the things that interest them already amaze me--we got a globe at the thrift store on Saturday, and it has further fed their obsession with all things geographic. They love finding where they live, and then hunting up random spots and asking who lives there. (In Chad? Umm . . . maybe lions and giraffes?) D2 was initially upset with the idea that he lived on a giant ball, but he seems to have gotten used to it.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Few Things

Fall did come, at last; in fact, the high temperature dropped over thirty degrees in two days. We went straight from mosquito bites to chapped lips. But I am by no means complaining.

Their Majesties came by briefly on Wednesday, perhaps bringing the cooler weather with them from Washington. They were en route to see my youngest brother graduate from boot camp. (He used to be called Rocketboy online, but since he's going into helicopter maintenance and flight, perhaps he needs a new name. Copterboy?)

Wednesday morning I naturally still had considerable house cleaning and cooking to do, but I awoke that morning with an idea for the church Christmas pageant--something that has perplexed me for weeks--and not just an idea, but the entire pageant, every scene, nearly every word, raging through my mind. Naturally that had to take priority over a few gray splotches on the kitchen floor, although in due time nearly everything was done.

(I finished the pageant today, and it's at the stage where, as Pooh said, a thing that was very thingish in your mind turns out to be not so much when it's out where people can look at it. But I shall have DOB look at it and see if it is still thingish enough for him to produce.)

With the cooler weather on Thursday I had to make good on my resolutions to spend more time outside, so I grabbed whatever was in the fridge (one stale hunk of bread, four cheese sticks, and a partial bag of baby carrots) and we went to the park all morning. We got home quite tired, and after brief stories I put them down for their naps and headed downstairs to switch the laundry.

Something smelled funny. DOB's sister (who I think will have the name Cicero on here--pronounce it with the traditional soft C and you will see why it's a natural nickname for the only girl among six boys) was in the attic studying, and I called her down to get her opinion, since I still feel very inexperienced in matters of poisonous vapors getting pumped into the house. She also thought it smelled suspiciously like gas. So we called DOB and he, never one to pooh-pooh dangers, ordered us all out of the house. Immediately.

I woke up D1 and got up D2, and tried to explain to their mystified faces why we were putting on jackets and heading back outside instead of taking naps. I did have them grab their blankets, with vague ideas of setting up camp outside if necessary. That proved to not be necessary, as I saw the neighbor and she kindly let us stay in her living room. D1 was very sleepy but pleased with the idea of a progressive nap, while D2 was wide awake and terrified at the strange house. No sooner had we gotten them settled than D2 fell sound asleep, while D1 wiggled on the couch for the entire time.

I left Cicero with the kids and waited for the gas man. He went in and said he didn't smell anything. However, the machine finally revealed a tiny leak around the water heater, which he resolved by tightening a screw. He still remained skeptical that whatever I had smelled could have possibly had anything to do with that, but I say I just have a more sensitive nose. (And our first landlord said he couldn't smell any smoke in our apartment. Mm-hmm.)

So that was an exciting yesterday. Today I smashed my toe on the closet door frame. I'm not even sure why I was in the closet; it's not a walk-in. And not a walk-out, apparently. The toe is purple and swollen and we spent our outside time in the back yard, which the mosquitoes have happily abandoned.

But, the air is cool. The ducklings are looking very adorable in their slightly-too-big and not-yet-stained winter wardrobes. And life is good.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

How to Politely Drive Your Mother Crazy

At the lunch table:

D2: How was your day, D1?
D1: No, thank you.
D2: How was your day, D1?
D1: No, thank you.
(Repeat without stopping until lunch is over.)

Monday, October 08, 2007

Misery Loves Company

Things that are Miserable:

1. 90-degree weather in October.
2. Teething toddlers.
3. Reorganizing the personal finance files.

Since I can't do anything about 1 and 2, I might as well throw 3 in and get a lot of misery over with at once. Supposedly it's going to rain and cool off tomorrow. And since I can see two-year molars coming through, perhaps D2 will be done with teething altogether soon, putting an end to the ever-flowing river he's had since five months old, and he won't have to spend next winter dressed like this:

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Fairer Sex Heads Afield

In my quest for things medieval this year, I decided to pursue the stories of Charlemagne's knights, who don't get out as much as King Arthur's anymore. To my surprise, although Charlemagne is a more historical character than Arthur, his knights are just as legendary, and their adventures are, if anything, more fantastic. All that battling the Saracen gives them a more international flair, and their adventures include trips to or visitors from India, Cathay, and the moon (where everyone's lost wits are kept in tidy little vials).

My guide on this quest has been Thomas Bullfinch, who wrote up a lengthy volume with all the mythology he thought it might be useful to anyone to know. Although he's not the most enthralling storyteller in the world, he does passably well, and it's handy to have everything in one volume which (Bullfinch being a good Victorian) can safely be left within the children's reach. I will definitely be watching for my own copy at Half-Price Books.

One surprising thing about Charlemagne's knights is that some of them are girls. The most prominent is a doughty maiden named Bradamante, who falls in love with a Saracen knight named Rogero. She spends a lot of time rescuing him from various enchantments of his foster-father, who is trying to keep him in idle seclusion from the dangers of battle. Rogero's a good fighter, but not much against enchanters.

In due time it is revealed that Rogero was in fact the child of Christian parents who were slain by the prince he is now serving, and he eventually sees his way clear, despite knightly codes, to abandon his past creed and commander and convert to Christianity, join Charlemagne's forces, and, not incidentally, marry Bradamante.

Trouble is, while Bradamante has been riding knight-errant around the countryside, her parents have been more-or-less betrothing her to the son of the Byzantine Emperor. They don't think a landless knight is an adequate substitute. Upon hearing this news, Bradamante proves she really is a girl and goes to her room and cries. Rogero rides off to challenge Prince Leo himself, but when Leo saves his life, Rogero winds up vowing to serve him. Prince Leo, who, though he means well, is a poor fighter, finds in his anonymous new friend the perfect champion to secretly substitute for him when Bradamante vows she won't marry a man who can't beat her in a fair fight. And Rogero is too much the loyal knight to refuse the request.

It's an exciting and complicated tale, and all ends happily, which is a rare ending for Charlemagne's knights. Another girl, named Fleurdelis, is always following the knight Florismart around, but since she's no fighter she always has to beg some other knight (once Bradamante) to rescue him from the trouble he gets in. When he dies, she thinks regretfully that if only she had been there, she might have screamed at the right moment. There's a moral in there somewhere.

The curious thing is that of the few girls who are knights (Rogero's sister is another), nobody seems to make a big deal about it. Clearly it's not common, but neither is it treated as shocking or improper by anyone. Of course, none of the bad guys are too thrilled when they find out they've been beaten by a girl.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Yet again

Anne Shirley once reassured Marilla that although she made many mistakes, she never made the same one twice, and therefore would have to come to the end eventually.

I lack that consolation. I make the same mistakes over and over. At least some of them. I never have confused the salt and sugar in sweet bread again, but then you have to have an awfully large container of salt on hand to do that. And I did finally, after many years of stinky yellow biscuits, stop confusing the baking soda and powder. Or rather I just gave up on having both in my kitchen.

If there is a saturation point on mistakes, I still haven't reached it on leaving the salt out of bread entirely. It is disheartening to come to the end of a hard day's work and realize you have wasted your labors and the last of the honey on a half-dozen loaves of tasteless bread.

The bread is not entirely ruined. Having made this mistake many times before, I also have many alternative uses where salt can be sneaked in through other ingredients: french toast, creamed tuna, bread pudding, breakfast strata, breadcrumbs. But that was not the goal. No little grain of wheat aspires to grow up to be a breadcrumb.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

A Year's Difference

Almost a year ago I tried babysitting three other small children, plus the ducklings, for a few hours. At the end of the day I was reduced to a mass of quivering jelly, and actually had to order pizza for dinner. (That is not something we do at the Duchy, unless we just moved. I was very much moved.)

This week, I've had two of those small children over twice for three hours at a stretch. It was lovely. I read, did housework, gardened, and had fun playing with them. We'll have to do it more often.

Some of the differences are mere flukes. Our thermostat is still stuck on August, so we played outside for a couple of hours in the morning and ate lunch on the back patio: move the table and let the squirrels clean up the mess. And, of course, four children is a power of ten less than five children.

Still, it was amazing how much of a difference the increased age of the kids made. Everyone who was still being potty-trained last year was done this year. (And fortunately nobody else has given up diapers yet.) Everybody could move under their own power. Everybody could communicate enough to alert me to any serious problems. Everyone's movements and grasp of rules were predictable enough to allow me to dash inside for a Kleenex.

The girls (3 and 4) could keep themselves busy for hours with little intervention, writing with chalk or cooking or playing some incomprehensible thing that involved scarves on the heads and climbing over the couch. The boys (2) could keep themselves busy tagging along or just riding bikes back and forth.

I like this growing-up thing. So far.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

God of the Teeny, Tiny Holes

I'm reading a fascinating book called Rare Earth on how the precise combinations of everything necessary to sustain complex life appear to be exceedingly rare in the universe. I was rather amused, though, to come across the following line:

"If some god-like being could be given the opportunity to plan a sequence of events with the express goal of duplicating our 'Garden of Eden,' that power would face a formidable task. With the best intentions, but limited by natural laws and materials, it is unlikely that Earth could ever be truly replicated."

Now I realize this statement is just trying to express the uniqueness of earth, not attack God. But while intelligent design theories are frequently (and inaccurately) being ridiculed for creating a "God of the gaps" who does the stuff too hard for us to figure out, it amuses me that these authors seems to think that the design of the universe is too complex even for God to handle.

If you are going to bring God into the question at all, you ought to at least hypothetically let Him have the attributes He's commonly claimed to have. An omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being is the 200-lb gorilla of the universe: He can do anything He wants.