Past and Future

on 23 June 2012

I didn't really grow up around my own Grandmother.  I have vague memories of my Grandparents (on my Mom's side) from my childhood, but we moved west when I was 9 and I don't have many memories of any of my Grandparents after that.

I never thought it was a big deal...I felt like I was fine in spite of not having much of a relationship with my Grands.  But I also saw my peers and how much they LOVED their Grandparents and I felt vaguely like maybe I was missing out on something.

I love my Grandma, I always have, but I've also been keenly aware that I was not her favorite (that dubious title belongs to my Sister) and so I never made much effort to win her affection.  And now I'm of such an age that I can just be sassy with her and try to make her laugh, which is always my ambition when we meet up.

I've always thought of myself as rather jaded.  I always thought it was difficult to crack the shell around my heart.  And then I had kids.  And they break my heart almost on a daily basis.  And then this happened...

We had all gathered the Saturday before Father's day to fete my own Dad and Christopher, the beloved father of my babies.  And we were just sitting around chatting after dinner and my Grandma reached out for my Girl.   It's rare to see my Grandma smile like that, I don't blame her, I think it must be very hard to pass year after year and watch the people you love pass out of your life and on to the next, and then not to be able to do things that you've ALWAYS done.  It can't be easy.  And so it's rare to see my Grandma smile like that.

But that's the power of my Girl.

It was one of those extraordinary moments, I was sitting right next to my Grandma and this little voice whispered in my head, "You're going to remember this for the rest of your life.  Enjoy it."  I sat there in the presence of the Past and the Future of my own family, keenly aware of my own part as the Present.

Mirish asked me my thoughts about Motherhood and I've thought and thought about what to write about that.  And the honest truth is that most days, I just don't know.  I feel like it is a Great and Terrible thing, to carry the Future within the confines of your own body and then to get up every morning and feel the weight of teaching and shaping and nurturing that future.  No wonder so many mothers are tired.  What blows my mind on a fairly regular basis is that, for all that weight, the days are comprised of just moments.  Some good, some not so good, and a few really extraordinary ones.

The Path not Taken...

on 22 June 2012

I think a lot about the path not taken in my life.  Or maybe it's paths, because I've always liked to keep my options open.  I think Chris is struggling with this right now, letting go of what he thought his life would be like by this time and accepting what it is.

My life is so completely and utterly different from what I thought it would be.  Some days it's like living in a waking dream where I find myself doing something and I have to stop myself from thinking, "How did I get HERE?"  It's been a hard adjustment, painfully fought and very gradually accepted.  And now?  Now it's almost painfully sweet.  Most days.

I'd be lying if I said I never thought about that other path, the one not taken.  The one with an office, with a door I could close and walls lined with book filled shelves.  The one with the rich academic life.  I do think about it.  Usually when the volume of my abode has risen exponentially and every surface is sticky and I've stepped on plastic dinosaurs more than twice in the course of an hour.  

But Grace comes out with the fireflies, and I tuck clean children in to bed and pour myself a glass of ice water and sit down and put my feet up and think over the course of the day.  And it's more sweet than bitter, and at the end of my life, I hope I can say that most of the days were like that.

Ray of Life...and Light

on 21 June 2012

My girl...these pictures speak louder than I any language.

She's teething.  And as my 95 year old Grandmother could tell you, she'll literally shove anything she can grab into her mouth and start gnawing on it.  She has fussy days, but they haven't been so bad lately.

It's awfully hard to be short-tempered and impatient with someone when this is what they look like when they see you.

She's still a tough audience, but I'm starting to think it's more because she's thoughtful and observant, than that she's unimpressed.  I mean, look at this face...

The Awesome Auntie

on 20 June 2012

I have a confession.

I am a HORRIBLE auntie.  Or rather, I am an AWESOME auntie, but a HORRIBLE sister for I have, in my time, spoiled my nieces and nephews within an inch of their lives.  In my defense, I was rather young when I became an auntie and had no real idea what I was doing.  I plead ignorance, and hope for the mercy of my sisters.

I also hope that I'm still an awesome auntie.  But I can't compete with my sisters.  Sherry in particular because she lives here and my son thinks she makes the world go 'round.  And when I picked him up after a play date at her house, I fully understand why.

He came home, with THIS monstrosity...

That is an enormous candy gum ball.  It's yellow.  And I can only assume it's filled to the brim with high fructose corn syrup and artificial colors and flavors.  Sherry views it as her personal mission to fill my children's lives with the things I explicitly deny them on the grounds that I want them to live long and healthy lives.

It rattled when he shook it.  I was a little scared of what might be on the inside.  And so I challenged him to bite into it.  I thought if it was something truly horrific, better the young to suffer first...

Alas, the gum ball exceeded the size of my child's mouth.

 This is him telling me it's too big and he can't bite into it...

"Mama, please you open my gum ball o' sugary death?"

And, like the complete sucker that I am, I hacked into that thing with a CLEAVER and this is what came out.

And he scarfed them up.  I let him gnaw on the gum ball too...

Because once upon a time I gave my nephews chocolate for breakfast and strawberry daiquiris for an afternoon snack and wired them up until they literally ran laps and my sister wanted to smack us all.  But she didn't.  And so I let her wire up my kid and I shake my head.

And then I usually say, "So when do I get an auntie date?  That's looking like a pretty sweet deal..."

What we've been doing...

on 19 June 2012

It's been an insanely, abnormally busy few weeks that started before Memorial Day weekend.  We had our favorite dog with us while his people were in Paris, France for 18 days.  And so we spent quite a lot of time doing this...

And this...

And this...

Generally, we love Hogan.  He is a sweet, sweet old dog.  But...he is NOT a fan of Molly.  And so we are a little relieved to just have the one psycho pup to train up for the summer.  Hopefully, we'll get to see more of Hogan in the Fall.  And for a while, I'd like to spend LESS time in my car.

Photo Cache

on 18 June 2012

It occurs to me that this blog has been bereft, BEREFT I say! of cute babies.  And so I'm taking this week to give you a photo spray to make you smile.

Then I might take some time off.  I'm exhausted.

Here's a teaser...

Confusing M

on 08 June 2012

So, Mirish asked what I feel my personal characteristic or trait is that might confusing to my friends.

Let me make you a LIST:

  1. I've been accused of being Fickle.  I felt at the time the accusation was made, and I still do, that it's a poor choice of words.  But I AM changeable.  I don't see myself as having a Fixed Personality.  I'm not DONE.  Consequently, I'm always trying new things, and learning new things and studying different things and I allow myself the luxury to Change as it suits me.
  2. I've also been accused of Selfishness.  I happen to think this is a Human characteristic and not necessarily unique to me.  I do acknowledge that sometimes I'm more selfish than other times.  When I feel like my family is threatened, when we're hunkered down and struggling, I know that I get more selfish and...focused on my immediate family.  This offends some people, so be it.  I'm doing what I feel like I need to do to take care of my God-given duties.
  3. I think Sherry is puzzled how I can be rational and a romantic at the same time.  What can I say?  I'm a puzzle.

JASNA and the Dangers thereof...

on 06 June 2012

I was a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America from 2005 (when they published my first paper) until last year.  It got cut as an unnecessary expense.

But since Brett has just joined up, I thought I would tell her (and you) why I never made it to an AGM.

  1. It's expensive.  Maybe $400 just for the conference, then it's all the usual travel expenses.
  2. It can't decide what it wants to be.  It's part academic conference with the inherent scholarly presentations, and part Fan Conference with Regency dress and balls and teas etc.  It's confusing to me.
  3. When I travel, I like to share it with Chris.  He's my best friend, and being without him would just make it...not as awesome.  And honestly, I have about as much chance of getting Chris to a Jane Austen conference as I do of flying to the MOON.
  4. Dude...that's a LOT of strangers.  And I'm...shall we say...socially inadequate.  I'm horrible at small talk, I never know what to say, so why spend all that money to go and feel awkward and lonely the whole time?
  5. I would feel really torn...paying all that money to attend the conference I would feel like I HAD to attend the conference, but going to a new city, I really love to get out and get lost and explore and see new things...and there just isn't enough TIME to do both.
So there are my reasons why I never made it to one.  I, too, love New York City.  But I'm old enough and wise enough to know that when I go back, I want to go with Chris.  And I want to wander at will, not feel obligated to stay cooped up in a hotel attending classes.

But...this is ME.  And Brett, YOU are YOU.  And Samwise is Samwise.  We aren't all the same.  I think we have this horrible propensity to look to the left and to the right and to want to keep step with everyone else.  When what we NEED to do, is what's right for US.

Have sense?

How to get things done...

on 04 June 2012


Brett is HILARIOUS.  I DON'T get a lot of things done.

Like any homemaker, some days are good and some days are not so good.  So the good days, I seize the day and plow through as much as I can, and that way, on the bad days, I can just do what NEEDS to be done.

In all seriousness, I try to look at my life in terms of what is genuinely Needful:

  • Clothing the naked
  • Feeding the hungry
  • Caring for the sick and afflicted.
And that's Motherhood.  Summed up neat and tidy.  So when these are done, when my kids are clothed and fed and well rested, cuddled and reasonably happy, then I look at the other things that Need to be done:
  • Animals need caring for
  • Our living space needs to be reasonable clean
  •'s never ending
  • Souls need feeding 
  • My husband needs flirting with
And because souls need feeding, I do a lot of reading--books to the kids, scriptures for the kids, scriptures for me and then finally at the end of the day (usually) books for me.  Sometimes the flirtation is my favorite: banter; and sometimes it's a hasty note tossed into his lunch as he's walking out the door.

And my sister lately, has converted me to the idea of having a creative experience every day.  Mine are not typically very grand, we listen to a lot of music around these parts, while we're going about our day, and at some point the Boy will be found dancing, and I will be found singing.  But I also try to pick up my needles at some point every day, even if I only work a couple of rows.  It's incredibly soothing to my mind and it softens me up for sleep, after the tension of the day.

But here's the list of things I Like to do when I have Time to do them:
  • Exercise
  • Take a walk outside with the Boy
  • Play in the dirt with the Boy
  • Tickle and play with my babies
  • Knitting
  • Visit my sister
  • Email my other sister
  • Deep clean my living space
  •  Take pictures of my incomprehensibly cute children
  • Tease my nephews
  • Take the kiddos to Nana and Popper's house
  • Run errands
  • Go beyond reading and actually STUDY
  • Read blogs
  • Bake stuff
  • WORK.  (Sometimes this gets bumped up the priority list.)
  • GROOM.  As in, extensive personal's just nice to feel pretty rather than just clean.

So how do I get stuff done?  Well, we have a reasonably small space (under 1000 square feet) so no matter where I am, I have a good idea of what the Boy is up to, and I can at least see my Girl.  We have a very parent-centered home, which for me, means that I don't usually play with my children.  I think it's good for them to see that Mama and Daddy have work to do that doesn't revolve around them.  They learn to play on their own, they learn they're NOT the center of the universe, and they REALLY appreciate it when we DO play with them--it becomes a big treat, rather than an expectation.  I initially started it, because I wanted the Boy to see me as an authority figure, rather than a playmate.  He's happy and obedient, so I don't think playing by himself is scarring him in anyway.

Monday is my usual Home Work day--I do all the laundry and a big cleaning on Mondays.  Then through the week, I only wash things that have poop on them.  Sorry to be graphic, but it's the truth.  If the Girl has a blow out, or if diapers need washing, that's the only laundry I do during the week.  I vacuum Mondays and Thursdays usually, but it's not hard and fast.  When we're really busy (like we've been for the past couple of weeks), then I usually only vacuum on Mondays.

Rest Time is The Sacred Cow.  I don't understand the abandonment of Rest Time.  Some days the Boy naps and some days he doesn't, but he still has Rest Time.  He has to be IN his bed from 1pm until I come and get him at 4pm.  And YES, I'm very strict about it, and YES there are consequences if he gets out of his bed, and YES, it's happened, and I've been consistent about the punishment that's meted out for that particular offense, and so after about 4 days, he settled down and he plays quietly with his soft animals in his bed on the days he doesn't nap.  Some days I lay down and try to rest when they do, but most days I use that time for Other Stuff--I pay bills, I clean the kitchen, I do freelance work, I fold laundry, I do any surfing on the internet that I need to do.  I do the things that I know I need quiet and solitude to do.

And I say No.  Net.  Non.  Neine.  Nay.  When things are building up on the calender and there are things that I would Like to do, but I know they would push my kids or ME over the edge, then I say No.  Sometimes more regretfully than others, but I say No.  I chalk it up to Times and Seasons.  Right now, my kids are small and at the end of the day, they don't need play dates, baby gym, park days, sports practices every single day.  Those things are Treats.  We do them SOMETIMES.  Most days, they just need Me.  And they need me to be calm and rational and kind.  So I schedule our lives in such a way that I can be a Happy Mama instead of a Harried, Stressed Out, Frustrated, Irritable Mama.  And I don't get to go to many activities or outings (Chris works evenings, so most of them are moot), I'm not in a book club, I don't go to Knit Night at the Library, I don't take classes.  This is my season, and I'm trying to enjoy it for what it is rather than moping for what it's not.  It will pass, and probably all too soon. 

So that's M's recipe for Getting Stuff Done.  I do all the usual stuff too, I make goals and lists and set deadlines for myself, but you will notice, that I'm not super thin, I'm not "shredded" and I don't cook dinner every single night. My house is clean but not immaculate, the Boy has some toys but not TONS (I still think he has too many, but I would be happy if the toys could be reduced to just 1 big bin rather than FOUR).  I don't read a book every couple of weeks (like I did before I had kids), I content myself to be reading SOMETHING and however long it takes me, it takes me.

    Les Miserables

    on 01 June 2012

    It's funny that Brett asked for this one, because my sister and I have been talking about this book a lot lately.  Her 15 year old just finished reading it and she and Jeff are reading/listening to it for the first time as well.  Three years ago, I led an informal reading/discussion seminar with her 2 oldest children with the unabridged text.

    It is one of my favorite novels.  For textual, stylistic and sentimental reasons.  Allow me to expound.

    I was 17 years old when my niece was born.  Sherry was living in New Jersey, in a townhouse with NO air conditioner.  We were living in Tennessee at the time, so at the end of that summer we found ourselves in New Jersey visiting Sherry.  It must have felt like a home invasion, now that I look back on it.  Our parents and her two youngest siblings crammed into her small home with her husband and two small children.  I vividly remember spoiling her 2 year old (my nephew William) within an inch of his life...he was absolutely darling.  Long and lean with this thick mop of curly orange hair and enormous blue eyes.  So cute.  But I digress...

    It must have been just before we headed home, I was upstairs in Sherry's room while she fed or otherwise cared for her daughter.  I was lazily going through the books on her shelf, when I came across a small, untouched, abridged copy of Les Miserables.  I took it down, read the back cover and asked her if I might borrow it.  The reason I think it was towards the end of the visit was that she didn't even look to see what I had, she just said, "Take it."  (Poor Sherry, she has the patience of Job.)  But take it, I did.

    Once we got home, I inhaled that book.  I drank it in, as though I had been wandering in the desert.  And when it was over and I had read the final page, I closed the cover, looked around my room and said, "More.  I need MORE."  I can honestly say that Victor Hugo's Les Miserables started me on my academic path.

    It is one of those extraordinary books, a gift from a loving Heavenly Father, to one of His gifted children.  And I don't care what you might or might not believe, I absolutely believe that some books are like that, and this is one of them.  The reason the text is so extraordinary, is that Hugo is communicating eternal truths in a way that, regardless of your religious affiliation, regardless of your educational background, or economic status, the moral truths he expounds are universal and told in such a way that ANYONE can know them.  He uses the most ancient ways of teaching, he tells a story.  Or rather, he tells several stories.  And in the telling of them, the reader comes to know and understand what it means to live a moral life.

    This is a very old principle, one that has got rather out of fashion these days, the idea that ART should be instructive rather than provocative.  George Eliot was a believer, as was Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, Victor Hugo, Leo Tolstoy, William Thackeray and Stendhal.

    It marks the difference between Good books and GREAT books.  Great books continue to teach you every time you read and reread them.  Good books, may entertain, distract, and occasionally provoke thoughts--but Great books CHANGE you.  They change the way you see the world and consequently, they change the way you LIVE in the world.

    So I grew up and went the University of Washington and took to studying all manner of literature.  I studied French for the sole reason that I wanted to one day be able to read Les Miserables in the original French.  But I never did get to reread it.  Until I read it with my niece and nephew.

    So here are my strategies for reading Great books.

    Great books can be hard.  I think they're meant to be hard.  The writers of them expected more from their audience than modern authors do.  So my recommendations are these:
    • Buy your own copy.  Don't borrow from the library.  Even if you get a cheap paperback from Barnes and Nobles, BUY your own copy.
    • Use a decent bookmark.  Don't dogear the pages.  
    • Use a post-it note at the back to flag the start of the endnotes, so that if you come across something in the text that you don't understand, you can easily flip to the back to check the notes for an explanation.
    • Use a good highlighter and take it with you where ever you happen to be reading, so that you can highlight anything you find moving, relevant, or engaging.  I also took to using a pencil in school so that I could write notes in the margins.  My sister tells me you don't really OWN a book until you've written in it.  Now I go back to the books I read and studied in school and I love reading my old notes.  I used to be SMART!
    • When it's a text written in a foreign language (French, German, Russian, Italian whatever), get a GOOD translation.  How can you tell if the translation is any good?  ASK.  The best Russian translators on the market EVER, are Richard Pevear and Larissa Volkhonsky.  Translations of the Romance languages (or German) are not that difficult, get a good edition like the Penguin Classics or Oxford World Classics and you're in clover.
    • I am a big believer in READING the text the first time through.  If you want to get an audio version for "rereading" that's fine, but first time through, I think it needs to come in through your EYES.  (It's worth noting, that you can load up a Kindle with most of these classics for FREE.)
    • Get a good pocket dictionary and keep it with the book.  As you read if you come across a word or expression you're unfamiliar with, look it up.  This was advice given to me when I started at the University of Washington and I followed it and it's changed the way I read.  It's brilliant.
    A word or two (or 37) on Audio Books:
    • I'm a fan of audio books.  But they can get expensive, and you have to be careful that you're getting what you really want regarding translation and abridgement.  I just discovered Libravox on iTunes, which is a series of podcasts readings of classic works of literature.  And they're FREE.  If you find yourself pinched for time, I recommend a tandem compromise.  READ when you can, and when you can't because you're chauffeuring children around, or hiking up a mountain, load up an ipod with an audio version and listen to it.  Be warned, LISTENING to classic literature is a very different experience from READING it.  Some classics were intended to be read aloud (Dickens wrote his books with the intention that they would be read aloud to the family of an evening), but some were NOT.  As you read through the cannon, you'll get an idea of the books that were intended to be read aloud and those that weren't.  Les Miserables...I would argue, was NOT meant to be read aloud, only because Victor Hugo has some long tangents in there, that were obviously intended to be read and mulled over, rather than listened to.

    There you have it, M's very long treatise on Les Miserables and classic literature in general.  I hope it was entertaining as well as instructive.

    For the record, I've read Les Miserables three and a half times.  Twice abridged, once unabridged with my niece and nephew, and I've read sections in French, but I haven't read it all the way through in French.  I suppose that's my next challenge.