Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Last-Day-To-Remember-This-Year's-Books Post

Hmmm, hmmmm. I kind of tapered off this fall. Doing more work-work and that tends to leave me with less mental and emotional energy for imaginary problems.

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving. This was for the church book club as part of the library's fall selection for the whole community. Chosen mostly on the basis of being a local author, I suspect. It was mostly just depressing. Inept people trying to cope with senseless tragedy and not a smidgen of hope anywhere. Not badly written, but pointless.

Sky Raiders, Rogue Knight, Crystal Keepers. Another Brandon Mull series the kids insisted I read. Lots of fun.

Castle Hangnail, Ursula Vernon. Totally hilarious tale of a castle that needs a new Evil Overlord and an aspiring young witch trying to fill some very big shoes. My birthday present from Bookworm. Duchess also loved it.

The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio. Apparently this was Lloyd Alexander's last book, a simple but satisfying fairy tale romance set along the Silk Road.

Seems like I must have read other books, but I'm drawing a blank.

In progress, hoping to finish soon:

The Secret Lives of Codebreakers. Ron and I came across a miniseries called Bletchley Park about some former code-breakers trying to catch a serial killer. It was so engrossing I couldn't resist the urge to find a book and read more about the real story.

The Poisonwood Bible. This is our church's book club selection for January. I'm not sure whether I'll love it or hate it or what but it's extremely well written and engrossing.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

White Christmas

A rather obscure beloved book of my childhood, called Wu-Han of Korea if memory serves me right, depicted an idyllic pre-war but post-Catholicism Korea with its traditional customs and folkways.

One of the lines I remember vividly explained how in Korea, white was the color of mourning, and there was a rigid procedure for how many years it must be worn: so many years for the death of a parent, grandparent, sibling, spouse, child. The result of these customary long years of mourning, the book explained, was that adults pretty much only wore white. Only children and an occasional young adult would still be wearing bright colors.

As a child, I figured this must be because people died a lot more in the olden days.

Well, perhaps they did die a bit younger, but the death rate is, of course, the same. Because the grownups in my life didn't wear mourning, I could not see the loss that walked with them. A once-met uncle or great-aunt was just a name to me. I did not remember the hands who had written the recipes, the faces in the faded pictures.

Now I know that they did. Now I have my own loss that walks with me. And now I realize it is simply part of life, in the past, the present, and the future. The longer you live, the more dead people you know. The more Christmases you celebrate, the longer the Ghost of Christmas Past shines his light backwards to places and people forever gone.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Winter Storms

This year is the clear winner for Least Posts Ever.

Starting a business is just about as exhausting as having two new babies, and it uses a lot more words.

Business has been going well enough, all things taken into account, but the star of Murphy has been in the ascendant and when things can go crazy, they have. El Niño has given us an endless succession of rain and wind and power outages. One case goes crazy, and then another does, and then they push something else out of the way which takes three times as long to fix as it would have to have done right in the first place, but mind and body do break down at some point.

Still, we've been in our own business for nearly a whole year and we haven't gone broke or had a malpractice claim yet.

Beginning the first of the year we are moving to a location only seven minutes from home. We are keeping a satellite office at our old location at the other end of the county, but we will all be relieved to avoid the daily bottleneck and hopefully spend more time working (or possibly even sleeping) and less time driving (and, in my case, carsick). Our new location is also much larger and we will be subletting to other attorneys.

I gave the kids and myself an extra week off school for Christmas. I haven't exactly used it to relax yet, but we did do a massive purge of the playroom and bedrooms. They decided they had outgrown most of their toys--trains, toy food, most dress-up--so we are down to Legos and a zoo's worth of stuffies. They may have made up for quite a bit of it when they went Christmas shopping for each other at the variety mall--they were flush with cash after we hired them to stamp numbers on the documents for a trial--but they mostly got more stuffed animals which, if somewhat space-hungry, at least don't hurt to step on.

This year, Christmas dinner is going to be gourmet frozen pizza. And cookies. Surely I can still manage a couple of batches of cookies.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Things That Keep Happening

I went to the conference and it was not only highly informative and a chance to meet lots of people from the blogverse, there were cookies freely available at all hours of the day and night. It doesn't get more restful than that. And I met up with some new people who were interested in joining us for park day!

Also, light-saber dueling over Shakespeare adaptations:

Then, of course, Real Life returned. At work we have a trial coming up at the end of the month, which is a pretty big deal in our mostly transactional and negotiations practice, and we have to hunt up things like how do you impeach a witness, anyway? And what is with all these deadlines?

After a few days, though, Real Life got even more fun when Duchess came down with a stomach flu. She got over it in a day, but I was just waiting for round 2. I sent everybody to bed with towels beside their beds and metal bowls. Nothing happened.

Another day, nothing happened.

I was afraid we would miss our newly-revived park day, but everybody was still quite well, so we went ahead.

Then His Majesty went into the hospital with what initially looked like some loathsome disease but turned out to be an allergic reaction to his blood pressure medication. But he was pretty sick for a few days.

And in the middle of that, Deux finally came down with the stomach bug.

Then he got better. And I waited for the twins. And waited.

Finally, on the next Park Day, Dot started in. But she started early in the morning and I didn't want to cancel and she seemed to be perking up so I committed the unpardonable sin and we went to the park anyway.

She threw up as soon as we got there.

And no one else showed up anyway, probably because it was Columbus Day and some, not-self-employed people have this strange concept called Days Off.

And I kept her on a towel in the middle of a field of grass while the other kids played, so I don't think she really spread any germs. And the sunshine was nice.

Then she got better. And then, finally, finally, Dash got sick. And DOB got sick (maybe. Grownups seemed to have different symptoms.)

And then . . . I got it. I think. Again, different grownup symptoms.

Anyway, today I am recuperating while trying to face reality and it's not a pretty combination. I'm really only writing this blog post because it gives me an excuse not to get up and face lunch.

My apologies to anyone we unwittingly exposed over the last two weeks. I really tried to do better. But what kind of 24 hour bug doesn't infect everyone at once? That's just not playing fair.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Only Two More Days!

And I get to go here: Charlotte Mason Northwest Educator's Conference. I'm totally excited. I will bring my ugly knitting. But I haven't figured out what I did with my copy of The Living Page.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Wheat Thickens

I don't have as many stories of household disasters as I did in my younger years. Those of you who have only known me in the past ten years or so may think I am a sane, well-rounded manager. Those of you whose memory stretches back to my teens and early twenties know at what cost this knowledge was gained.

Among my siblings, any time I manage to put baking *powder* in the biscuits is still an occasion for celebration.

Still, some challenges never entirely go away. Last week I was doing the grocery shopping and was trying to obtain wheat kernels. They were in bulk bins, the upper bins where you lower the lever and your desired substance goes shooting out, hopefully into a plastic bag you are holding underneath it.

The trouble is, wheat kernels are quite heavy and plastic bags are not strong and the lower level of bins has a lot of poky bits. The inevitable result of this was a small hole in the bottom of the bag. However, by the time that happened, the top of the bag was very, very full. If I tipped the bag so kernels wouldn't fall out of the bottom hole, they all just came spilling out the top. I realized this was not a problem I could address on my own, so I asked fellow shoppers to hand me a second bag.

Someone was kind enough to do so, but this didn't really address the problem because I still couldn't get what was in Bag A into Bag B without letting things fall out of one end or the other. I finally just kind of dumped the whole thing into Bag B, which had developed a hole of its own by this time, so then I needed to summon Bag C, which finally proved enough to keep what was left of my kernels contained.

I think some people were hovering around wanting to offer more constructive help, only they couldn't quite figure out how to step into this mass of flailing arms and bags and cascading kernels without making things worse. Or maybe they were just standing around laughing. I was a little too busy to tell.

When the bag was finally fastened with no kernels emerging from other holes, I beat a hasty retreat from the bulk section, leaving the floor covered with kernels in my wake. I hope nobody fell on them. Those things are slippery.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Summer Reading List

One advantage of being rather tired and down this summer is that I read quite a lot. I've probably forgotten many of them. But here are some I remember.

The Wave-Watcher's Companion by Gavin Pretor-Pinney. Quite a fun read about the aspects and nature of waves. Science for people who like to read novels.

Beyonders series by Brandon Mull. The ducklings are all avid Brandon Mull fans. I had only read the Fablehaven series previously, but having tried one series they wanted more. And then they insisted I should read it, and since I'm making them read Little Women and Treasure Island it seemed only fair. As middle-grade series fantasy goes I'm pretty happy with them. There's plenty of action, a good bit of trying to do the right thing in the face of extreme difficulty, and the grownups aren't all stupid or evil. A little gruesome for the more sensitive, but apparently none of the ducklings fall into that category. (BTW, after several years of nudging on my part, they have finally gotten hooked on Redwall.) Romance tends to stall at the butterflies in the stomach stage until the epilogue, when everyone is safely grown up.

 I tried to read an Agatha Christie that wasn't a murder mystery, and that just didn't work at all. I can't even remember the name.

What Language Is by John McWhorter. I like to read McWhorter and pretend I am a linguist, without the bother of having to actually master another language.

An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks. And then I like to read Sacks and pretend I am a neurologist, without the bother of having to actually go to medical school. The way he brings out the soul of individuals even with damaged brains and minds is unmatched. Sad to hear of his death right as I finished this.

Stork Raving Mad by Donna Andrews. This is definitely my guilty pleasure author. However, drafting a murder mystery solved by a woman eight and a half months pregnant with twins and have it come off as believable is a feat worthy of some note. (It helped that the murder happened in her home office so she doesn't have to go far and she overhears much of the important evidence because she is napping or eating in odd locations.)

The City of Ember and sequels by Jeanne Duprau. And this would be middle-grade post-apocalyptic fiction, but I enjoyed it very much and so has Duchess. (Neither of us could get into the one prequel in the series, The Prophet of Yonwood. We prefer apocalypses in the distant past.) We also watched the movie version of the first book over the summer, which was notable for being a movie that Deux had never seen before but still liked.

Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett. The next-to-last of the Discworld books. Some sad and narrow-minded newspaper writer recently blasted people for celebrating Terry Pratchett, as he was clearly nothing more than a hack churning out pot-boilers. He admitted he hadn't actually read any of the books, though, but he tried to snobbishly compare it to Mansfield Park, which he had only recently read for the first time. Well, I've read Mansfield Park several times, and it is a lovely work of its kind, and Pratchett's works are excellent works of their own kind; not the finessed style of an Austen, but generous work of a writer who gets better and better through long and copious practice. It will take a hundred years to be sure, but I think he easily stands with writers like Wodehouse and Dickens. Just because a book is funny doesn't mean it isn't profound. As Moist von Lipwig would point out, if you can get people laughing, they'll buy your goods. (One sign of his genius: he has so many books and so many different characters and they are all profoundly different and yet still human. Moist von Lipwig is most certainly not Sam Vimes who is not Archchancellor Ridcully who is not Susan who is not Granny Weatherwax. Even the minor characters sparkle with aliveness. And he can do something that in my reading is very rare among even celebrated male writers--he can write believable and interesting women, of every degree of age and desirability.)

I'm trying to get into Don Quixote, but apparently the version I started on was so abridged as to have left out most of the fun; I have borrowed from the library the translation Silvia recommends. It does read well, but it's frightfully thick and I may not get far before the library runs out of patience.

Also working on The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, The Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World, by Edward Dolnick. So far quite absorbing.

And to the kids I am reading one of my all-time favorites, Carry on, Mr. Bowditch, which has everything: ships and storms and love and loss and lots of math.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Here With You

We have started school again, with all the attendant fun and drama. Sometimes we have those frameable moments when everyone is eagerly sketching leaves in their nature notebooks to the music of Brahms, and sometimes it's just plain hard work and you can  do one more line, and sometimes the majority of the participants are wailing in despair (usually because everybody else is making so much noise).

One thing I have learned in five years of this is that it is all the good stuff. Ambleside Schools International has an inspiring series of videos, one phrase from which echoes in my mind through every day: "It is good to be me here with you."

It may be that our lesson today is not so much about odd versus even numbers and more about putting your mind back to your work despite the fact that your brother has the audacity to breathe audibly, but I am here to help you learn both.

It may be that you only get three words on the page after fifteen minutes of tears, but those three words represent a battle bravely fought and won against fear, perfectionism, and a brain that takes things in much faster than it can get them out.

It may be that we are still practicing three-letter words when I thought we would be reading novels, but we are weaving day by day the links between sight and sound and movement and one day that weaving will be strong enough to hold the torrent of ideas you will need it for.

The written lesson plan matters, but the unwritten lesson plan matters more. And that is the plan that says: Here, today, we will do the best we can with what we have; we will give it everything we have in us; we will grow in what we need today.

It is good.

ETA: Why yes, it is the fifth day of school and I am winding up eating brownies straight from the pan. They're good, too.

Sunday, August 23, 2015


I haven't done as much work as I hoped to do this summer.

Nor blogging, obviously.

Really, I haven't done much of anything.

I've been tired. Some of it physical, some of it mental, some of it emotional.

Despite our trepidation, DOB's health has been quite good this summer; better than it has been in years. His scooter finally came and he can get around solo. He's found a good set of water exercises that help him keep his whole body fit in a way that's hard to do when you're forced to sit all day. He's had hardly any of the episodes that were so debilitating the last few years and that we feared would mean I would have to take over the business this summer. Instead, he's been working lots and loving it.

So perhaps it's just that I need to rest now that I finally can. I kind of hope it ends at some point, though, because honestly it's a bit boring and I'm sure the business would do all the more better if we were both working hard at it. But I still can't work up much interest in doing stuff. Doing nothing sounds like more fun.

I also finally went to a TMJ specialist after twenty years of pain and got the rather surprising diagnosis that my jaw pain actually stems from narrow airways, essentially a form of sleep apnea: to keep my airways open, I've learned from childhood to press my tongue forward against my teeth, creating pressure on the jaw. Supposedly with a properly fitted appliance to keep everything in position while I sleep it should take care of the pain and probably get better rest as well. It might even explain my bouts with chronic fatigue when I don't have the other systemic problems that tend to accompany chronic illness. Well, we shall see once insurance comes through.

Friday, July 31, 2015

A Message to the Past

Sometimes I like to go back and reread old years of blog posts and remember what things were like back then. Then again, some things don't bear remembering. Sometimes I wish I could send messages back through to my past self. Sometimes I almost feel as if I can. So, this is for me then.


When the twins were on the way and our church was very kindly helping out with meals and sometimes people would stay and help catch up on dishes or something while I lay on the couch and didn't speak or move because if I did I would throw up. One lady, a tall and imposing and efficient woman without much experience with small children, took advantage of the opportunity to look around at our house knee-deep in toys and point out that I was neglecting the necessary task of teaching my children to pick up after themselves, and they would certainly need this for life, and it really was quite horrible that I was failing them in this regard.

I didn't say anything at the time, mostly because I would have thrown up if I had, such as pointing out that it is very hard to direct small children in picking up when you can neither move nor speak. I just tried to be grateful that she had washed the dishes and brought supper and not to worry too much about it.

And, though I tried not to let it worry me, sometimes it did, because even when I could move and speak, I never was one of those people who could make sure there was A Place For Everything and Everything In Its Place. Sometimes we got things cleaned up (usually in time to show the house and move) but more often we didn't. When we did get things cleaned up, it was often by dumping everything higgledy-piggledy in a box and shoving it out of sight somewhere.

But I figured if I couldn't keep on top of things enough to teach them good habits of cleanliness, I could at least not make them hate cleaning, so on the days when we did clean, I tried to make it fun as long as I could, and then I let them go, even though I feared this was a terrible mistake. (And I didn't always manage that. Sometimes I freaked out about the mess, too. Sometimes, everybody cried.)

I read once that children who had plenty of time for free play were actually better at picking up and taking care of things, owing to their more highly-developed executive function. It seemed too much to hope for, and I certainly didn't see any evidence of it yet, but it did give a glimmer of hope.

And then, slowly, I started to notice that things were changing. The children's cleaning-up capacity started to outstrip their mess-making capacity. The older two, especially, could actually participate in cleaning for quite a long time and even enjoy it. Sometimes, if they wanted to beg me for a special favor, they would even clean an area up on their own initiative.

Two days ago, they decided they wanted to move some furniture and beds around between the bedrooms and play room. (Essentially the whole upstairs of the house belongs to them, and it runs pretty wild most of the time.) I didn't want to deal with it. We hadn't done much housework in two weeks and everything was a mess. But DOB agreed to their pleadings that if they really got the whole area--all three rooms--cleaned and organized, they could do it.

They started right into that evening. They worked a lot of the next day (but they still did their weekly chores of laundry, mopping, scrubbing chairs and cleaning the bathroom and they also went swimming with his Majesty). And they did it. No grownup help, supervision, or even ideas. They cleaned out areas I had been afraid to touch. If I had tackled it, I would have scheduled at least three days, meals and laundry would have been late, and I would have been horribly crabby the whole time.

Now, I haven't been up yet but things are probably going to be messy again. But they *can* clean. More than that, they can tackle a big project on their own.

So, dear past me, lying on the couch: You're doing fine. They'll get it. Give them time, and let them play.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Why I Hate Pretty Much Everybody In *The Hunchback of Notre Dame* (Especially the person who owned it first)

I don't remember when I got this book, but it must have been a bargain grabbed at a book sale or something.

I finally read it. And wondered how Disney managed to make a movie out of it, the plot consisting entirely of seduction, attempted rape, torture, mass slaughter, and hanging witches. (Answer, ascertained by a visit to IMDB: Disney took the title and list of character names and created an entirely different plot. I hate Disney.)

Pretty much everybody in this book is loathsome.

Claude Frollo is of course the villain and so perhaps I am supposed to hate him, but he's evidently been quite a kind man up until this point, taking in the deformed Quasimodo when everyone else wants him burned as a demon. Now, smitten by Esmerelda's dancing, he can apparently only think of two options: raping her or murdering her. I'm not saying it's impossible for these two characteristics to exist in the same person, I'm saying Hugo never explores why or how.

I rather liked Gringoire for quite a long while--he had all the best lines. "And then I have the good fortune to spend all my days from morning to night in the company of a man of genius--myself--and it's very pleasant." Weak, yes, but amusing and not bad-hearted. But walking off with the goat and leaving Esmeralda in the clutches of Frollo, that was just too weak.

Phoebus of course is despicable, and meant to be.

One feels like one ought to cheer for Esmeralda and of course I don't approve of her fate, but honestly, the girl is as dumb as a gargoyle. She has lived her life on the streets; she has all the worst of Paris as her closest friends and associates; and yet she still believes after months of no contact that the lecherous Phoebus must be truly in love with her and will gallantly come to her aid. Even for sixteen, that's pretty dense. (Difference between Phoebus and Frollo: Phoebus is handsomer and has more practice.)

That pretty much just leaves Quasimodo, who is of course a noble soul. Not that it does any good. In this book all love is unrequited, except perhaps Gringoire's fondness for the goat. Let's not inquire.

According to Wikipedia, Hugo wrote the book to draw attention to Gothic architecture. Well, the architecture was fine.

The truly maddening thing about this book that I did not realize until I started it, was that it was formerly owned by a high school student, who made notes for class in a large round hand in the margin. Notes like, "This is an example of irony," and "not brave" and "metaphorical." Yes, thank you, I have a *much* better grasp of irony and metaphor now.

I never get those second-hand books where someone wise and profound has written in the margins and it changes my life.

(Note: this post may possibly be the result entirely of the incoming storm system. However, Victor Hugo has been dead a long time and can't be hurt by this. I quite liked *Les Miserables*.)

(Second Note: Apparently the Disney version was partly based on Hugo's own rewrite of the novel as an opera. Guess he wound up hating everybody in it, too.)

Sunday, June 21, 2015


We finished school.

I'm proud of us. Last year we crashed and burned at the end of June with a month left. We had lost too much time moving, and when DOB's mysterious malady (let's be alliterative if we can't get a diagnosis) struck again in May without warning, it all just got to be too much.

So to finish this year, to *finish* the work we set out to do, on top of starting a business and all the rest of life ongoing, well, that's really something. And considering that this year saw the twins doing formal lessons for the first time, thus doubling the student body, that's really, really something. In a dramatic denouement, my red planning binder collapsed under the strain on the next to last day.

I am neither in the all-life-is-learning camp, nor in the just-school-all-year-round camp. I like to have a goal, and then I like to take a break. (Sure, all of life is learning, but there are days in life when one binge-reads fantasy novels or lies on the grass by the lake, and I don't intend to try to quantify what exactly is being learned.) I might take breaks through the year if I lived in a different climate, but the Pacific Northwest was crafted for the specific purpose of having summer break.

Some days I've probably pushed too hard at getting done for getting done's sake, but I think most of the time we've managed to stay in the moment and learning. Some days we cut our losses. The twins didn't get a lot of math this year, but I'm rather ambivalent about formal math that young. Some days we didn't do a lot of writing, but we always did some. We read some great books together.

One principle I am coming to believe in is that, if you don't have a lot of time and energy, focus what you do have on something challenging. It's better to do two tough books than five easy books. I hope to keep that in mind planning for next year.

I'm especially proud of the way Duchess and Deux have stepped up to doing their own work on their own steam. And I'm enjoying the way Dot and Dash revel in the stories we've read together.

DOB is doing a little better this summer--the whatever-it-is is still lurking in the shadows, but a careful balance of rest, exercise, air conditioning and protein seems to be keeping it at bay. He hasn't had to give up driving yet, at least. I'm hoping to pick up the pace at work a bit--I haven't quite been making the 15 hours I hope to work yet, although I'm finally increasing my billable hours as we get things better organized and more handed off to our assistants. As usual, there is way too much to cram into summer vacation.

And, of course, it's time to start planning for next year . . .

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Proper Nouns

There are many ways in which I fail at being a good modern parent, ranging from seldom insisting on baths to never once having done a craft off of Pinterest.

However, probably the most important is in teaching children proper names for body parts from earliest ages. You know, *those* body parts.

This is really important for their proper development and safety and what-not, or so countless articles and other, more successfully modern, mothers tell me. Nonetheless, I continue to fall behind on this count.

There are reasons for this.

One is that I tried once, and I got so tired of hearing about *that* body part that I never wanted to proceed to others. "Hey, that comes up as high as my (body part)!" "Watch out, you bumped my (body part)!"

Another is that I am still pretty dicey on anatomical details myself. I mean, I know a lot of names and I know the general area, but it's kind of like trying to remember the difference between Estonia and Latvia. This shocking ignorance has not prevented me from reproducing four times and having a lot of fun in the bargain. So it can't be completely necessary for a good life.

I'm a lawyer, not a doctor. My kids may not know where their spleen or other, more interesting, body parts are, but they can dissect a verbal ambiguity in ten seconds flat, much to the bewilderment of their peers.

So, kids, if you want to know the names for body parts, consult the anatomy diagrams in the science dictionary. If you want to know about your rights and duties with regard to your insurance, I'm happy to help.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Quoth the Raven

After many years of wondering how I would know a raven if I saw one, as opposed to a crow, I have finally learned. And discovered that our yard is ruled by a raven.

The difference is simple to spot: crows always flap; ravens glide. Now that I know the difference, it seems obvious and I feel as if I should go apologize to the majestic bird for muddling him with his lesser cousins.

He likes to sit on one of the stubby branches of the fir tree at the bottom of the yard, the few that are left after a predecessor in title from some other part of the company valued sunlight over trees.

We still have plenty of crows, too. They like the compost pile and tend to spread it. Actually the raven may help them. I'll have to watch more and learn his habits.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Random Number of Updates of Moderate Length

Doing fun things on the weekend has never been something we are very good at. I grew up on a farm, where weekends were for doing farm things, so I never got used to it. Anyway, doing fun stuff generally requires a surplus supply of a couple of basic things like time, money, and energy. So our weekends consist of DOB sleeping on Saturday while I do work and keep the kids quiet, and then me resting on Sunday afternoon while he (and sometimes a designated pusher) goes to the Y to get in a lot of workout and therapy.

BUT we managed one fun weekend this month. Bookworm and Rocketboy took me and the kids to the Science Center to see the Pompeii exhibit before it leaves the US. We also naturally used the opportunity to aim lasers, fly to the moon, visit butterflies, and all the other stuff science museums were for. Though by far the most memorable item was the presentation with liquid nitrogen which led to lots of further discussions on the point at which various materials melt or condense.

Then on Sunday DOB took all the kids to the Y and paid for them to go in so they could swim, too, not just wait on the sidelines. And they got ice cream. They were beyond thrilled.

That was a brutal Monday. I don't think we'll have fun again for awhile.


After avoiding medicine for the better part of a decade, I finally decided to go in for a checkup. The nurse noted that my sinuses looked bad. Well, I suppose they feel bad, too, I just try not to think about it. This is my standard approach to illness. It is not without reason, as my experience is that no proposed remedy (standard or natural) makes me feel any different. Or any substance at all, really. My body just lumbers along, doing its thing, without much regard to what is thrown at it, though it tends to put up a protest at lack of food.

So far the sinus remedies are living up to expectation. Except now that I've noticed my sinuses hurt, it bothers me more. Ignoring them was also a lot cheaper.


We have four more weeks of school. Four. more. weeks. It should be five, but we're going to squish it into four, because we have to finish before Duchess's birthday. At least we should be able to come respectably close to finishing this year, unlike last year when nearly everything got tossed to the wind.


Although we are not a lot of fun, we have reinstituted our summer tradition of Tuesday Movie Nights and so far have seen National Velvet, Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, and a somewhat debatable Kidnapped. I'm happy to report that we have produced four children who cannot help but point out all the ways the movie deviates from the book. (Though they were pretty happy with Harry Potter.) Part of this tradition is popsicles. I'm thinking I might want to branch out a little bit from my standard mushy-banana-and-peaches combo, so maybe I'll try some of these.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Books Read . . . Whenever

So, I'm already far behind on keeping track of books for this year. And it certainly hasn't been a good time for especially deep or challenging books. But let me see what I can still remember.

Idylls of the King, Tennyson
OK, not deep except for this one. But this was with an online book club, or I probably wouldn't have kept plowing. Tennyson's take on Arthur is unique. In his portrayal, Arthur is not Mordred's father--which means that the undoing of the Round Table doesn't come from Arthur--or at least not so directly. Rather Tennyson focuses on the roles of ideals and idealism and our own failure to live up to them. Arthur may be an innocent figure, but he is a cold one, lacking the ability to sustain love even though he inspires from a distance. He cannot sustain what he has created and it falls under its own weight.

Carpe Jugulum, Terry Pratchett
This is one of those books I just need to read every once in a while. Despite being about witches and vampires and written by an agnostic, I find it very encouraging to my faith. I identify a lot with the Reverend Mightily Oats. Except for the acne.

The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss
This is a brilliant title. The writing is good. I found the youthful hero a bit tedious, too much fabulousness at absolutely everything, but it was tempered with enough self-inflicted disasters through overconfidence that I thought he might grow up into an interesting character. And his nemesis, the mysterious Chandrian, definitely drew my curiosity. Which was all rather a pity, because then I read the second book in the series.

The Wise Man's Fear, Patrick Rothfuss
And this was still going along OK, but it was getting more and more tedious as our hero goes to ever more places and masters ever more implausibly difficult things with absurd ease, and still gets no closer to finding out anything at all about the evil horrible things he has vowed to combat, when it took a detour that left me completely uninterested in the rest of the book. I am quite willing to accept that different cultures have different morals and customs. I cannot, however, swallow a low-tech, no magic society run by female martial artists who also practice free . . . well, they don't dignify it by the name of love so neither shall I. People can have many different customs, but they can't escape basic biology (or if you intend them to, then you better *explain* their novel biology). Either they would be pregnant most of the time--which would *really* put a cramp in the daily practice of hand-to-hand combat--or their society's in real trouble because all its strongest and healthiest young women are infertile. Sorry, that's not competent worldbuilding anymore, it's just sophomoric fanfic. So I lost interest and it had to go back to the library and I probably won't bother again. I don't find philandering to add to the appeal of a hero who was already starting to bore me. But dang, I wanted to find out about those nasty Chandrian. It just never seemed like we were getting any closer to finding out.

The Dead in their Vaulted Arches, Alan Bradley
Fortunately Flavia de Luce never disappoints.

Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand
This was for the church book club, or I never would have read a book so currently popular. It was, nonetheless, pretty good.

Maskerade, Terry Pratchett
Not only did I need some more Granny Weatherwax, but I had to do this one again because I am leading an online discussion of Macbeth. Not that it's at all relevant. I just needed to.

Macbeth, William Shakespeare
Always my favorite tragedy. I just love bloodthirsty female villains. Lady Macbeth, Medea, even the White Witch. Let's not analyze it too closely, shall we? Or if we do, let's take a Gilbert and Sullivan approach and hope no one will hold it against me for being just a liiiitle bit bloodthirsty:

The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers. This was another reread, and I don't know what to say about it. If the idea of a literary dinosaur struggling for his life in a grizzly catacomb of books and monsters doesn't appeal to you, then there's no sense trying to explain. If it does, then you should just read it and the other Zamonian stories by the same author.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. This was a highly entertaining take on the end of the world. When the devil becomes incarnate he finds himself siding with the carnate. I'm still pondering what I think of the theology of it all, though. Perhaps too much for a work of humor, but I think it well deserved. Hey, maybe we should read *it* for the church book club. (Insert maniacal laughter)

ETA: Of course when I wait this long I forget about two of the best ones:

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. Like pretty much everything by Potok, brilliant and sad and beautiful. A young Orthodox Jew tries to reconcile his gift and passion for painting with his faith and community.

Snuff  by Terry Pratchett. Honestly, I don't know how anyone could keep writing so many great books and keep them all just as good while dying of Alzheimer's. I was sad to think this was the last one, but Bookworm assures me there is one more in the publication pipeline. RIP.

Still in process but probably going to finish someday soon:
The Royal Road to Romance, by Richard Halliburton. An old travel memoir from the days when travel was easy but McDonald's and Coca-cola had not yet invaded everywhere. A geography possibility for a few years down the road, but I found it at a second-hand store during Duchess's birthday trip (no, her birthday isn't for a couple of months yet but we found it kept getting lost in the morass) and couldn't resist the chance to get it now.

Home, by Bill Bryson. This is lots of fun, a meandering look at how the rooms and things in our houses got to be the way they were. Though the basic message seems to be that homes in the Stone Age were a lot more comfy than you might think, and homes right up through Victorian times much less.

Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens. We watched an outstanding BBC miniseries on this last month, so naturally at the end I had to pull it out and figure out what they got wrong. Not the casting, that's for sure.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Ghost of Print Jobs Past

When we moved into our proper quarters, the wireless connection on our printer stopped working. After some time of frustration, the paralegal physically connected the printer to her computer and then we sent all documents to her to print out. Clunky, but it worked for a week or two until I finally got annoyed enough to spend an hour or so in chat with tech support to get it functioning.

So the tech support took over the computer and did this, that, and the other thing. And then, suddenly, the printer came alive. And started churning out all the unsuccessful print jobs that had been tried and never properly canceled. Given the nature of our business, this turned out to be five copies of a fifty-page probate opening document.

I didn't want to turn the printer off, because the tech support people were still working their mysterious ways. So instead we dashed around trying to find which unworking copy of the printer on which computer had sent the job. I don't think we ever actually found it, but we managed to delete a few other things that would have come through next.

And now the printer is working. Which, I suppose, is worth half a ream of paper.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Grammar Commando: Decimated

The Grammar Commando has been quiet for a while, but it doesn't mean she's gone away. Just been distracted.

Also, the Grammar Commando is aware that words change meaning over time. This is understandable.

Sometimes, though, it gets taken too far.

For example, the word "decimated." This comes from the Roman practice of disciplining recalcitrant regiments by killing every tenth man. As a disciplinary measure, a pretty stiff one. It seems to have worked out for the Romans, though.

 Using it to describe, say, an all but empty city in a post-apocalyptic setting makes no sense. If only a tenth of the population was killed, you could probably even keep the lights on and the gas stations working. And it's not like the root "decem" is all that obscure. I mean, if you made it through fifth grade you should have some acquaintance with decimals, and possibly even have gained some idea about the month of December.

So, if your disaster has wiped out roughly one in ten people, then it decimated the population. If it wiped out practically everyone, use a different word. Obliterated might work.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Easter Saturday

Once again I've put off blogging for so long that all the long and interesting posts I wanted to write have coalesced into a lump of tedious goo.

We've moved into our office space. The offices, which used to be consulting rooms for the medical marijuana practice that preceded us, are a little small and the waiting area is far too big for current purposes, but moving walls around is a task for another time. In the meantime, a fresh coat of paint (which I, thankfully, did *not* have to apply) has done its hoped-for work in dimming everything down, as the preceding wall colors were aqua and mint. We are getting around to getting enough chairs and working out where Ron can park the wheelchair that isn't in the door to my office or the door to the break room. Well, we haven't really worked that out yet.

For spring break I spent the entire week cleaning the house for Easter. I'm not sure what possessed me. It was just something I needed to do. I haven't really had the time and energy to deep clean the house since we moved in, and I needed to scrub every surface myself and think about the rooms and arrange some things. Many years ago I noticed around Easter that I could not get the house and the children presentable on the same day. Now that the children can mostly manage the latter themselves, I can do both, but only if I don't have to cook. And since I had a Costco rebate handy, it made more sense to source out the cooking than the cleaning. However, I'd much rather cook and once the business is well established I will probably outsource the cleaning instead.

(And yes, the children did help with the cleaning. We had a daily Plants-versus-Zombies themed card game to select appropriate tasks. If you played "Sunflower Friend" you had to go weed for ten minutes; if you drew one with a cabbagepult you had to throw fifteen things away.)

The one thing that was really missing from the food I was able to find was lemon bars. Apparently store bakeries have never heard of such things. Indeed, store bakery options are pretty lame in general: you have the options of the cake with ooky frosting, or the box of generic chocolate chip cookies. Neither seemed very Eastery, even if dyed pink. Fortunately one of my sisters-in-law came through with lemon bars, and the other one had carrot cake, so we were well stocked with the appropriate desserts. And Costco meatballs topped with Costco pineapple habanero sauce are pretty tasty and take all of three minutes to prepare.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming. School has started again, and I've rewritten our schedule to fit with how work is actually shaping up, and it's working well. I'm starting to think we can really do this. One little complication is that DOB is no longer able to self-propel, which means he must take a child along to almost everywhere except the office, where he has a power chair, or for short court appearances, for which he wears braces. That has played merry havoc with chore and school schedules, but it's good that we can be flexible for now and we hope that the insurance company will find it in their heart to approve him for a scooter.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Work, work, work

Our whirlwind of travel concluded with a third trip, an overnight in Seattle in order to be part of a continuing legal education class on probates. DOB presented on how to deal with interstate issues and creditors' claims, and I got to be the example of What Not To Do in the practice skits in the afternoon.

After the very cozy and old-fashioned hotel we got in Bellingham I tried picking up a deal on a very trendy looking hotel in Seattle. When we got there I feared it might be too hipster for us, but DOB had insisted on wearing his favorite plaid flannel pajama pants for the drive up, so we fit right in.

All those trips were fun, but they would have been a lot more fun if they had not been back-to-back-to-back like that. It wasn't the way it was supposed to be, but life has a way of glomming together, like lumps in gravy.

Then there has been the aftermath--the report that needs to be written that still isn't, despite DOB working to 2 a.m one night. (Which at our age and parental status counts as an all-nighter.) I probably should have gone to sleep but I didn't--I never can sleep well if I'm waiting for something--so I read My Name is Asher Lev instead. Another GAL case that has been really busy because the alleged incapacitated person has proven very difficult to place or persuade to cooperate with, well, anything has finally ended with a trial--judge, reporter, attorneys and all traveling to the hospital to get it done--and the appointment of a guardian, which means someone besides DOB can worry about her now.

Meanwhile I've been working on building up my own caseload. I've joined a networking group, which has been busy but fun. It's very focused--only one person in each business category is allowed in the local group--and then you must meet every week to practice marketing skills and get to know the others in the group, and additional meetings for more in-depth understanding of each others' businesses. So I've been spending a lot of time hanging out in coffee shops getting to know the other members, which is a little awkward because I don't like coffee, but I find I like pastries pretty well and some places have tolerable tea.

The good news is, looks like we'll be able to pay ourselves for the second month in a row. And next month should be covered, too. The big thing outstanding now is to move into our proper office space, after all the painting and prep that needs to happen first.

And then, maybe, things will feel a little more settled and we might get the weekends off sometimes. Maybe.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

On the Road (and Boat)

One of DOB's practice areas is serving as a Guardian Ad Litem, which is a court-appointed person who looks into the needs of an incapacitated (or "alleged incapacitated" if the case is just beginning) person and makes a recommendation to the court.

Lucky for us, he got appointed on a case that required him to travel to the San Juan Islands one weekend and the city of Bellingham another weekend in order to make a thorough investigation. (It really was necessary! And court pre-approved!) For the first trip, we brought all the kids along and got a highly adorable rental cabin with a very mossy hill out back. For our second trip, we left the kids with Their Majesties and spent some time poking around used book stores in a very fun historic district.

Unfortunately GAL work isn't usually so glamorous and mostly involves travel to the nearest nursing homes. Still, it was fun while it lasted.

It left me with some more thoughts on accessible travel, such as that while a ramp that runs at a 30 degree angle from the door to the main road and then directly into the sea is technically a wheelchair accessible entrance, it is more than a little terrifying. Actually, hills in general are not all that wheelchair accessible, but I'm not moving us to Nebraska even so. Getting a fully accessible room at the second hotel was awfully nice, though.

Thursday, February 19, 2015


QOC: You look exhausted.

DOB: It's all this administrative stuff. There's so much more than I thought there would be.

QOC: Well, if it's any comfort, it's not more than I thought it would be. Since I thought it would be a horrible monster that would take over our entire lives.

DOB: Why didn't you tell me that?

QOC: Remember how before we started I was kind of dragging my feet and not really getting excited about it?

DOB: No.

QOC: See? You were in your own little world. You wouldn't have listened.

DOB: Well, in *my* world, administrative stuff is easy.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

The Master and His Emissary, Pt 3: Education

Final thoughts on The Master and His Emissary. (Part 2).

Perhaps the best picture of the differences between the right and the left brain approaches in education was given by Charles Dickens, in Hard Times. Mr. Gradgrind, the teacher devoted to Facts, is examining the students, first Sissy Jupe, whose father is a horse handler for the circus:

'Your father breaks horses, don't he?'
'If you please, sir, when they can get any to break, they do break horses in the ring, sir.'
'You mustn't tell us about the ring, here. Very well, then. Describe your father as a horsebreaker. He doctors sick horses, I dare say?'
'Oh yes, sir.'
'Very well, then. He is a veterinary surgeon, a farrier, and horsebreaker. Give me your definition of a horse.'
(Sissy Jupe thrown into the greatest alarm by this demand.)
'Girl number twenty unable to define a horse!' said Mr. Gradgrind, for the general behoof of all the little pitchers. 'Girl number twenty possessed of no facts, in reference to one of the commonest of animals! Some boy's definition of a horse. Bitzer, yours.'

 . . .
'Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth.' Thus (and much more) Bitzer.
'Now girl number twenty,' said Mr. Gradgrind. 'You know what a horse is.'
The irony, of course, is that Girl Number 20 is the only one in this conversation who knows what a horse is. Gradgrind and Bitzer know only a list of words so distant from reality that they have almost ceased to have meaning. There can be no question who would be the best one to care for a horse.

But the kind of learning that Gradgrind and Bitzer have engaged in is something that can be taught and measured. You can go round to a school and set out a piece of paper and find out how many approved facts about a horse the students have memorized. It is exactly what the left hemisphere loves: measurable, identifiable, transmittable. And exactly where the left hemisphere is weak: by itself completely irrelevant to reality.

The kind of knowledge of a horse that Sissy has, though, cannot be measured. You cannot really "teach" the knowledge of the right hemisphere. It must be learned by the learner's own connections. At best you can do what Sissy's father has done: be with the learner and the thing and care about it in front of them.

Sadly, most of our society's thoughts and deeds about education have been caught in a left-hemisphere death spiral for several decades. We know that what we are doing doesn't really lead to learning in any meaningful sense, and yet we can't let go because we have to have something that we can measure. So we do more tests, more detailed lists of benchmarks and standards, and just keep taking things farther down the same road of increasing futility. (Which of course, is not to say there aren't still plenty of good teachers who really do help their students--but I think everywhere you find them you will find it is because they care, not because they have amazingly detailed benchmarks to follow.)

Of course the left hemisphere shouldn't be shut out of education altogether--it just needs to be kept in balance, to remember that it is the servant, not the master. At some point, Sissy ought to be able to put into words what a horse is. (Perhaps she could already if it were not such an obviously pointless exercise.) But that can only come after she already knows the horse itself, and can only be useful if she remains in touch with the living, breathing reality of horses.

I think this articulates why I find Charlotte Mason's educational principles so compelling. She articulates and maintains the balance consistently throughout education. Poetry, art, music, literature, nature are not nice extras or frills--they are the essence of education. Skills and facts are only useful if learned in the context of those realities. And we cannot force education on the child, nor do the work of knowing for him . . . all we can do is bring him into contact with it and leave it to him to form a relationship.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Quick January Book Post

It's actually kind of nice to have some record of books read. So I'm going to try to do this more regularly this year.

In addition to finishing The Master and His Emissary and Rob Roy:

Galahad at Blandings, by P. G. Wodehouse. After reading Rob Roy, I really needed a book where everybody behaved as they should (in the narrative rather than moral sense). Wodehouse never fails to deliver. Also, pig-keeping.

Manalive, by G. K. Chesterton. Chesterton can't help but preach, even when he's writing novels, but he's having so much fun doing it you can't really blame him.

Deep Down Dark, by Tobar Hector. The story of the Chilean miners who were trapped underground back in 2010. This is an extremely well done work of its kind, effectively blending individual stories into the larger drama and managing to tell a story without ignoring the untidiness of real life. This is for the church book club and I'm looking forward to discussing it with them next week. Also, I learned a lot of Spanish cuss words our Spanish teacher hadn't mentioned.

In progress, but not finished: The Idylls of the King, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Epic poetry has been a very slowly-acquired taste for me, but I am finding this highly readable. This is being done with an online homeschool forum, and we are having some very lively discussions. But we can't agree on the right way to pronounce "idylls."

In February so far:
Out of the Silent Planet, by C. S. Lewis. This was chosen because it was a $.25 book sale copy so I didn't have to worry too much about dropping it in the bathwater (which happily didn't happen). I always love revisiting Malacandra. When it comes to scaling appropriateness levels, though, this series has Harry Potter beat by a mile. I bet Duchess and Deux would enjoy this one right now, but they are not going to be reading That Hideous Strength for a long, long time.

The Handsome Man's Deluxe Cafe by Alexander McCall Smith. For some reason I enjoy Mma Ramotswe, with her traditional build and wide feet and practical wisdom and mechanic husband, much more than I enjoy Isabel Dalhousie, with her trust fund and young, artistic boyfriend and live-in help and abstract philosophizing. OK, maybe for several reasons. Scored this one at a clothing exchange.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Why I Do Not Wear Yoga Pants

I realize that this is a rather personal matter, but we all know that it is essential to the wellbeing of the entire world that each and every one of us expounds in detail on the contents of our closets and the why and wherefore. I just want to say that this is only my personal conviction and I wouldn't dream of it imposing it on anyone else. Nonetheless, it's important to tell it to everybody. Because.

So, to understand this story, you must first understand that I grew up in a very old and rather drafty farmhouse, with no heat on the upper two stories. It was cold in the winter. Very cold. Our beds generally had a number of wool blankets under the quilts, and our standard pajamas for the winter once we outgrew the zippered footie kind were thick sweatsuits. We never quite woke up to sifted snow on the quilts--the walls were snowtight and also we had a depressing lack of blizzards--but it was a similar idea.

Back in those long-ago days, people generally labored under the notion that there was one kind of clothes for bed, and another for daytime wear. When we rose in the morning we changed in our frigid rooms into our long johns and jeans and sweaters for daytime wear. Especially--and this is what seems especially strange nowadays--one would never, ever appear in public or greet visitors in night clothes. It had nothing to do with decency, as evidenced by the fact that our nighttime and daytime clothes were equally bulky. It simply Wasn't Done.


About the age of 10, I noticed that some people wore sweatsuits as daytime wear, both for their intended athletic purpose and sometimes for other occasions. Especially sweatsuits with decorative tops. One of my acquaintances, a girl about my age, wore them on every occasion. Admittedly she wasn't a fashion leader, but still, it was plainly something that was Done.

And I had a few sweatsuits with decorative tops, bought by my great aunt who did such things, no doubt, and not by His Majesty who always found the 75% off sales of the mix-and-match sport solids.

So after much deliberation and in the spirit of experimentation that has fallen upon me with mixed results throughout my life, I decided to try wearing one of these decorative sweatsuits to an evening church event.

About five minutes after arrival, I realized my mistake. I was wearing pajamas in public. It was exactly like one of those nightmares where one discovers one's self to be wearing pajamas in public (I suppose nobody has those sort of nightmares anymore, but they were common back then. Perhaps people still have nightmares about being naked in public, though, and they are roughly similar only slightly less exciting.) Only it wasn't a nightmare, it was real, I had done it to myself, and there were two hours and twenty-five minutes of church event to go.

Somehow that evening ended and I returned home and never, ever wore sweat pants out in public again.

What I later discovered, however, was that the deep psychic scar I had impressed upon myself did not limit itself to sweat pants. I could not wear *any* cotton knit on my lower extremities. Even perfectly legitimate knit skirts and dresses, which were clearly not sweat pants, after a short time would betray me and I would be left with that uneasy and inadequate feeling of appearing in public in a nightie.

I finally swore off knits on the lower half altogether. And so, when everybody else got yoga pants and debated where they should and shouldn't be worn, I didn't. (Except for one pair, which I use for doing exercises and occasionally curling up on the couch with a book and such pajama-suitable activities.)

I suppose I could get counseling for this and try to undo the damage and free myself to wear yoga pants, but at this point it's easier to just keep wearing jeans.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

One Month In

Friday night was the annual county bar dinner, which we first attended five years ago as newcomers, awkwardly showing up as the very first people there. Now the room full of strangers is one full of friends and colleagues, and we got many words of encouragement and advice for our new venture.

One of them was to journal, so that we can look back in a year and see how far we've come. Well, I was going to anyway.

I tend to measure exhaustion by the standard of the year the twins were born. I am sure there are more exhausting things humans could undertake--higher-order multiples--but it's likely to be the most exhausting thing *I* ever undertake.

So, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being a beach resort with food brought to your lounge chair and 10 being newborn twins and two preschoolers, starting this firm has been a 9, pushing 9.5.

Well, DOB doesn't do things by halves or ramp up slowly. We had a new office to move into (temporarily, we'll move again in a couple of months into permanent space), a paralegal to pay, equipment to set up, email and website to get working, all the existing clients he brings with him from his old firm and all the new people who started coming through the door even before we have it.

I haven't done that much actual lawyering yet; instead I get to be the person who spends hours on the phone with the internet service provider, trying to figure out why our email still isn't working (it is now, though, after about a week of soul-sucking phone tag, and now we get to call again over the bill). And writes the checks. There are a lot of things to write checks for.

Everybody wants to offer you bundles of services, but none of the bundles quite do everything, and then somebody has to figure out which one does what and how to get the most of what you need for the least overlap.

So, very much as when the twins were babies, I have been very busy and I'm completely exhausted and yet somehow it doesn't feel like I've *done* anything. But this Friday I get to go to court.

And meanwhile there's been kids to be fed and educated and DOB has, inevitably, injured a muscle in his shoulder, putting him down to one functioning limb, which always makes life more complicated. Fortunately we have some well-established school ruts to run in, and I pulled out a trick from way back in those days and made up a 3-week rotational schedule of meals so that I don't ever have to think about what I'm going to fix for supper again. Yes, it's all boring and it's time to ignore the inspiring and novel things other people are doing. And this time the kids are big enough for some significant choring, so the house hasn't completely fallen apart.

But, we've made it through the first month. And if we can just figure out the billing, we should make it through next month, too.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Master and His Emissary, pt. 2: More Thoughts

Initial book review here.

The premise of this book, that an overdependence on the left hemisphere is pervasive and heavily reinforced by current culture, resonated with me because it made sense of various things that seemed connected but I couldn't quite put my finger on how.

Like the difficulty people seem to have in handling the relationship between individual and universal experience. It crops up constantly in blog and online article wars, but I think that is just a place that is manifested, not its origin. Mostly there are people who conclude, "My experience is X, therefore X is true for everyone (or at least everyone in the category I have drawn)." Occasionally there are people who think individual experience is only that and tells us nothing of general value. And every once in a while there is a person who has an individual experience and is able to draw from it general applications while recognizing that it is not a hard and fast categorical description. However, such a person, knowing what they are up against, usually has to hedge their statements with so many qualifications and caveats that it is hard to get the point, and they are still jumped all over by people who just don't get it, who cannot fathom that something can be both individual and general and yet not hard and fast universally applicable.

In general, there seems to me to be an intolerance of fuzzy edges--if you can't draw a bright line test (as lawyers call it) between two things, then there's no meaningful difference between them at all. But really, all edges are fuzzy if you try to hone in too closely. At the molecular level, the line between my pants and the chair would be hard to spot, but it's definitely there. There's an inability to appreciate context and the whole that cannot ever quite be reduced to a check list or bullet points. (Indeed, sometimes it seems there is an inability to read or write anything that's not a checklist or bullet points.)

And there's an over-fondness for categories, for categorizing ourselves and everyone around us, as if people existed primarily as a compilation of their categories.  If someone doesn't fit so well in a particular category, then we must either get rid of the bits of them that don't fit OR create yet another category. When perhaps what people need is to not be categorized, but treated as an individual, whole person in relation with other individual, whole people.

Then there's the way often religious fundamentalists and materialist fundamentalists sound so much alike, in their insistence on facts, facts, facts. (I remember one lady saying that she referred to the Biblical "accounts" rather than "stories," that word that suggests, well, that facts themselves are not the most important thing.) 

And this may seem off the wall, but there's the quest for novelty and even transgression in perfectly ordinary pleasures. Enjoying the same things we have enjoyed before is never enough; people get bored quickly and we must always be chasing after something new. If someone's really trying to sell something, they'll label it naughty or sinful, even though it is merely a rich dessert or fancy lingerie. Apparently we have to *pretend* it's bad to enjoy it; we can't just be there, enjoying it for itself.

Even more vague, there's the sense that everything is awesome and yet people are unhappy; not just unhappy with the normal unhappiness of humans, but unhappy in a way that is rather different in human experience; unable to just be, needing to be either working or entertained, or else hopelessly bored. A sense that people are disconnected, not just from each other, but from themselves.

These things seem rather different, and yet there seems to be a common thread somewhere. This is what The Master and His Emissary ties together: all of these are aspects of a left-brain dominated outlook, an outlook that is very good at taking things apart, sorting and classifying and pinning things on paper, but not at all good at being alive, at seeing the whole thing, at remaining in contact with the world itself.

Next time, I still have some thoughts on how this relates to education.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Rob Roy

I should be working, or cooking supper, or possibly writing the other blog post I was planning to write, but instead I'm going to write about Rob Roy.

When I read a tale of adventure about a noble bandit and political intrigue, I'm willing to accept the ordinary guy as protagonist who gets swept up into events beyond him.

I'm not really expecting him to then stand there the entire time with his hands in his pockets.

Also, what kind of a name is Osbaldistone?

I can't say I disliked Frank Osbaldistone. He seems a perfectly decent chap. Who goes on being a perfectly decent chap while he gets falsely accused of armed robbery and his cousin steals his father's money. Between the love interest and the outlaw and some complicated political machinations, it all gets returned and everything comes out OK. But other than riding about some exquisite Scottish scenery, and one brief comic round of fisticuffs with some drunken Highlanders, Frank doesn't do a thing for himself.

The titular outlaw also was something of a disappointment. He doesn't even show up until the book is half over, and even then his role is somewhat ambiguous. He promises to help, but then is captured. He escapes. Meanwhile things are taken care of by other people. He comes to a dramatic rescue on almost the last page, but that's about it.

Fortunately the other characters were quite delightful: Diana Vernon, who manages to keep her outlawed father (NOT Rob Roy, someone else) hidden and her evil scheming cousin at bay, while excelling at horsemanship AND scholarship. (Why she marries the inoffensive Frank remains a mystery, except that being nurtured in a hotbed of Jacobite rebellion she wanted a quieter adult life, in which case I am sure she got what she was after, as she apparently always did.) Mrs. Rob Roy, apparently a competent general in her own right, if a bit blood-thirsty. Jarvie, the respectable Lowland merchant with secret Highland connections. Andrew Fairservice, the servant with a very strong sense of self-preservation. And the scenery is outstanding, and I don't usually even bother to read descriptions.

Still, it could have done with a livelier hero.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Master and His Emissary, by Iain McGilchrist

This book is one you should read, but probably won't. It's 462 pages long, and that's without the footnotes and bibliography. And they're big pages with small type.

But it's worth reading. It's even worth just skimming. I kept it to the end of our library's generous renewal policy once, and then I have kept it almost to the end again before getting it reviewed. It is a book that makes clear connections that I have long felt but not been able to fully explain.

It is more like two complimentary books, really. The first is on neuroscience and the different roles of the two hemispheres of the brain. Not in the simplistic manner of "Are you right-brained or left-brained?" quizzes or common dichotomies like words and logic vs. art and music.

In fact, everybody is using both hemispheres of their brain all the time for every task. The difference is not so much *what* the two halves do as *how* they do it. The left side of the brain takes things apart, creates clear divisions, handles and manipulates, deals in lists and syllogisms. The right side of the brain takes things in, absorbs the whole, understands and appreciates, deals in relationships and paradoxes. Without the left brain, we cannot find words, use tools, manipulate the world. Without the right brain, we cannot understand words, find meaning, know our place in relation to the world, appreciate the existence of reality outside ourselves.

The two hemispheres of the brain correspond to two ways of knowing, which were certainly understood and appreciated for centuries before the brain was so closely analyzed. They might be called analytic and synthetic. Or scientific and poetic. C. S. Lewis has a memorable passage in which he discusses the difference between looking "at" a beam of light in a dark shed and looking "along" that beam of light to the world outside.

The challenge is keeping these two parts of the brain in balance, working together even though it is their nature to operate at cross purposes. And the real challenge in this is that while the right side of the brain, which takes in the whole picture, can appreciate and understand what it needs the left side of the brain for, the left side of the brain doesn't. It thinks it's got the whole picture and can do everything itself. It thinks its way of looking at the world is the *right* way. (One reason this book is so huge is that all these points are meticulously documented with patient studies and other neurological and psychological research.) Without the right brain keeping it in check, it takes over and tries to do tasks for which it has no capacity

So, on to the second book within the book: the way the tension between the two hemispheres has played out over the history of Western civilization. Not that our brains have changed drastically over the course of recorded history, but the way we perceive and interact with our environment produces and is produced by culture, and it shifts over relatively short timeframes. (This part, also, is meticulously documented in a completely different way, with literary, historical, and philosophical references.)

The author is dealing with a very big picture here and can of necessity only bring fragments to sketch it, a difficult task but one I think he for the most part succeeds at. But the general idea is that the hemispheres tend to alternate dominance, first culture showing a flowering of right-brained creativity, and then a left-brained tendency to analyze and sharpen. He starts back in ancient Greece, then on through Rome and the middle ages, the Renaissance (right brain) followed by Reformation (shifting), leading to the Enlightenment (hard left), and then a rebellion against that with the right-brain emphasizing Romantic movement.

The challenge he sees is that over time the left-brain dominance becomes sharper. The left brain, after all, thinks its way is the right way. It dismisses the right-brain approach as illogical, inconsistent, inadequate. For most of human history, the right brain has had many supports to keep its place: our experience of nature and our own bodies, the presence of art and music and religion. These have kept the left brain from following its own drift too far.

However, since the Industrial Revolution, we have less and less access to these anchors. Our environment is more and more not a thing outside ourselves, but predominantly the product of human technology, all straight lines and sharp angles. Science (a vital endeavor) has been turned into scientism, a dogmatic insistence that only the left-brained facts and figures have any truth value. Religion has responded mostly by abandoning its realm of mystery and splitting up into fundamentalism (an attempt to reduce the inexpressible to a logically consistent body of dogma) or modernism (eliminating the supernatural altogether). Art and music have ceased to be human endeavors toward the beautiful (the left brain can't handle the idea of beauty; it can't be reduced to specific parts) and have become exercises in novelty for the sake of novelty. The body itself becomes an object, not a thing we are, but a thing we own and try to manipulate.

In consequence, we have followed up Modernism, a triumph of the left brain if there ever was one, not with a right-brain revolution to restore our appreciation for the reality that is out there, for beauty and relationship and all those other things that don't quite reduce to figures, but with Post-Modernism--a retreat further into the left-hemisphere world, in which there is no longer an out there at all, but everything is simply a product of our own minds.

I have already summarized a book that is probably too long to read with a blog post that is also too long to read, so I will try to do a second post on how this resonates with me.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Old Goals, New Goals

It is the time of year for planning and goals and breaking down your lofty goals into manageable, achievable steps.

This seems very sound in theory, but in practice, manageable, achievable steps bore or frighten me (depending on how many of them there are).

It may be unorthodox, but on both a large and a small scale I do better if I think about the things that I want and then just putz about and do what seems to come next. If I want to get the house clean and I make a list and do one thing at a time and cross it off, I'll be exhausted and cranky at the end of the day. If I just leave a blank of time and do whatever inspires me most to do next, I get more done for less crankiness.

Sorry.  I know it's not supposed to work that way. And I freely confess I've never managed to make it on anyone's list of 30 under 30 and it's too late now. Probably the world of high-powered, amazing achievement is closed to me, as is the world of immaculate houses. But I'm OK with that. I do the stuff that really matters to me and I still have time to have fun.

On the large scale, life takes way too many twists and turns for me to make long-range plans. And yet the road has a curious way of curving back around to that spot I saw in the distance. A long, long time ago, at a time when most of the people in my life had extremely conservative ideas of what females could be doing, I had just started law school, and someone asked me, "But why are you going to law school? Don't you want to get married?"

"Well, maybe," I said, "But maybe my husband and I could practice law together."

I did wind up meeting DOB through law school, but then neither of us practiced law, and we even lived in a state where it was impossible to be licensed. Then we moved back to where we could be licensed, but he got hired and I started free-lancing and things looked like they would stay that way for a long time.

Last year I was taking the kids on one of our weekly hike/park days and I noticed the trail we were on went right behind an office park, including the offices of a local firm.

"Hey," I thought, "If I were practicing law more regularly, this would be the place to do it." Cities and desks I hate, but having a little trail by the creek leading down to the beach right out the door would do a lot toward making it survivable. (There just aren't that many jobs involving analysis and debate that also involve a lot of time outdoors. Street preaching, maybe?)

Well, late this year the road took an unexpected hairpin and all of a sudden . . . here we are. Starting our own firm as of January 1. And, what do you know, but the CPA firm that DOB knew that was eager to lease him office space--is in that very same office park. Technically I've hired him, as I'm maintaining majority control of my corporation, but as he's the rainmaker he's pretty sure he has job security.

Current plans are for me to work primarily from home doing drafting and research, maybe going in once a week and filling in at court from time to time, while continuing to home school. Right now DOB is still in transition, wrapping things up at his old firm. We are going crazy trying to set up phones and email and computers and insurance and all that stuff. We'll see how it all shakes out. I'm sure the road will stay curvy.

I do have one specific goal for the year: Green eggs. I've decided to add vegetables to breakfast. I abhor smoothies, but a mess of fried green stuff with eggs is a tasty way to start the day, and right now fat is rated as healthy, so I'll enjoy it. I was going to set a goal of not remodeling anything but the new law office to be is . . . of all colors . . . bright blue.