Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Year in Review

Borrowed from The Common Room

1. What did you do in 2009 that you'd never done before?

Drove across the northern Plain states.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I don't think so. I have a deep aversion to the whole New Improved Shiny Me thing, as it rarely involves permanent character development and generally instead involves looking better to everyone else.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth or get pregnant?

Quite a few of them. But not me, hurrah!

4. Did anyone close to you get married?

Not that they told me about.

5. Did anyone close to you die?

My uncle, which may or may not count as close enough.

6. Travel?

Oh my yes. West Virginia in February, and then the Great Trip.

7. Did you move anywhere?

From Ohio to Washington.

8. What was the best month?

The first six months of the year where rather steadily dull; the last six months were all highs and lows. I don't think I could pick one as being a real best, although the trip itself makes October stand out.

9. What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008?

Patience. (Spare me the jokes, please.)

10. What date(s) from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

June 29, the day we decided to move. October 10, the day we left, and October 22, the day we arrived.

11. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Keeping myself and those dependent on me alive.

12. What was your biggest failure?

Losing my cool and perspective and being unwilling to live in acceptance of the moment instead of impatiently insisting that everything be sorted out right now. (Um, this is more of an ongoing one.)

13. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Just general exhaustion.

14. What was the best thing you bought?

Most of my achievements of the year would be the things I cleverly managed to avoid buying, such as by resurrecting old computers.

15. Whose behavior merited celebration?

The kids', for taking their parents' insanity in stride and handling massive upheaval without complaint; DOB's, for being brave enough to try new things; and the family and friends who made it all possible, most especially Their Majesties.

16. Whose behavior made you appalled and/or depressed?

Pretty much anything that was in the news all year, which is why I tried to ignore it.

17. Where did most of your money go?

If one only knew . . .

18. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Moving back home, reexamining life.

19. What song will always remind you of 2009?

Long, Long Journey

20. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder?
ii. richer or poorer?

i. Happier, I think, but things are still settling themselves out.

ii. Poorer for the present.

21. What do you wish you'd done more of?

I think I've done enough, thanks.

22. What do you wish you'd done less of?

Changing dirty diapers. I really think one per child per day ought to be enough.

23. How will you be spending New Year's Eve/Day?

We will probably have a small celebration with the older ducklings that ends by 9 p.m. and go to bed early. New Year's Day we have a wedding to attend.

24. What was an unexpected surprise?

Everything. I am easily surprised.

25. Did you fall in love in 2009?

Surely I've done enough in that department, too.

26. What was the best concert you've been to this year?

The cousins singing "Let All Things Now Living" on Thanksgiving.

27. What was your favorite TV program?

Jeeves and Wooster. It's my favorite TV program every year!

28. Do you dislike anyone now that you didn't dislike this time last year?

It takes a lot for me to dislike someone. No one has worked hard enough at it lately.

29. What was the best book you read?

I wish I kept better track of them. (Perhaps that is what I should have done more of.)

30. What was your greatest musical discovery?

The effect a quiet CD has on getting four children to sleep in the same room.

31. What did you want and get?

The chance to be with my family-of-origin. Adventure and excitement. Children who all sleep through the night.

32. What did you want and not get?

Finding a way to bridge the gap between what I like to do and what I have to do.

33. What was your favorite film of this year?

I'm tempted to say Hogfather. So I think I will.

34. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I was 31, and since it was Thanksgiving, I spent most of the day chopping vegetables.

35. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

DOB already having new work.

36. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?

Can I still button it?

37. What kept you sane?

Reading and taking walks for as long as I could.

38. What political issue stirred you the most?

The incredible undying stupidity of Congress on every issue has stirred me so much already that nothing is left in the pot.

39. Who did you miss?

Friends and family from Cincinnati.

40. Random Memories from 2009?

An overambitious but fun garden; the pristine if almost unfriendly beauty of a house ready for the market; babies turning into toddlers like an invasion of the infantry; D1 learning to read and D2 following close behind; plains, rivers, forests, mountains, snow, rain, sun.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas in the Sheep Fields

A few days ago I posted a Facebook status that asked, "Does it count as being in the Christmas spirit if you don't feel like doing any of the work?"

I meant it to be a bit flippant, but the more I think about it, the more it sums up my feelings about Christmas this year. Generally one is expected to either be exuberantly dashing about to stores and parties or bah-humbugging along (usually while still dashing about to stores and parties).

There is no Dasher in me this year. Yet I bear no ill-will toward Christmas. It's still delightful. The lights twinkle just as well, the songs play just as merrily, the occasional social event is just as much fun.

But when it comes to my personal contribution to the festivities, well, I hope to show up. In something that bears no stains or rips more than an hour old. I have baked a couple batches of cookies, and that was plenty, and I have wrapped two or three gifts for each duckling (and only the ducklings) from the remnants of last summer's yard sales, and that was plenty. The tree was decorated once, but ducklings somehow quite innocently keep getting entangled in the lower reaches, so it now looks like the result of an ornament fight in the woods.

In a brief, quickly-abandoned attempt to write a Christmas letter I dug through this year's blog archives and remembered last year's Christmas. (And marveled again at the phenomenon that the stuff I wrote a year or more ago is always so much more profound and witty than the present drivel.) The twins were in the six-month growth spurt, nursing night and day and just learning how to gag down a few bites of applesauce.

Nights have certainly improved since then: how quickly one learns to take eleven hours of quiet for granted. But days have become much, much more complicated. The babies who napped twice a day, rolled about in a blanket in the corner, or rode along in mei tais have turned into The Energizer Bunnies of Chaos. Just opening the refrigerator door is an exercise in strategic withdrawal, as by the time the necessary object is removed, one or more inquisitive heads will be blocking its closure.

No wonder by the time nap time or bedtime hits, I can't come up with the energy to tackle a beautiful and creative Christmas project--or even the energy to care that I don't. I could berate myself over my laxness or express bitterness over various cultural expectations, but I don't really want to. I think all that stuff is very fun, I just don't want to this year. Some years one can be a Magi, bearing gifts from afar, and some years one is a shepherd, showing up impromptu and unequipped with a crowd of stinky sheep. The manger is open to all.

I wonder if God sent the angels to the shepherds and the star for the wise men because he knew the shepherds wouldn't have a clue what the star was about and the wise men wouldn't believe the angel--or, at least, would not enjoy it as much as working out all their star position charts. There's a messenger that's right for each of us, and I think mine will show up while I'm sitting in the rocking chair by the Christmas tree, singing carols to two howling toddlers who just fell and bonked their heads again.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Crismis is Cumyn . . .

and D1 is happily decorating every house she is given access to with seasonal signs, on which she sometimes consults over spelling and sometimes not. She even got D2 into the game, laboriously copying out The Twelve Days of Christmas, although she only got as far as "Six geese a-laying" and D2 gave up the attempt midway through the fourth word.

This morning they asked me if I wanted to hear the song they had composed. They stood next to their advent calendar and sang for each day's creature: "Oh, the cow is white and the camel is peach and the bird is white and the sheep is gray and the angel is red . . . " all the way through to "and Mary is blue and Joseph is green and baby Jesus is white" "no, brown" "no, white" "no, brown."

At lunchtime they were rehearsing the angel chorus for the Christmas program and after reciting "Good will toward men," D1 asked, "But what about the ladies?"

So, a merry and inclusive Christmas to all of you!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Spam, Spam, Spam

I've been getting a lot of comment spam lately, so I've turned off anonymous comments. If you have a problem with this, I'm not sure what you should do about it. Cry, perhaps.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Settling In

People keep asking us if we are settled in yet. It is hard to say, as I am not sure what being settled in would look like. If measured by intentions to unpack more boxes, then we're pretty settled. Indeed, I'm wondering why we packed all that other stuff.

On the other hand, I'm not sure settling in is on the agenda list. When we first arrived, we dashed around doing lots of networking and job hunting. Then we spent a couple of weeks just sleeping as much as possible. Now DOB has begun his bar preparation (interspersed with a lot of sleeping) and I am mostly trying to keep everyone else from interrupting. And, when I can, sleep.

The extra time with the kids means we have been doing a bit more school . . . but only if they are very good and help with the housework first. D1 is really taking off with reading, and also likes writing her own stories. Her spelling still being loosely phonetic, reading them is an invigorating challenge, rather like puzzling out Beowulf. "WOCT . . . hmm . . . oh, walked!"

We have also been studying the planets and anything else related to outer space that catches our fancy. They made some marbled paper with food coloring and oil and a lot of mess on the counter, and then they cut it out into suitably-colored and proportioned planets to post on our windows.

It's been clear and cold lately, but everyone was happy to see St. Nicholas had put mittens in their shoes on Sunday morning, so we bundle up at least once a day and go out to soak in a few minutes of sunshine. The challenge is finding it--I had forgotten just how low the sun is in the sky this far north. Even at noon the sun has to find a gap in the trees. When we are feeling very inspired, we bundle up at bedtime and go out to look at the stars. (If you want to get up at 2 a.m. on the 14th, there's supposed to be a great meteor shower, but I, for one, will not.)

Yesterday I managed to make three varieties of Christmas cookies with the older ducklings' assistance and didn't lose my mind once. The babies were not allowed to participate. However, they do get to sing with us, and D3 has taken to patting our mouths with her slobbery hand and insisting, "Song! Song!"

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

D1 Explains Life

D1, at breakfast one day: "Hey, I figured it out: people get married and have kids, and then thur kids get married and have kids, and then thur kids get married and have kids. And people are born every day, and people die every day."

Today she asked me, "How do I know, when I'm listening, what is what I am thinking and what is what I am listening to?"

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Suitable for All Ages

We could put on serious faces and explain that the reason our children don't watch television is out of concern for their morals or mental development or the health of their eyes.

The real truth, though, is that we just hate children's television. If Dante had known about it, he probably would have peopled one of the less-serious levels of hell with images of singing, dancing, oversincere hosts spouting babble about Being Nice.

Unfortunately, from what I've read, it is exactly the programming that is most tedious for adults that actually has marginal benefit for children. The slow, boring, repetitive kind, not the kind with amusing in-jokes.

So we've simply operated on the assumption that we will let the children watch television when they are old enough to enjoy the kind of things we want to watch. This is tricky, since preschoolers don't process things as adults do. This was driven home to me when we got to the climactic scenes in Little House on the Prairie and D2 didn't want to read anymore. The realistic emotional strain of the tension between the settlers and the natives was too much for him, even though no actual harm ensued or was even directly threatened.

On the other hand, give him a story with tigers threatening to eat people up, poisoned apples, or sword-wielding knights, and he'll listen with glowing eyes. It's not about the degree of violence, it's about the safety of the delivery package.

We've discussed letting them watch a Christmas movie with us, but it was obvious that some "family favorites" would just not be suitable: It's a Wonderful Life, for instance, would be terrifying to small children. (We might settle on White Christmas; bombs falling is not such a big deal.)

But the other night we had promised D1 that she could sleep in the living room, and we also wanted to watch a dvd ourselves. And then we realized we had struck upon the perfect balance of suitability. The series we wanted to watch contained nothing frightening, no disturbing images or bad language or examples of children misbehaving.

Which is why D1 is now watching Jeeves and Wooster with us. Well, sure, technically there is all the lying, stealing, drinking, gambling, and skirt-chasing, but Wodehouse's ability to turn all that into eminently wholesome entertainment is one of the wonders of English literature. Mostly D1 appreciates the people falling into ponds and hiding under the furniture.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Deck the Halls

In a fit of temporary insanity, we promised the kids we would decorate the house the day after Thanksgiving. My mind filled with hazy memories of a peaceful, solitary day deep-cleaning and artistically arranging treasured ornaments, interspersed with raids on the fridge for Thanksgiving leftovers, all to the soundtrack of favorite Christmas CDs.

We forgot that we would arise exhausted, that the children would be exhausted and cranky (and yet insistent on continuing as promised) and that their ideas of decorating would be very different from mine. Specifically, the older two's idea was to set things out equally spaced in straight lines or simply in a stack. The babies' idea was to throw everything on the floor and step on it, which I allowed them to do with the nativity blocks and the Melmac plates.

Having begun, though, we had to continue, and the future looked brighter after a nap. Thanks to a kind extended family member, we had a coupon for a free tree at a local farm. Their Majesties accompanied us in the truck, and we tromped through the woods in a brief and not-too-picky quest for the perfect tree. (Still a definite step up from tromping through the aisles of the hardware store.)

Once we returned home and had done sufficient battle to erect and put lights on the tree, we could move forward with the real decorations.
As always, the beads were immensely popular. We stuck to the non-breakable decorations this year. The kids insisted on having the overhead lights out most of the time, and D3 especially enjoyed basking in the glow from the tree, exclaiming, "Light!" (Today D4 picked up the nativity block with the star on it and exclaimed, "Light!")

We wound up with some not-too-hot apple cider. And then we shoved everyone in bed very quickly and collapsed. Not quite Hallmark, but the kids seemed to enjoy it.

However, the idea of taking Advent slowly and adding the decorations gradually is looking better all the time.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

We gather together

Wondergirl and the others on the farm have been working towards developing a massive, organic, sustainable garden, although one sometimes wonders if mortal flesh can sustain all that work. Naturally for Thanksgiving dinner we had to use as much homegrown produce as possible.

I volunteered for my share of the chopping and was directed out to the garden to dig the requisite vegetables. This didn't quite seem to fit with "all is safely gathered in," but that's what happens with a four-season garden. (Besides, why should New England define the appropriate seasonal weather?) Since it was a balmy day and not raining at the moment, it was a pleasant task.

We did not have turkey, since no one had raised one, but we had beef brisket, mashed potatoes, roasted all-kinds-of-vegetables (I meant to try the Brussels sprouts, but forgot), Waldorf salad, raw all-kinds-of-vegetables with dip, deviled eggs, green beans, pumpkin pie and pumpkin cake. Thanks to interstate commerce, we also had cranberry chutney (we drove the cranberries out from Wisconsin personally, though), ham, cheese biscuits, peanut butter cheesecake, pecan pie, and probably some more things I'm forgetting or failed to make room for. Oh, and three cans of olives, which were all devoured by small children.

DOB found his calling in drawing up an elaborate menu for the event. I was pleased in that I did not sever any fingers or even fingernails. The ducklings, after the long, long wait, had a fabulous if somewhat hyper evening, and the older ones favored us with a brief Thanksgiving concert in cooperation with the cousins. As he headed for bed, D2 murmured, "I think I had too much wild today." But he seemed to enjoy it while it lasted.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

House of Pancakes

The Saturday morning pancake breakfast is a family tradition that dates back to when it hardly counted as a tradition and was more just something we did because, well, there we all were and we had to eat something for breakfast.

The pancakes in question are sourdough, but before you Nourishing Tradition people get all excited, let me assure you that they must be made with white flour (a brief flirtation with whole wheat was quickly abandoned) and drowned in peanut butter and cheap bulk syrup. Large quantities of scrambled eggs and link sausages--not to mention a few types of homemade jam for when peanut butter and syrup begins to pall--round out the menu. The basic goal is to sustain everyone through a day of hard labor on the farm so that it is not necessary to stop for lunch.

Now that we have returned to the Family Compound, the number of people has reached the point that a Grownup Table and Children's Table are necessary. This is nice, because the older cousins will help the older ducklings with cutting up their pancakes. It also provides fodder for competition.

The oldest cousin (C1) is a ten-year-old farm boy, with the appetite that implies, and hence the ability to regard eating as a competitive sport and still crawl through fences. After our first Saturday breakfast, he went around tallying the totals consumed by the Grownups and by the Children, and announced the Children as the winners, having consumed the most pancakes. There was some dispute over the legitimacy of this title, as he had counted the twins as Children even though they sat near the Grownup table, but the main trouble DOB saw was that he had not been warned about the competition until it was over.

The next time we gathered, DOB was prepared to show how old age and treachery could overcome youth and a high metabolism. (Not that DOB's metabolism has slowed down much yet.) Carefully DOB selected the smallest pancakes from the platter, thus consuming more numerically, certain he would push the Grownup total over what the Children could consume, especially when you factored in that after tummyaches on the previous occasion we had forbidden D1 and D2 from eating more than three or four each.

But this week, C1 never went around to get the tally from each table. Instead, he merely proudly announced his *personal* total of fifteen, which DOB had not been able to manage even in small pancakes.

We await further devious maneuvers as DOB tries to get ahead of the rule-changing.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Where We Are and What We Are Doing

So now, I propose to give you all some idea of what we are actually doing now that we have arrived.

First, a rundown of the Family Compound is in order.

There is The House, wherein reside His and Her Majesty (i.e., my dad and his wife). We are living in their basement. His Majesty just got himself retired last week, but we are all skeptical as to how long that will last. Her Majesty teaches part-time.

There is The Farm (about ten minutes from The House), wherein resides Wondergirl and Bookworm (my sisters) in the house we all grew up in. Also my brother's (Techboy's) in-laws, in a trailer. Also all of our stuff, in a shed. Also a lot of cows, chickens, and organic produce.

In the back pasture of The Farm, there is a big hole in the ground that will someday be a house for my brother and family (the Cousins). Meanwhile they live at another house not quite as far down the road.

A mile or so further on, up the side of a precipitous hill, there is The Hill, wherein reside my grandparents and my Weird Aunt.

Another brother, Toolboy, and his wife live not terribly far away, but their house hasn't made it to compound status. My other brothers live far, far away now.

As for what we are doing, DOB is registered to take the Washington Bar in February. We would like for one of us to pick up part-time work until that is over, preferably something legal-ish. In the meantime, we are busy networking, which means we spend a couple of days a week talking to people and asking them about other people they know and What They Would Do If They Were Us. The other days of the week we spend setting things up and taking them down and dealing with paperwork related to moving and trying to get both computers working and hunting for things that got lost in the move and wondering why the kids can't just play quietly by themselves for five minutes. Sometimes we just give up and play with Legos.

As a result of talking to various people our current plans are that after DOB passes the bar (foregone conclusion, but of course other people don't know that) we will try to find an arrangement to work as an associate or just office-sharing with a solo practitioner or small firm, hopefully in a small town near here, to gain experience and clients as we work towards having our own firm. If all goes well I'll apply to take the July bar to get my license reactivated. We're still planning to homeschool, hopefully with both of us involved as well as finding some person highly competent in the things I am not (like, say, awareness of surroundings and organizational skills) to help out with the day-to-day things.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Great American Hike

I wanted to wait to post this until we had pictures from the camera, but we seem to have lost the camera cord, along with half of the monitor and the entire contents of the medicine cabinet.

In fact, we harbor a deep suspicion that none of our stuff arrived here, and that our moving van was surreptitiously switched with someone else who had the organizational skills of a magpie. Except they had remarkably similar taste in furniture.

Anyway, on Wednesday we decided to take a break from all this and take the kids to a park. It was a glorious autumn day such as does actually occur in the Pacific Northwest, except that we prefer you continue to believe they do not. (It rained today.)

I, having grown up here, have never been to any of the local parks. So we selected one at random and drove there. The place was quite deserted, but we identified a trail which an inconveniently posted map indicated should lead to the beach. We headed off with all four children and a bag of lunch, down moderate grades on a broad, well-maintained trail.

The twins are just at that awkward age that has legs too short to walk and general mass too large to be carried, especially when they both wanted to be carried at once, which, being twins, was always. (I should note for our less-frequent readers that DOB has a foot condition which renders it unsafe for him to traverse unstable ground carrying a small child, which is why I will repeatedly figure as doing the heavy lifting.)

Nonetheless, we arrived at the beach in good time where we could all engage in the ever-popular activities of throwing rocks in the water, dropping bits of lunch for the seagulls, and being unable to function without flush toilets. We had a marvelous time, and then it was time to head back.

Naturally we did not wish to simply retrace our steps, when we clearly recalled the map had showed multiple routes to the water. Unfortunately, there were no maps near the water. There was a small trail--certainly smaller than the one we had come on, but quite clearly marked, and labeled with a "No Bikes" sign. No problem, we didn't have a bike.

We threaded our way through the underbrush for some distance until we encountered a rather muddy patch, which had to be crossed by the means of a few random sticks scattered across it. On the other side was a very steep staircase. The older ducklings made their way across, slowly and with some trepidation, then I took turns carrying the twins across, then DOB made his way across and noted with some displeasure the absence of underbrush to grab onto at his height.

Up the staircase we proceeded, until we encountered a fallen tree. Fortunately there was a large gap under the tree, tall enough for all of us to crawl under. Indeed, the twins could have walked under it, but preferred to simply stand under it as if they were inspecting it for a new home. We finally had to lift them over and pressed on through the thickening underbrush.

A bit further on we encountered an even larger fallen tree, this one smack on the ground. However, beyond it was a clear flat space, and then a flight of steps going up to the fence that marked the edge of the picnic area adjacent to the parking lot. Our goal was nearly in sight. We scaled the log, or went around it, as our leg lengths dictated.

It was a dead end. The flat clear space was a quagmire. A sinkhole cut off the approach to the steps. There was no opening in the fence from above; clearly from this end it was not considered a trail at all.

However, nearby there was a steep mudslide area down the side of the hill. We considered the prospect of retracing our steps and then having to go all the way back on the original trail, and decided to give the mudslide a try. As the most surefooted, I went first, a contented D4 tucked under one arm. I made it about two-thirds of the way up and determined that I could go no further. The mud on one side was nearly vertical; the other side was covered with blackberry brambles.

Then I looked back all the way down the hill, and then across the trees to the water, thought of all that long, long trail we had come down, and decided there had to be a way up. Still with D4 tucked under one arm, I carefully arranged the brambles in such a way that I could angle myself to where a few toeholds crossed the mud horizontally, to a grassy outcropping that came down lower on the other side.

Once I had made it to the top, there was still the challenge of everyone else and the lunch bag. D1, ever calm and resourceful, set off next, getting stuck midway, but by taking off her boots she was able to make it to the top. She then kept D4 on the far side of the fence while I returned down for D3, who was contentedly sitting in DOB's lap after they had slid a third of the way back down, an experience she thought quite amusing. Once I had D3 in hand, DOB and D2 decided to hazard the stairs, and somehow found their way around the sinkhole and up the stairs--many of them missing--tossing the lunch bag on ahead and catching any spare Tupperware that came tumbling back down the cliff.

And so we all made it to the top, safe and sound if rather muddy and very tired.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Theories of Job Searching

The Goldilocks Theory of Job Searching states that for any given job searcher, two kinds of job postings are listed:

Too Big: "Candidates must have three advanced degrees from extremely expensive colleges, thirty-five years' experience in espionage cases involving rare Peruvian wildlife, and fluency in Basque, Parsi, and !Kung. X-ray vision a plus. Salary starts at $1.5M"

Too Small: "Candidates must be a vertebrate form of life with at least five words in vocabulary. Absence of criminal record a plus. You pay us."

There will, of course, be an occasional listing that slips through that an ordinarily competent mortal might apply for, but never fear, those positions will have been filled before the posting was listed, and the post is merely kept up as a sadistic trick.

This is why you are not supposed to look for a job by answering job listings anymore, although everybody keeps doing it anyway. No, you are supposed to get a job by networking, which is exactly how people have always gotten jobs but now there is a fancy name for it. It is, of course, simply the process of finding out whose sister's neighbor's cousin has a job open. You just have to talk to an awful lot of people until you find out which one it is.

Another downside is you must (if you are male) wear a tie. Now, this is the West Coast. Senior partners in downtown firms do not wear ties to work. But struggling, starving (not us, you know, but someone) lawyers-to-be must come up with a tie, and a good one, too, and demonstrate their ability to tie it. The ability to comply with meaningless formalities is, after all, an essential legal skill.

Actually the real trouble we have encountered is that just taking care of the ducklings is in fact more than a full-time job for two people. This leaves little time left over for minor things like earning a living. And upon arrival in a new state there are thirty-nine essential things to do in the first thirty days, all involving paperwork that could not possibly be obtained within thirty days.

But at least I got the lost broccoli and smashed crackers cleaned out of the van.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Extremely Lame Pun Avoided

One of the many benefits of being out here is the duckling's ability to be close to their cousins. (Should they be the goslings?) This week they all got to go on a birthday trip for the youngest cousin (who is just three weeks different in age from D2). Among the features were a corn maze, a tricycle race track, and a pumpkin launcher. And, of course, a nice backdrop for a cousin picture.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Morbid Reading with D2

Today I was noble and actually had school with the older ducklings. Naturally if I made D1 a book, I had to make one for D2, so I did, with everyone's names figuring prominently and a lot of rhyming words since that's about the limit of his reading right now.

At the end I wrote "The End." Then I went back and drew everyone through the book.

When I got to the last page, D2 said, "Hey, draw the end of us!"

I started to smirk at his unconscious pun, when he said, "Yeah, draw the end of us! Draw us all dead!"

Maybe that was why those big pigs were digging.

(D1, of course, prefers morbid math.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Places We Went, Things We Did

I feel that I have been exceedingly negligent in posting about the trip, but as someone has said, after a move it's not as if you can just do a few loads of laundry and be done. (In fact, I still haven't finished bringing in the toys and spare snacks from the car.)

The first two days we just drove straight up to northern Wisconsin, where we visited a friend for a few days. We had a lovely time walking in the woods, watching the snow fall, and generally relaxing after a very exhausting week . . . month . . . year . . .

After we left Wisconsin, our first notable stop was at Mall of America, which we visited ONLY because it has a large Lego store. To our bewilderment, D2 wandered off and insisted he wanted to go on a neighboring amusement park ride. We persuaded him that it was impossible and finally left, ears ringing, brains buzzing, the only benefit being everybody had a chance to stretch their legs out of the rain.

Our next destination, near the end of the next day, was the Badlands. This was particularly noteworthy as we arrived near sunset, and the older ducklings were on the watchout for bad cowboys the entire time. DOB and I were more watching out for staying on the road and not hitting antelope.

The following day we had gloriously warm weather and visited Mt. Rushmore. D1 and D2 were most impressed by the "mountain with faces." We stopped for a roadside picnic at a lovely little spot only a few minutes up the road from the main visitors' area--which turned out to be a good thing when a certain child who shall remain nameless realized an urgent need despite ceaseless attempts to take care of all such things before leaving the last available restroom.

The following day we had the choice to drive through Wyoming or Montana and settled on Wyoming, being rewarded by a drive on an even more lovely day through the incredibly beautiful Bighorn Mountains and Ten Sleep Canyon. We were hard-pressed to move on as everyone was ready to settle down as cowboys. (The good kind, of course.)

Bad weather had to catch up with us again at some point, and it finally did at Yellowstone. We still braved the drizzle to watch Old Faithful erupt, and saw a few other features before sleet settled our minds that it was time to move on.

The following day we drove a longish ways to central Washington so we could have a short drive the following day. That also gave us the chance to spend the night with some acquaintances, which was fun and relaxing. Midway we had the serendipity to discover a lovely park when we pulled off to look for gas in Idaho, and gave the kids the chance to climb on play equipment, something that they had found rather absent amid all the scenic beauty.

After putting in five to seven hours of driving each day, our final stretch of three hours seemed effortless. We didn't even bother to stop. We had seen plenty of rocks and trees and trees and rocks and so forth.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Travel Companions

We have arrived, bags and baggage, which are all piled about at random right now. Instead of dealing with them, however, I shall sit and reflect upon the journey. The contemplative life and all that.

The best advice about traveling with a lot of small children is probably: don't. Nonetheless, I'm glad we had a good excuse to do so, because I adore road trips, even though with four small children it takes an hour-long stop just to cycle everyone through the bathroom.

Plus we were at the point where we had the maximum amount of gear per person and the minimum amount of hefting power. The ducklings tried, but they were not always clear on the concept, D4 insisting on hauling the diaper bag back out to the car no matter how many times we tried to point him to the hotel room door. When we could get a place with luggage carts, however, all was well--indeed, riding on the luggage cart was the highlight for everyone. We probably should have gone by luggage cart instead of by van.

D1 and D2 were well stocked with ideas and maps and presents to open and generally enjoyed it all fairly well. D1 was convinced that all the most scenic items were on D2's side of the car, though I tried to convince her that the American West was not carefully arranged to disadvantage her. She worked it out by always announcing she had seen whatever sight there was to see, whether or not she had, and definitely if D2, whose brain seldom switches gears fast enough at 80 mph, had missed it.

D3 was our easiest traveler, as her ideal of life is to sit, hold Doll-doll, suck her fingers, and stare out the window. This she did with great contentment for hours on end, sometimes with her eyes shut, sometimes with them open. She was not without adventures, however, as a tumble off a wall in Wyoming left her with a nice patch of bandaids on her forehead for strangers to remark upon.

D4 was the one we were most concerned about. Sitting still is not on his List of Things To Do any day of the week. Seeing new places and things compensated him greatly, though. The first few days were a bit uneven, and once he started shouting, "Done!" from the back seat we knew we had better be done fast, but once he got used to the routine of travel he was contented and even eager to ever be moving onward. I was then worried he would not be content to remain, but he seemed to know that this was the place to stay as soon as we arrived; perhaps it was finding his bikes all waiting for him to arrive, or his new freedom to wander outside as much as he pleases.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

On the Pain of Packing

I made a comment on facebook that packing for a road trip was worse than labor, and got some vigorous disagreement--and some agreement. Perhaps it depends what pain is freshest in your mind. Nonetheless, as I was sitting on our friend's floor, surrounded with eight different receptacles and fifteen different piles, gasping for air, while people brought me water and encouragement but could offer no tangible assistance, it did feel oddly similar. Unfortunately, all the information as to what had to be packed where existed only in my own brain, a place where it was never really at home and kept trying to leave.

I read some wise advice that one should pack in outfits for each person per day. Thus, the advice said, you would only have to take in a bag of pajamas and toiletries and another bag with tomorrow's clothes. This made a lot of sense. So I packed that way. So now, at any given spot, we only have to haul in the bag with tomorrow's clothes, and the bag of kids' pajamas, and the bag with grownup pajamas, and the bag of dirty laundry, and the bag with toiletries and DOB's swim gear, and the cooler, and the box of food/kitchen items, and two beds for the babies, and two booster seats for the babies.

But, you know, there's a small bin of clothes at the bottom that we don't have to haul in every night. It helps.

I hope the beds for the babies survive the trip, as we could find nowhere to put them but down the aisles of the van--which doesn't get in the way of the kids' legs, but I'm not sure what my weight climbing on them a dozen times a day is going to do to them. We put the babies in the very back, in hopes that they would sleep more readily that way, and also because they have a handier shelf for accumulating toys to throw on the floor. This makes for quite an ordeal getting them in and out, however. They do sleep a lot in the car, which means they do not sleep once we arrive at a hotel, instead spending a couple of hours popping up out of their beds like prairie dogs. But the tradeoff is worth it at this point and we will rediscover a Sensible Baby Schedule once we have arrived.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Minor Emergency

Someone asked me if I was planning to pack enough diapers for the whole trip.

"No, of course not," I said, "They have these things called stores that sell diapers."

Which would be true if I remembered to stop and buy them. But I didn't, and thus yesterday when the babies arose from their naps I had two very stinky babies and only one clean diaper. (Later research unearthed one in the car, but at the time we had no idea it was there.)

This called for some improvisation. A bit of digging unearthed some birdseye diapers which DOB uses as handkerchiefs in allergy season. The babies are, it turns out, bigger than a bread bag, but some small bags in which DOB brought his wet clothes home from the gym proved to be the right size. I cut out leg holes, taped up the top with packing tape (a tricky, two-person operation) and we were able to make it into town for more.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Jazz for the Open Road

At 9:49 on Saturday morning, we pulled out of our driveway for the last time. Of course, we had planned to leave at 5:30, but then it turned out the gym wasn't open the night before as late as DOB was able to go, so we had to wait for him to go the next morning, and we certainly had not finished loading everything, but Cicero was there to tidy up the last bits, and so we at last just went.

Our destination the first day was Madison, which meant seven and a half hours on the road--which we hope will be our longest day. D4 certainly hopes for that, though he did surprisingly well. When he started shouting "Done!" from the back seat, though, we knew it was time to find a rest stop. Very soon. And produce snacks in the meantime.

We managed to survive on picnics for the first day, but below forty degrees picnics start to get a bit less fun. Fortunately we were on a toll road for suppertime, and instead of freezing outside in the dark were able to take our food to a food court at an indoor "Oasis" that crossed the tollway.

To mark our progress, we are creating a paper clip chain to which we add a new paper clip every fifty miles. So far it stretches from the mirror nearly to the dashboard. The big kids get a coloring page for each new state we enter.

Sunday we had an abbreviated picnic on a nippy but glorious mountain park with giant boulders buried in golden leaves. We're now in the north woods of Wisconsin for a couple of days, visiting a friend and watching the snow fall on the autumn leaves. And trying not to think about how many of miles of cold lie between us and our destination.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Now It's About Packing

I feel slightly guilty that one of the primary tasks of preparation has been planning activities to do in the car. Did Ma Ingalls worry about keeping the girls occupied for months on the trail? I think not. Of course, they didn't have to be completely immobilized for the entire trip. And there are a lot fewer buffalo chips to gather these days. Besides, what's the point in bemoaning how much more spoiled we are than past generations? Now is when we live and there's not much to be done about it; we might as well enjoy it.

In that line, I am delighted by the discovery of burning MP3 files, which our car CD player can handle. With the aid of Librivox and some spare CDs, we now have more than a dozen books on three cds--which in audio files is only about half of one short book. Trying to aim at books enjoyable for all concerned, I have both Alice books, The Princess and the Goblin, the Just So Stories, a whole bunch of Oz books (pretty silly as I recall, but DOB has a deep appreciation for lame puns that should carry him through), The Lost Prince, and an E. Nesbit I've never heard but am willing to take on faith. Also I and II Samuel, Luke, and Acts.

There's a point in an airline journey--usually it's getting on the second flight on the trip out--where I always used to be able to think of nothing more than the misery of another flight (I never quite outgrew motion sickness) and then think with further dread of how I would soon have to repeat all this in a few days to return. Why not stay where I was? Whatever it was I was going to do fades completely.

This is that point in packing. All I can think of as I watch everything disappear in boxes increasingly random in composition despite every attempt to make them sensible, is how I'm going to have to unpack them all. And then pack them all again. And then unpack them all again. Each time no doubt increasing the randomness. (The trouble is, things seldom occur to me the same way twice. This time it made sense to put the extra tea and the cookie cutters and ingredients for cookies in a box labeled "Tea and Cookies," but is that likely to happen again?) And how is it that we already gave away half of our stuff AND packed up half of what was left and stored it at someone else's house, and we still have this much stuff left?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Countdown Menus

One of those basic housekeeping tasks I've never done before is planning a week of menus and then shopping on that basis. I have been following a general outline of menus--the same basic two-week-rotation with tweaks--since D2 was a baby and my brain started to fry, and then I just keep the kitchen and pantry stocked with basics plus what's on sale. Supposedly this is in fact even cheaper than regular menu planning, but I've never done the math. Plenty of pantry and freezer space has made me careless of getting duplicates. (Quintuplicates?)

But, this week I face the challenge of getting the pantry down to as little as possible before we go. Actual planning seemed in order. And since I'm rather pleased with myself for doing it, and, more importantly, since this slip of paper is almost certain to get lost or thrown away before the end of the week, I shall document it here.

Monday: Pizza Pasta (using up some of the many cans of diced tomatoes that had overtaken the pantry, plus the last of the mushrooms, olives, pre-cooked hamburger, and all but the last half-box of pasta.) I forgot to serve the corn--we have a lot of corn in the freezer--which goes to show why I don't usually bother with detailed planning.

Tuesday: Chicken (probably just pan-fried with spices) with roast veggies (using squash from the garden), peas (from freezer).

Wednesday: A simplified version of Lengua, using the last can of chiles from the pantry, more of those tomatoes, corn from the freezer, and of course, tongue. (DOB tries to forget that this is in it, since the thought grosses him out but the dish is delicious.) Crisp for dessert using mystery berries from the freezer and possibly pantry.

Thursday: Turkey sausage and fried potatoes; salad of whatever is left; whatever frozen vegetables are left.

After that the dishes and pots will be packed.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Shoes and What Goes in Them

The pendulum has swung back, and from maintaining the house in unflinching neatness we have gone past normal functional-but-messy-at-the-edges to Total Chaos. This could be psychological, or it could just be the necessary consequence of trying to pack with the children's help. ("No, you DON'T want to pack your tennis shoes. You need to wear your tennis shoes." "Hey, Mama, what can I do to help? Oh, hey can we play dress-up? I'm sure a good helper, huh?")

Actually wearing shoes is what the babies like best. After weeks of borrowing any shoes lying around the house, they were thrilled to get their Very Own Shoes, and they know quite well whose are whose and that you need both of them to get dressed. They hold out their little feet, quivering with excitement, for socks to be applied. And then, please, can we go Out? Door? Out? D4, especially, finds a day wasted if he does not get to acquire a brand-new scar. (The prizewinner was falling off a brick wall into a rosebush.)

Not to be outdone, I invented a new sport this week. I have been needing a more aerobic activity, because when I don't get aerobic exercise, I can't sleep, and when I don't sleep, life is horrible. Which it was last weekend. I like to just walk, but unfortunately I tend to forget I am walking for exercise and instead mosey along lost in thought. It's good for the mental health, but not sufficient physically. Unfortunately, brisk walking or running require concentration on something that is, to me, extremely boring, i.e., repetitive physical movements.

Early this week we watched a movie that included some demonstrations of free running. Now that looks fun, I thought. And--another requirement in my book--no special equipment or location. Unfortunately, while other little girls were doing gymnastics and turning cartwheels, I was walking into walls. So the more acrobatic elements of the sport--vaulting, flipping--are well beyond me.

But, I figured, anybody can stop going straight on boring paths and instead look for ways above, under, or through obstacles. And thus, I invented my own personal sport, which I shall call "crazy running" because the goal is to have the neighbors look out and say, "What is that crazy lady doing?" The rules simply are (1) Keep moving quickly; (2) Keep it changing; (3) Avoid actual damage to people or property while otherwise pushing the limits of acceptable adult behavior. So, climbing trees, running up or down slides at the park, jumping off bleachers, running and jumping on and off the curb, taking advantage of abandoned jump ropes and hopscotch games, high-fiving random poles, breaking into a crazy step pattern, vaulting fire hydrants, and who knows what else I may think of tomorrow. (I'll admit, my attempt to vault a fire hydrant was not very successful, but I think I can learn how.)

The challenge of coming up with new crazy things to try keeps me interested and moving fast. The variety of movements makes for a far better workout than running or walking alone would. I've been doing about a half-mile of running/jumping interspersed with brisk walking, which I know is not much but it's where I have to start and I hope that now I will actually build up my strength. Afterward I cool down by taking a classic mosey to clear my brain.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Birthday Boy

Amidst all the excitement, D2 has turned four this week. Fortunately he was happy with a low-key celebration, requesting a plain cake. (Unheard of in our family, but apparently he got overwhelmed with the options.) He went with Papa to the fire station and he got his first set of real Legos.

He's still a quiet, thinking chap. I laughed to read back over past birthdays and realized we pegged him as being more like me. The reality is, he's exactly like the real DOB; imaginative, insightful, but with eyes gazing so far off into the distance that it's easy for him to trip over his own feet.

He says he has a hundred and sixty things in his head, but he won't tell us all of them. He likes to think about numbers and how five and five and five and five make twenty and how ten and ten also make twenty. He likes to think about sounds and what words start and end with the same ones. He likes to draw cranes and watch worker-construction people. He likes to think about how the color of your food changes while it's inside you and, being a little boy, he might bring it up at the dinner table. But he doesn't believe me when I promise him that his shirt will dry out again someday after he spills water on it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Not About Packing

So I should be packing up everything, but I can't seem to muster up the energy. At this rate we're going to have to abandon half of our stuff to the buyer. (There always is something, though, isn't there? Weird curtains and odd pieces of lumber stuffed in corners of the attic and basement.)

The older ducklings are at Grandma's today, but I have temporarily picked up three extra who are not allowed to go visit their new baby sister in the hospital owing to flu season having officially started yesterday. I am glad I do not have triplets. Actually everyone is occupying themselves pretty well, but I certainly do not have enough lap space for three toddlers.

Yesterday I picked up a bag full of library books to tide me over until we leave. It left me wondering why murder mysteries are such good comfort reads. Actual murders would, presumably, not be comforting. I suppose it is the moral resolution; it is Judgment Day for other people, which is always far more comfortable than it should be. A really good novel is about Judgment Day for yourself, which is always uncomfortable. That is why I have not read any really good novels lately; that and I accidentally packed Anna Karenina after reading the first twelve chapters.

Nonetheless, I was really distressed to start Alexandar McCall Smith's Scottish series and discover he had gone for a second forty-something lady with a troubled past marriage but a kind and philosophical outlook. He surely could have managed something with a little more variety if he had tried. Or maybe he thought it would have been trying too hard to be distinctly different? Or did he think switching from Botswana to Scotland was change enough and he'd better stick to what he knew for the rest?

I shall read it anyway.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Passing of an Era

The older ducklings have always referred to the previous evening as "yesternight," a charming and elegant word which I would never have dreamed of correcting, as I think it should be more widely applied.

This morning D2 used it and D1 corrected, "We ooozually say last night."

At least they haven't given up "ooozually."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Embracing the Pain

Today D1 and D2 wanted me to write them books they could read. I was obliging and wrote "D2's Book" on the cover of his, with what I thought was a quite well-done caricature of D2 on the front.

He picked up the book and burst out laughing. "Why is there a monkey on my book?" he said.

OK, maybe not so good.

People often assume that if you believe in children learning naturally and through self-directed means that you want learning to be easy and fun for them and they will never have to work hard.

One glance at the mass of bruises on the twins' heads should be enough to remove that notion. Natural, self-directed learning is often painful, hard work. Nothing worth having comes easy. Every baby who has learned to roll over knows this.

Children don't suddenly stop becoming capable of self-directed hard work to learn what they need to know just because they turn five. If they see the importance of something and they are developmentally ready to attempt it, they will work hard at it (though perhaps on their own terms rather than a preprogrammed schedule). And unless they are exceptionally easy-going, they will sometimes get frustrated, cranky, have off days when they seem to have forgotten everything and sudden bursts where they zoom ahead.

I remember when D1 was learning to draw. I certainly didn't tell her she had to; it was something she wanted to do. She'd sit in front of a piece of paper because she wanted to draw, then would start wailing, "But I don't know HOW to draw! YOU draw it for me." But after many months, she started to figure out ways to draw the things she wanted to in ways that were satisfying to her, and now she can happily draw for hours.

Now the same thing is happening with reading. "I want to read this!" "But I don't know how!" And my helpful comments are not always appreciated. "Hmm . . . try actually *looking* at the word."

Growing and learning is a joyful journey, no doubt, but like most journeys there will be blisters and bug bites along the way. And with four children always learning something new, that makes for a lot of wails of despair around here.

I guess it's a good thing my drawings amuse them.

Friday, September 18, 2009


We have a contract. We have a departure date barely three weeks out. We're also still doing showings, just in case. But let's hope the original contract works out, because I'm losing my touch with showings. Wednesday I dutifully cleaned the house and took the kids to the park for an hour and a half, only to discover I'd left the screen door locked, rendering the little realtor access box inaccessible. And that was only a day after the showing where they all arrived twenty minutes early, while I was still dashing about with bags of garbage and piles of dirty towels.

Plus, at some point here soon I must do the dreaded Inventory of Winter Clothes, and if there is a way to do that without turning the attic into a cesspool of toddler jeans, I don't know what it is. Not to mention finishing packing. I've never done a cross-country move of an entire house, and I'm not sure how you manage without being able to just toss the last few things in a laundry basket and put them in the back of the car.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

We Finally Got THAT Question

Monday night we were eating dinner at the park and a very friendly and over-solicitous ten-year-old struck up a friendship with the twins, exclaiming over them, asking about their number of teeth and other essential details.

Finally she asked, "How do you tell them apart with their clothes off?"

"Well . . . um . . ." I said, "One's a boy and one's a girl."

"I can hardly tell them apart with their clothes on," she said.

"One has a wider face, too," I said. "But I did mix them up when they were first born."

She seemed satisfied with that.

Monday, September 14, 2009

And the Other Help

This afternoon D1 decided to reorganize the tote in which I dump hers and D2's clothes, folding and sorting with geometric precision and persuading D2 that there really was no better way to spend the afternoon. Watching this, I said, "D1, I think when you are ten I am going to hire you to run the house for me."

"How about when I am seven?" she asked.

"Well, you have to be old enough to use the stove by yourself."

"Maybe when I am nine?"

The New Help

You can see in the pictures below D3's beloved "Doll-doll," who accompanies her most places. (Not, at my insistence, to the dinner table, which sometimes distresses her.)

D4 is ornery enough to occasionally swipe Doll-doll and run away with her, but he never has developed the same affection for the teddy bear he got in the same package. This does not mean he has no affection for an inanimate object. His favorite thing just happens to be a broom. He toddles around with it everywhere and quivers with excitement when I get my broom out of the pantry and we can both sweep. Down he plunks in the middle of the dirt pile and vigorously sweeps everything back out. With fifteen minutes to go to a showing, this can be rather distressing.

But he's so eager to help you can't turn him down. This weekend we graduated the twins to unloading the plastic dishes from the dishwasher. They seem to be getting the general idea that we are trying to transport them to the cupboard, whereas up until now they have thought the objective was just to throw them on the floor. After breakfast this morning, however, I realized that I now must teach him that only clean dishes go in the cupboard.

On Saturday DOB needed to fix the bathroom doorknob. The twins instantly took advantage of the open bathroom door and were pulling towels out of the cupboard. DOB pointed them out of the room, "Can you guys go out please? Out? Out?" Unfortunately, he forgot what "out" means in their vocabulary. Towels abandoned, they galloped to the front door, squealing "Out! Out!" I went ahead and took them outside, as it seemed the only way to ensure a few moments' peace for doorknob repair.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Labor Day

Conversation last night:

QOC: This is like the last month of pregnancy, where something might happen any minute but it hasn't happened yet, and you're exhausted and frustrated and sick of the whole thing. Except at least with pregnancy you know it's going to end soon.

DOB: That's not what you said July 6 last year. Hey, it must mean we're almost there!

QOC: I don't think there are house-selling hormones.

Then today, after scheduling three showings inside of two hours:

DOB: This is like labor: "How far apart are your showings?"

QOC: I can't do it anymore!

DOB: You can! You can! I see the head!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


We are now officially Tired of Showing This House.

We shrugged off sympathy initially, carried on as we were by the tidal force of enthusiasm for the new and exciting. Enthusiasm, however, either needs new fodder or adequate rest to continue it, and we have had neither. After one or two showings a day for the past two weeks, we're up to three showings today. Reputedly this flurry of activity is due to deadlines impending on the first-time home buyers' tax credit, which everyone hopes will be extended, but only after a lot of people have already signed contracts.

It's impossible to keep things looking in top condition forever. The fresh wax is scratching up and the paint on the doorways is awfully easy to chip. Its charms are fading, although I vow I really will mop it again today. Or maybe tomorrow.

So, first time home buyers, gather ye rosebuds while ye may.

And let us get out of here. We've had enough of this stifling neatness.

Edited to add: Make that FOUR showings today, and I really did mop.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Duchy, LLC

The move has been the largest and most evident change, but it is really only one ripple in the waves of changes sloshing around the pools of our lives.

Ahem. Back to less soppy writing.

Reevaluating where we are has also caused us to reevaluate what we do--and thus, led us full circle. We want to return to law. DOB is applying to take the Washington Bar in February and hoping to begin transitioning into the legal field as soon as possible. I'm crossing my fingers that I won't have to retake the bar, but we shall see. (Washington has rather strict rules on returning from inactive status, and I've been out for quite awhile). Someday, we'd like to work together. Why it's taken us so long to figure out that we really should do what we initially set out and wanted to do is a bit of a mystery to us, too, but sometimes these things happen.

Don't worry, I'm not pitching my children into daycare so I can work twelve-hour days. I don't know how or when the details will work out, but I want to find a balance that will work for everyone. I still hope to continue homeschooling. I don't see my path clearly yet, but I know what path I need to look for.

One thing the past few years have made abundantly clear is that my brain is not wired to inhabit the real world for hours and days on end. I need abstraction or I come unglued. I've tried to fill that gap with novels and computer games, but these are an ultimately unsatisfying means of balance, like trying to subsist on a diet of cod liver oil and candy. I've tried some solitary intellectual pursuits, but I'm not a solitary person and they soon drop to the wayside.

What I want is real work to do, work that matters to someone else, work that involves interacting with other people about ideas. It's not that caring for children isn't work and valuable work--it's just that it doesn't have the level of abstraction that I desperately need to continue functioning.

The physical presence of a mother is not much help if she's so strung-out on sensory overload that she can no longer comprehend or respond appropriately to what's going on. I'm often in that state by the time breakfast is over, and almost always long before suppertime. If I can have some regular opportunities to do the type of thing I am good at, then I think I'll have more energy and focus for the children and we'll all be better off.

It's a little scary, though, first--to admit this; second--to try to pick up threads dropped years ago; third--to put myself out for work and believe I really have something to offer anymore. On the other hand, it's exciting, too. It's like getting to be twenty all over again, only without feeling like one is faking adulthood. (And with that extra little challenge of having a lot of extra hungry mouths to somehow feed.)

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

A Note of Thanks

Thanks to Uncle Steve (granted Most Favored Uncle status), we now have a working computer and wireless internet. Which means I can even surf while watching the kids outside. (The kids, note, not the babies. There is nothing I can do while watching the babies outside except watch the babies.)

Thanks to our attorney, we now have the title situation on the house cleared up and the rest is just a matter of filing.

Thanks to a very long day yesterday (doctor, chiropractor, two dinner-time showings) the house is very, very quiet right now.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cleaning Machine

Collecting one's thoughts at a public terminal in the library is, it turns out, even more challenging than collecting them at home with children screaming for supper. Probably just a matter of custom, though.

The house has been on the market for nearly a week now. I am gratified to discover that I can, in fact, keep a house in spotless condition, and even more gratified to discover that it doesn't do a thing for me and thus I can blissfully discontinue it as soon as we have a buyer.

It's not that I'm lazy or disorganized. The work is fine and I know exactly what needs to be done. I just don't see the point. You wash all the windows and two days later they are spotty again. You move the furniture to paint and wax and move it back and ding the paint and scratch the wax. In short, a house can take exactly as much of your time as you allow it to take. And under ordinary circumstances, it certainly shouldn't take this much of mine. Although I have to admit that always getting up to a clean kitchen is a nicety that should not be neglected when possible.

But a house that is constantly tidy is, to my mind, a bit dull. The point of cleaning up is to have some grand event and then do something else. Indeed, one reason why I can keep it clean so easily now is that there is nothing else for me to do. The books are packed away. The computer is gone. I don't have a car. Nothing to do all day--between diapers and meals--but clean, clean, clean. This is turning me into the sort of obsessive-compulsive woman who greets her guests with newspapers so they won't walk on the floor. I had real difficulty yesterday walking to the park and not stopping to pull all the weeds to the sidewalk on the way.

Fortunately I know this level of obsession is normal for me with any new project and will cease as soon as the impetus does, if not a bit sooner. So far we've had a showing or open house or both nearly every day except today. The next two days already have one each booked. I've become an expert at dismantling the babies' beds and stashing them in the closet so people will notice the size of the room and not try to count up how many children we keep in it.

Meanwhile, the children go about their business with some relief that the really intensive stage of both parents wielding paintbrushes to all hours of the night is over. The babies have somehow transformed from taking a few experimental steps to staggering all over the house, bouncing off the walls to turn like novice roller skaters. With their push toys and bikes banished to the basement, they resort to racing the few remaining chairs across the echoing living room.

The older ducklings like to play selling houses and buying houses and building houses out of Duplos. We've even done a few days of school when things seemed a bit dull during the babies' nap. They still think it's a great treat and beg for it, and it remains a great treat as long as I don't plan too hard. This week, on the spur of the moment, we've learned numbers that add to five, started Spanish, and started D2 on actual reading lessons (which D1 insisted on being included in, even though she had her own). I can see my decision to keep them together for school, at least initially, is the right one; otherwise I would simply have to repeat both sets of lessons twice, as neither can bear for the slightest variation from what the other does. Also I don't know why a sketch drawn on the spur of the moment of how A Fat Cat Sat On a Mat is so much more enticing than a book with it all laid out years in advance, but it is.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Nearly There (We Hope)

Posting may be spotty for a bit as we transition computers and set the house up to look like it is inhabited by lemon-eating monks. Of course, posting has been spotty already, so you probably won't notice.

We started out with considerable enthusiasm and little skill, and we are ending with a lot less enthusiasm and only slightly more skill. We may live in an apartment the rest of our lives.

The trouble with large families that no one mentions is specialization. When you have many different people with many different aptitudes under one roof, jobs naturally tend to gravitate to those most able. Since both DOB and I were apparently off reading when the handyman genes were handed out, our current family is devoid of both gifts and training in these areas. (We watch anxiously for possible developments in the twins; the two oldest are probably already a lost cause.) Actually DOB says that he knows what to do, the stuff just refuses to cooperate, whereas I am relatively physically adept but have no clue what I am doing.

I thought that caulking the tub would be easy--it's just like icing a cake, right? Except the tube is a lot bigger and requires more hand strength. And--this is very important--you can't eat your mistakes. You have to scrape them up and start over.

So we scrub and paint and drop into bed long past our bedtime, since the only time we can do most work is when the babies are already in bed. Our first showing is tomorrow at 2. The attorney assures us the title will be straightened out in time. Life moves on. Pretty fast, sometimes.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A Random List of Random Lists

Things D4 has used to help him walk:
wastepaper basket
vacuum cleaner (the real thing, not the toy)
stock pot
folding table
his own shirt

Things we have painted:
Front porch
Back deck
Basement floor

Things we still need to paint:
Basement floor
Kitchen, but we won't

Things that don't help progress:
Stomach viruses
Toddlers in general

Places that are mostly clean:
Front Yard

Places that are worse than ever:
Living room

Furniture left in the house:
kitchen table
six chairs
small desk
small table
bookcase, but only until tomorrow

Friday, August 07, 2009

On the Impermanence of Human Things

If the women don't find you handy, they should at least find that you have the number of a handyman. Because sometimes Google lets you down.

One of the must-do repairs on the house is the front porch, where the cement was chipping and the paint needed redone. We hired out the cement repair, but when the cement fellow quoted us $350 to paint the thing, we thought we could do it ourselves.

Until I started reading up on how to paint a cement porch. Procedures described on official-looking sites involved days of work, hundreds of dollars in supplies, and hazardous chemicals galore. Paying to have it done was starting to look more appealing.

I called a friend who fixes things. And he said: Sure you could do all that if you wanted it to last for eons. But no one really does. Scrape off the loose chips and paint two coats. It won't last as long, but when you're not the one who has to replace it in three years, what difference does it make?

This means we're doing our part to contribute to the general decline in workmanship and the increasing shoddiness of things. In fact, we're probably doing exactly what the guy before us did, which is why it started chipping again so soon. It feels a bit shameful, but what sense is there in spending the next two weeks and hundreds of extra dollars to make a paint job that will last to the end of time on behalf of a person who won't pay us a penny extra for doing it right?

So the world continues to decline.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Everything Must Go!

After giving up on the yard sale we decided to try Craig's List instead. We sold all the big stuff for more than we were asking at the yard sale, so perhaps that made up for all the stuff that just went to the thrift store. The table and chairs were stuck out in the rain and looked terrible, so I tried putting them on Freecycle. A couple of people inquired, but no one came by. After a while, out came the sun and dried up all the rain and the dining room set didn't look so bad anymore. We put it on Craig's List for $30 and had to fend off the deluge of inquiries.

I think the moral of that story is that people think that free stuff is junk, but cheap stuff is a bargain.

With all the big stuff gone, we now must deal with the little stuff that is left, and deal with it in a house nearly bereft of surfaces out of reach of the twins. It goes, but slowly. Today I cleaned out the vitamin and candy cupboard. (We keep them together, perhaps in hopes of them neutralizing each other.) By clearing out the cupboards I should have room to put the things that now live on top of the refrigerator. Everything has to move around to somewhere else, where something else is in the way, or be sorted or given back to someone or something. So everywhere is getting cleaner, but nowhere is clean.

There are two basic types of housekeeping activities: tidying and cleaning. These two are not only not the same, they are antithetical. I'm a tidier. Give me a messy room and permission to hide, and I can have it looking . . . unobjectionable . . . in a matter of minutes. Sooner or later, though, all those hiding places come back to bite you. Hence, one must clean, and that makes a terrible mess.

It's a motivator for getting rid of things. Everything that goes out the front door is something I never have to pick up again.

Things seem to be moving agonizingly slowly. This is already the longest we've ever spent on moving. Of course, in all our previous moves, we've just dumped stuff in the nearest boxes and figured it would all turn up eventually. When and if we ever do get the house sold (we're STILL trying to figure out what is going on with that title issue, but the world seems full of incompetent people right now), actually moving is going to be a minor task in comparison.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Dress from a Shirt

DOB had a Very Nice Shirt that turned up with a rip in the sleeve. I couldn't bear to throw the shirt away but a patched sleeve didn't seem quite the thing for work.

So I decided to try transforming it into a dress for D1. I came across various levels of complication in attempting this, and determined to go with the simplest method possible. I used a simple jumper-type top pattern and just flared gently out from there, using the existing yoke and buttons. I sewed some pink bias tape that had been in a bag of freebies around the neck, armholes, and top of the pocket (which I moved down). I cut the bottom straight across and gave it a rolled hem.

I thought about adding an elastic waistband--I had enough bias tape to make a narrow band--but decided it wasn't worth the trouble, especially when I discovered I didn't have any elastic.

It's a little big at the top, but we decided she can wear it as a jumper this year and a sundress next year. I might have to add a ruffle at the bottom for that.

All told it cost however many pennies' worth of thread I used and took about three hours.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

When it Rains

I'm always taking my chances on the weather. I got away with it at my wedding. I've gotten away with it many times.

Today--I didn't. I know the forecast said "strong thunderstorms," but it looked like they weren't really going to move into the area until late afternoon, after prime yard sale time.

We woke up to rain. All the better. It would clear the air and be fine for the sale.

The downpour slowed to a drizzle and stopped just in time to start setting out the stuff. We hauled furniture and boxes and bags. Things still looked iffy, so I made a backup plan. Some stuff could be in the car. Some on the porch. Tarp on hand to cover the rest. We'd be ready for a quick, passing shower and then be back in business.

At 8:30 the early birds started showing up. We sold a few things. Recouped the cost of our signs.

At 9:00 the sky started darkening again.

And then, at 9:30, thunder crashed and the downpour begin. Our rain preparations quickly proved inadequate. Turned out we had an impromptu rain gauge, though.

At 10:00 we decided to give it a few more minutes.

At 10:15 we started loading up the books (which had been on the porch, fortunately) and made a run to Half-Price Books.

At 11:00 and still pouring we returned and met two guys looking for an end table and some stereo speakers. We recouped the cost of the babysitters. DOB helped them haul the stuff to their apartment on the way to take the first load to the thrift store.

Now it's 2:00, raining off and on, and most of the damp to soaking stuff is gone to the thrift store. A few of the nicer large items we'll try to sell on Craig's List and hopefully still get a few bucks out of. A few of the no longer so nice larger items are sitting by the curb hoping someone from Freecycle will take pity on them.

But hey, we got our costs out of it, we got rid of a ton (well, a few hundred pounds at least) of stuff we no longer have to move, and we got blog fodder.

Still, a couple of hundred extra bucks from actually selling some of this stuff would sure have come in handy.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Lies We Tell

I think the last time we sold a house I vowed to never sell a house again.

(Insert trite response here.)

We went to the hardware store Saturday to get various improvement items. It's important, when selling a house, to make it look a lot better than it did at any time when you lived in it, or at any time when the buyer will live in it. The goal is for them to look at it and think, subconsciously, "Ah, this is a house where the flowerbeds are always weeded and the trim is never chipped and we will live with the austerity of Tibetan monks so that our house is never a mess and yet it will be warm and welcoming and smell of chocolate chip cookies."

Then they will move in and they will have way too much stuff for the space and the flowerbeds will get weeded intermittently and even if they got the house cleaned up in the dead of night within fifteen minutes the living room would be strewn with toys and there will always be a faint odor of mildewing towels. This is the truth. But when we are buying and selling it's best to avoid the strict truth and tell the lies everyone expects.

So we are doing all the repairs and touch-up we never would have bothered with while we lived here. And a few we really should have bothered with, like the counter on top of the dishwasher that fell off the wall. And a few that I hate, like using massive amounts of weedkiller on the beds I'll never be able to keep clean enough by hand.

We're still debating whether we need to repaint the kitchen or whether just removing the carrot decor makes it generic enough.

And we still feel like we should apologize to Wondergirl, because it seems like every time she finally gets us settled in, things up on the walls, (I never get very far at that kind of thing on my own) we decide to move. We made it a year this time at least! And three years in the same place! That's a record for us.

One little glitch that may or may not cause a lot of trouble is that after three clear title searches somebody turned up some misfiled paperwork that clouds the title. And it has to be refiled properly by the guy who messed it up in the first place. We hope a nasty letter on the right letterhead will be enough to motivate him to do so. But we don't know for sure yet, and we can't sell until it's cleared up.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Into the West

Over the past few months--years--the weight of something has been feeling heavier and heavier on us. We thought it was our responsibilities, tied to our backs, holding us down. We trudged up hills and down ravines but never seemed to be getting to the places we wanted to go.

We thought life was supposed to be that way; that once you grew up you stopped doing things you wanted to do and stuck to the stuff you didn't like. That you always had to take the safe, obvious path. We put our dreams in the closet and got them out to reminisce from time to time, but never considered them as a basis for action. That's just wishful thinking. Kid stuff. And once you have kids, you don't do kid stuff anymore.

But then we stopped and checked the weight on our backs and realized it was wings, tied. Doing things the safe way was wearing us out because we weren't made for walking. Maybe we are crazy. Maybe those wings won't carry us. But we need to try. It was time to get our dreams out and dust them off and work to live them instead of to ignore them.

Where is all this going? Well, one dream we'd shelved for a long time was living in Washington state. We knew our health would be better out there; and without slighting family and friends out here, we left a lot of family and friends out there, too. Instead of waiting for someday, we've decided to make that happen now. We don't know when, exactly. We still don't have the house on the market; we still don't have a job to go to. It is, as you all probably know, not the best of economic times for selling houses and finding new jobs. We decided all this just two weeks ago. We're hoping to make the move in the fall.

We are, by turns, exhilarated, exhausted, and terrified. Flying is scary when you've been grounded for a long time and have four passengers. But we're finding ourselves with energy and excitement we had forgotten we had. I'm organizing that community yard sale I always thought someone else should do. We are positively reveling in freeing ourselves from the things we had been clinging to--instead of hanging onto things for "someday" we are letting go of things for "now."

We would very much appreciate your prayers. And if you know anyone who wants to buy a house in Cincinnati, or hire a financial advisor in Tacoma, let us know.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Two for One

In about two and a half more hours, we will all have survived the first year with twins.

The only real difficulty about the first year with twins is that it immediately follows a twin pregnancy and is immediately supplanted by a year with twin toddlers. If I were arranging things, I would have planned a couple weeks off in a mountain cabin between each of those. Plus a night nanny, housekeeper, personal chef, and chiropractor who made house calls. Under those circumstances, I think I could be the serene, well-organized, stylishly-dressed, fun mother I envision instead of the stained and slightly deranged lunatic who seems to actually reside here.

But we survived, and that's the main thing. We can always do better next year.

Parents, "they" say, exaggerate the differences between their children. So exaggerate away. It's how we tell them apart; otherwise we'd be as bewildered by the sea of short tow-headed creatures as everyone else.

D4 scooted himself to the top of his bassinet before he'd coughed the fluid out of his lungs. And he's never stopped moving since. Yet curiously he still hasn't taken that first step solo--we thought perhaps he'd be our first to make it before 12 months. Yesterday he was pushing a broken toy shopping cart uphill over weeds. I pointed out to him that walking unassisted was actually much easier, but he just isn't ready to try it yet. His big, toothy grin catches everyone's eye. When he is happy there is no one happier, and when he is sad no one can scream more vociferously. He goes straight from 0 to 60 in the morning and back again when the day is done. Words produced so far include "more" and "tip" (as in "I'm a little teapot, tip me over and pour me out.")

D3 seems quieter on first glance, and yet give her some space and quiet time and she'll crow louder than anyone. (Perhaps it is only us, but we have found our introverted children are far more trouble in church than the extraverts. As soon as everything gets quiet they start chattering.) She is impelled to go up--stairs, stools, couches, pianos. Her favorite place to perch right now is on the toy picnic table, where she sits, back to the edge, two fingers in her mouth--yet somehow never falls off. Her angelic smile is particularly effective at persuading Papa to do her bidding. Words produced so far include "noo-noo" (food of all kinds), "oh, boy!" and "hi, baby!"

Monday, July 06, 2009