Thursday, June 30, 2005

Weariness and Friday's Quote

I am weary, heavy with unfinished business, inner and outer, with the death of my step-grandmother and the dread of attending graveside services in the morning, with having stayed up until 3 am the last three nights in a row sewing costumes for an upcoming musical, with the knowledge of all that is undone around me in our home: the unmowed yard, the stacked dishes and increasing heaps of laundry. Tonight I walked in the door to discover that lightening ran in on my computer and has evidently fried it. It will not start. (I'm posting from Great Scott's). I want to walk into the dark fields until I can walk no more, then lie down in the wet grass and sleep like a wild creature curled tightly against the world in the warmth of its own fur.

I've been on my knees in front of the bookcase looking for just the right quote for tomorrow: something comforting, something soothing, or perhaps something terribly witty with enough of an edge to hold at bay the crash I feel is impending. I've flipped through the poems of Kenyon, Norris's non-fiction, Chris Fabry's Spiritually Correct Bedtime Stories and Adrian Plass's humor but cannot find exactly what I want or what I need. Very likely the two are mutually incompatable tonight--what I need and what I want. But maybe not. I think I've found something after all:

" always seems that just when daily life seems most unbearable, stretching out before me like a prison sentence, when I seem most dead inside, reduced to mindlessness, bitter tears or both, that what is inmost breaks forth, and I realize that what had seemed 'dead time' was actually a period of gestation."

--Kathleen Norris
The Quotidian Mysteries

The Skippy List

My brother is in the Air Force, and occasionally he passes on small tidbits of military humor. This morning a link to The 213 Things Skippy Is No Longer Allowed To Do In The U.S. Army was waiting in our inbox. Now, granted, some of these are a little over the top, but there were so many fun (and disturbingly educational) ones that I'll pass it along with my kudos to all our military people who manage to maintain a sense of humor in the midst of mayhem.

While we're on the topic of the army, go pay Ben and Ann a visit and leave a note of encouragement for their soon-to-be-in-basic son.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Overheard Tonight in the Living Room

Older daughter to younger:

"Oh yeah!? Well you should be glad you've got me, 'cause otherwise you'd be the oldest, and then they'd experiment on you!

Logic: It's What's for Breakfast

Great Scott and I want our girls to grow up thinking critically, not just accepting whatever fluff drifts over them. Because of this, we very deliberately point out not just literary techniques, but logical fallacies and loaded arguments when we watch movies or read books with them. In other words, we talk back to the television a lot (especially to Katie and Matt, but don't get me started). Teaching the girls to recognize rhetorical strategy is not the same as teaching them to use it, however, and when an opportunity to begin training them in the fine art of argumentation presented itself in the grocery store this weekend, I thought it good to take advantage.

We were walking down the cereal aisle, besieged by rows of sugar cereal, a purposefully non-existant foodstuff in the Lawson pantry. The fault was mine, I admit; I slowed, seduced by a bag of generic Fruit Loops--Nuke Loops or some such thing. Anything that brightly colored has got to contain nuclear waste. The eleven year-old looked at them longingly. "They look good," she said sadly.

I nodded, "Yes, they do, don't they? They're probably sheer poison."

"It's ok Mama. I know we can't have them."

I paused. The radiation must have been affecting my brain. "Talk me into it," I said suddenly. She stopped in her tracks, wide-eyed. Her jaw dropped. "Talk me into it," I repeated. "C'mon. Give me some reasons I should buy Nuke Loops."

"They taste reeeally, reeeally good..." she began slowly.

I cut her off. "No. Not good enough. That's a good reason for a kid, but you need to think like the person you're trying to convince. In this case, me: a grown-up, a mother. What would convince a mother to buy her children Nuke Loops?"

"They're good for you?" she offered, her brow creasing in thought.

"That's better, but you'll need to be specific," I told her. "Here. Look." I picked up the bag and showed her the nutrition facts box on the back. "Say, 'Look Mommy! Vitamin A! Vitamin C! Riboflavin! And one whole gram of fiber!'"

A grin of comprehension creeping onto her face, she repeated each phrase carefully after me with increasing enthusiasm. I turned to the eight year-old. "What reason can you give me to buy Nuke Loops that would appeal to an adult?" I asked her. Her reply was prompt.

"They'll give us energy!!!!!" (This spoken by a child who could power the eastern seaboard if we could just find a way to hook her up and get a meter on her.)

I gasped in horror and shuddered. "No! That is exactly what grown-ups don't want! Hmmm... Let's see..."

Thus it was that upon our return home, when questioned by an incredulous Great Scott about our purchase, he was answered by a cheerful chorus of, "But Daddy! When we come down off the sugar high, we'll sleep for hours!"

He didn't mind too much. After all, it's educational! (Not to mention we brought him chocolate.)

Friday, June 24, 2005

Friday Quote

"Yar nodded. 'Magic,' he answered wryly, 'is how you use what, in spite of all your good intentions, you learn.'"

--Patricia McKillip
Od Magic

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

When Asked the Impossible

The Gift

Just when you seem to yourself
nothing but a flimsy web
of questions, you are given
the questions of others to hold
in the emptiness of your hands,
songbird eggs that can still hatch
if you keep them warm,
butterflies opening and closing themselves
in your cupped palms, trusting you not to injure
their scintillant fur, their dust.
You are given the questions of others
as if they were answers
to all you ask. Yes, perhaps
this gift is your answer.

---Denise Levertov
from Sands of the Well

I find myself often in positions of more responsibility than I am able to meet. Marriage comes to mind. Motherhood also. Everyday I wake up with the knowledge that I am totally incompetent to adequately execute the barest sliver of what my life situation requres of me. For a perfectionist this is not happy information. Some people cry themselves to sleep. I can remember a time when I cried to find myself awake and in the world of the living, overwhelmed to be yet again doomed to push my personal boulder up a slope too steep.

I love Levertov's poem. It loosens something inside, gives space, gives permission to breathe again. It's a reminder that the most important parts of life--the parts that involve relationships with other people--require not that we have and hand out all the answers to others' questions, but that we allow others to ask their questions and then to seek for themselves, that we stand as witness and encouragement for the searchings of our family, our friends and mentees. It's a reminder that, quite frankly, we need fairly often to keep from closing our well-meaning handfulls of pat answers around fragile wings and crushing them. It's fear, I think, that clenches our fists so tightly, fear of not knowing answers ourselves, or of not trusting the answers we claim to know. I want the grace to live in ignorance in willingness without willfulness.

Open hands, Cindy. Open hands.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Friday Quote

"No great deed, private or public, has ever been undertaken in a bliss of certainty."

-----Leon Wieseltier

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The If-I-Could-Be Meme

I'm way behind on getting this one out. Feebs gave me a list and asked me to complete sentences for three of them (I think it was three.)

If I could be an inn-keeper, I'd hire my brothers-in-law Brad and Roy to sit in the common room sharpening executioners' axes and look menacing and keep the rabble quiet. I would stand for no funny business out back in the stables, and I'd carry a big iron ladle with which to firmly whack the knuckles of any lout who pestered my serving girls.

If I could be a mutant, I'd have the power to discern a person's greatest pain and how to ease it. Then I'd set up shop as a psychologist by day and a writer of inspirational self-help books by night. I would help millions. The sad would be made happy, the suffering of the world relieved, marriages saved, homes restored. Small children would hug my feet and whisper my name in awe and grateful tears!

(Or maybe I'd have the power to eat anything I like and not gain weight. Difficult choice.)

If I could be a bonnie pirate, I'd wear those really comfy balloon-y pants and billowy blouses and decorate the captain's quarters in cabbage rose wallpaper. I'd keelhaul the first landlubber who laughed at me fashion sense, arrrggh, and they'd be eatin' from th' chum bucket fer the duration of the voyage, Matey.

Tag, you're it!
The Way Seeker
Notes on Acting
This Hapax Legomenon
A Likely Story

If I could be a scientist...
If I could be a farmer...
If I could be a musician...
If I could be a doctor...
If I could be a painter...
If I could be a gardener...
If I could be a missionary...
If I could be a chef...
If I could be an architect...
If I could be a linguist...
If I could be a psychologist...
If I could be a librarian...
If I could be an athlete...
If I could be a lawyer...
If I could be an inn-keeper...
If I could be a professor...
If I could be a writer...
If I could be a llama-rider...
If I could be a bonnie pirate...
If I could be an astronaut...
If I could be a world famous blogger...
If I could be a justice on any one court in the world...
If I could be married to any current famous political figure...
If I could be a sorcerer/sorceress...
If I could be a mutant...
If I could be an influential religious leader...

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

A Book Pass-It-On Questionaire Thingy

Feeble Knees has tapped my shoulder with a chain questionaire thingy, this one about books! Books! Books! Books! Books! Books!

Ahem. Pardon.

1. Total number of books owned:

Well.... I had to do this by rooms, so:

1,000 in the study. Odd that it was such an even number. Total coincidence, though.
67 in our bedroom. Mostly on the floor beside the bed, as there are no shelves in this room.
33 on or around my desk. Also no shelving
13 in the kitchen
98 in the living room. In a china cabinet instead of dishes and on a cedar chest.
204 on and around a bookshelf in the dining room.
168 in the girls' room. Not counting under the bed or buried.
65 in the playroom.
Total: 1,648. But then I found two more boxes in the utility room, and an Amazon order has come in this week, and Great Scott's birthday is Friday, and more will be forthcoming then. Nor does this total include the ones we've loaned out, which are legion. (Happy sigh!)

2. Last books we've bought:

Great Scott:
A Short History of Linguistics by R.H. Robins
Landmarks in Linguistic Thought I: The Western Tradition from Socrates to Saussure by John E. Joseph, Nigel Love and Talbot J. Taylor
Landmarks in Linguistic Thought II: The Western Tradition in the Twentieth Century by John E. Joseph, Nigel Love and Talbot J. Taylor
Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces

Yes, these are for his graduate classes this summer, but they're also snifty books. :)

The Fur Person by May Sarton
Nurture by Nature by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger (MBTI theory and child raising)
New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver
The Best Day the Worst Day by Donald Hall (just out this spring, autobiographical about his and Jane Kenyon's life together--most excellent book)
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (non-fiction about the Chicago World's Fair and a serial killer who operated in Chicago during that time)
Rumi: Gardens of the Beloved and Rumi: Whispers of the Beloved translated by Maryam Mafi and Azima Melita Kolin (I take one of these to church to read whenever the temptation strikes to tear the upholstry apart with my teeth out of frustration.)
A top secret book I can't name because it's for Great Scott's birthday, and he reads this blog. :::smug smile:::

3. Last book I read:

Read as in finished reading? Ten Little Kittens which I read aloud to my niece yesterday.
Read as in referenced? The Bible, which I used in a lengthy reply on a friend's bloga few minutes ago, a reply which was promptly lost in cyberspace glitches. (grrrr--sorry, Beth.)

4. Five books that mean a lot to me:

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip
House of Light by Mary Oliver
Prayer by Richard Foster
Otherwise by Jane Kenyon
Leaf by Niggle by J. R.R. Tolkien (a lengthy short story, really, but definitive for me)

5. Five people to whom to pass the baton:

Beth--Because although I know her literary tastes, she finds new things and educates me.
FieldFleur--Because I suspect there will be tasty things on her shelves as well.
The Way Seeker--Whose blog, which I have only recently discovered, intrigues and greatly amuses me.
PDub--Because I know very little of his reading habits but suspect him of having them.
Steph--Because I'm interested.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

A New Tradition

I love Michelle's Shabbat Shalom posts every Friday. Her pictures are always lovely, sometimes breathtaking. While I cannot aspire to such spirit-stirring beauty, I think I'd like to start posting a quote of some sort once a week. So here's the first bit of profundity to see you through your weekend:

"Your hair is a halo of mouse-brown fire!"

---Arthur from the shortlived cartoon TV series "The Tick"

Wednesday, June 08, 2005


Last week my younger daughter and I had appointments with our optometrist. As we’d anticipated, she was very ready for glasses, and my prescription had changed. One thing I’d not anticipated was our doctor’s offer to put me in soft contacts. Two years ago, my twenty year run of wearing hard and rigid gas permeable contacts was brought to an abrupt end when we discovered damage to my corneas: a nasty little network of rapidly encroaching blood vessels that shouldn’t have been there, as well as some scarring. At the time, he expressed doubt that I’d ever wear contacts again. However, two years of healing seems to have brought my eyes to the point of tolerating soft contacts, although I’m told the scar tissue is likely permanent and will make my preferred rigid choice uncomfortable at best. So I’m pondering my options while wearing a “trial” pair of softies for a week or two to see how it goes.

New prescriptions mean new glasses, so after the appointment the girls and I headed to an optical shop. Here our eleven year-old was struck with pangs of unwelcome change as she watched her little sister and mom try on frames. At first she heartily approved her sister’s choice of pale metallic pink frames, but as we wandered around the store (the younger one wearing her frames “just to“see how they feel”), the older grew increasingly dissatisfied with the way the younger looked and began making comments: “I just don’t think they look like you.” “They just don’t look right.” “I don’t think I like them after all.” When I asked her opinion about a pair I tried on, she shook her head sadly. “You just don’t look like you, Mom,” she said. When pressed, she finally explained, “You look like a movie star or a teenager.” I resisted simultaneous urges to burst into laughter and to assault my own child (if you have children and a sense of humor, you understand perfectly; if you have children and no sense of humor, you are likely the sole caseload for one of your local social workers). After much gentle encouragement, she was finally able to say unhappily, “You just look more Mom-ish in your own glasses, and I like you to look Mom-ish. I don’t want you or [her sister] to change.”

I tried to reassure her, but I know how ineffective anything I had to say must have been. On the hour-long drive home, while the girls catnapped in the backseat, phrases from Gerard Manley Hopkins poem “Spring and Fall” ran through my head.

Spring and Fall
to a young child

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, no spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Some of us don’t deal as well with change as others. Change to us, whether it be new glasses or the changing of seasons or even new clothes (I used to hate shopping for new school clothes as a child; I wanted to wear my old ones forever!) reminds us that there is an end to the comfortable things we love. I understand that all endings are actually beginnings of new things ahead and as such should be celebrated. I think, though, that sometimes in our almost rabid pursuit of happiness, we don’t give ourselves and each other permission to mourn the little things, to acknowledge their importance to us, and express our grief, however transitory, before turning with a spirit scrubbed clean to face the beginning we’re now prepared to face, the past decisively behind us. The time needed, I suspect, will differ for each person.

I didn’t scold my daughter for making a fuss about nothing. I told her I understood, that I hate change, too. I told her it was ok to be sad. I told her that regardless of what her sister or I look like throughout our lives, her sister will always be her sister, I will always be her mother, and we will both always love her very much, even if she, herself, changes. These things, I assured her, are constants. Unwavering. Forever.

She’s seemed to be coming around, although each morning when I put in the contacts and lay aside the glasses, she lets me know which she prefers. Her tone has become matter-of-fact, though, not laced with longing. A good sign

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Summer Vacation

After weeks of waffling--my waffling--Great Scott and I decided to keep the girls home from summer school this year. This summer, I decreed, was the summer they would learn to better pick up after themselves, to learn to wash dishes and to do so after every meal (we don't have a dishwasher of the non-human variety). This summer they could help in the garden and spend lazy afternoons at one of the two creeks on either side of the house, dabbling their toes in the water and catching tadpoles. This summer they would learn to ride their bicycles and run "wild in the backyard". The first week was wonderful. Both girls did dishes religiously and executed the related chores (wiping the table, countertops, stovetop and sweeping the floor) with commendable precision. Then they went to their grandmother's for a weekend. During that time, things fell apart. Not because the girls weren't ready to resume their jobs upon their return, but because I, Mommy, didn't have the dishes done up when they got home. I am a worm! I am a wretched, mewling, pitious pustule of parenthood! I writhe upon the crumby kitchen floor.

What I'd been doing was playing Dungeon Siege, a game my vice-encouraging brother-in-law, Brad, gleefully sent home with me after we had dinner with him and his significant other, Lauren (my pseudo-sister-in-law, as I fondly think of her), Friday evening. This game differs from the last game to which he attempted to addict me (Dungeon Keeper II) in that the game operator is in the position to be a hero rather than the evil overlord of one's own underworld kingdom. A step down, in Brad's opinion, most likely, but a vast relief to me. For one thing, Great Scott worries a great deal less about my immortal soul now that I don't have to summon up an icky-looking demon to conquor the sunlit upper worlds. For another, I am most sadly not cut out for evil dominion. Alas, I have no knack for the stylistics of evil dungeon keeping! My first attempt to possess one of my dungeon creatures and force it to do my nefarious bidding ended up with me being eaten by one of my own wizards. (Perhaps I should have experimented on something other than a chicken.)

So what are our children doing while they wait for me to catch up on the dishes? The discovery of a cottonmouth snake frequenting the southern creek has put unescorted excursions to its banks on hold, but the girls have been playing outside this morning, planning a picnic for lunch, and the older one is now reading J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan aloud to the younger amid the shifting sunlight and shadows beneath the big tree of paradise in the front yard. The inflections of her voice rise and fall, accompanied by birdsong and the distant drone of the neighbors' haying equipment. This, I'm reminding myself, is why I'm here, puttering barefoot through the house instead of walking the halls of academia in heels. This is why my blogging has been sporadic of late, why I have neglected returning phone calls and emails, why, at least for a few hours, I'm setting aside even the new game addiction (sorry, Brad!). There's a kingdom right here, rich in gold light and bright eyes, a kingdom of the mundane that I far too often undervalue and overlook.

Sometimes I wonder, looking out the window at the trees of paradise in the yard, if man was barred from only the physical location of Eden, or if our exile is actually enforced by our own inability to accept the possible Eden we've been given in our everyday lives, striving as we do to create one of our own conception and choosing.