Monday, December 31, 2007

Last Post of 2007 Is A Rotten Egg!

Um, that would be this one.

I was just thinking that, wow... I only started this blog back in mid-August, so I've only been doing this for four-and-a-half months now, but it seems like forever. I suppose that's what things feel like when they take over your life, huh? ;-)

So far, the count is: This will be the 142nd post. As of this writing, I've garnered 188 comments. I found this total a little surprising actually; I didn't think it would be as high as that. My readership tends to be a pretty taciturn lot, it would appear. I think most of the comments were generated by a relatively small number of posts. There was one that got 23 for goodness sakes, and another that got 10. That's over one sixth of my total comments in two posts.

My hit counter is currently reading 6506 hits, since I stuck the thing in around naptime on August 19th (which was actually several days after I started the blog). Now, probably at least a thousand of those were from me, checking my own site to see how many people had visited--or looking up permalinks of older posts that I could refer to in newer ones. Nevertheless, I still think that's a pretty good number. (Although I do note that traffic has fallen way off since the start of the holiday season. Good! This means that my readership has a life, as it were.)

Anyway, I wish you all a very happy New Year celebration, and I wish you all the best in the coming new year. Make good use of all the mistletoe tonight. And the eggnog. :-)

Why Should the Kids Have All The Fun?

As I've reported numerous times on this blog, my girls love, love, love to do artwork. Doesn't matter the medium: regular pencil, colored pencil, crayon, marker, finger paint, watercolor, tempera, play-doh, sand, you name it--they can't get enough of it.

And we, their parents, have been trying to give our little princesses as much time and work with these media as is reasonable. After all, we don't want to quench their little spirits, right? We could have budding Michaelangelos and Da Vincis here!

But, but...

But they have all the fun.

Why do they get to have all the fun? Whoever said that crayons are only for kids? Why is it that only kids get to draw in the middle of the sermon?

...well, aside from the fact that we adults are supposed to be listening to the sermon, and all. But that's a minor point.

Anyway, my wife recently picked up this book with the intention of starting the Pillowfight Fairy soon on a more rigorous, systematic program of art method. I looked through the book, of course, to get a sense of what the artistic method is and how we will be teaching it. In a greatly reduced nutshell, it involves recognizing the component shape elements that make up the object to be drawn, and rendering those. Here's what I mean: if I decided to draw a person by, well... just grabbing a pencil and drawing him, I'd wind up with a stick figure. But if I looked closely at the person who was my model, and identified all the angles in his face, and in his hairline; and looked at the curve of his forehead, and the curve of his nose; and if I rendered each of these shape elements faithfully on the paper, I could knock out a reasonable facsimile of the model. Well, that's the theory, anyway.

During our late trip to Papa and Grandmother's house we frequently found ourselves hanging around without a whole lot of energy, and without a whole lot to do. So to pass the time I decided to pick up a Magna-Doodle they happened to have lying around, and sketching whatever I happened to see. Occasionally it would be the face of one of the adults, who just happened to fall asleep on that sofa over there; then I would erase that, and grab a toy, and do a still life. I managed to scratch out a reasonably good impression of a toy Esmeralda (from Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame) that they had lying around for the girls to play with. I did a lot of little things like that.

So, yesterday I was sitting in church, bored. Yes, I admit it. Forgive me Father; Mea Maxima Culpa, and all that. In my defense, I was singing Bass on mike yesterday, which meant I had to sit through the same church service twice--same sermon, same songs, same jokes.... (And the songs I got to sit through three times, because we had to practice them before First Service. My voice was shot by the time we were done at 12:30.) So, I picked up a blank slip of paper from the hymnal rack in front of me, and grabbed a pencil, and started sketching the preacher (with the podium).

I did a pretty good job, actually! It looked pretty close. So (at the urging of the very pretty young lady sitting next to me) I signed it, and then presented it as a gift to the preacher. He commented that it made him look a little more slender than normal, for which he was thankful. And I wasn't particularly happy with the way his arms and hands came out; I still haven't gotten the hang of forshortening. He looked a little like those pictures you see of Kaiser Wilhelm II, with the slightly shrunken arm. Still, it was pretty good. (Sorry I can't show you a scan of it; the preacher has it.)

So, feeling pretty pleased with myself, I decided to try another one last night. We had popped in a video--which happens to be one of the few ways we can keep our girls still long enough to bang out a decent sketch of them. So I grabbed a pencil and paper, and tried my art upon the unsuspecting Pillowfight Fairy:

Well, I can't say I'm particularly satisfied. It's not bad, considering that I've never really done much drawing. And the girl in the picture is recognizable as such, which I suppose is good. But it doesn't actually look much like my daughter. The girl in the image looks like she's nearly a teenager, for one thing; her face is a bit longer and narrower than the sweet thing serving as my unwitting model. (In fact, this could be a point of similarity between this sketch and the one of the preacher. He did say it made him look thinner. Could this be a systematic feature of the way I draw? Hmmm....) And I suspect I'm going to have to work a lot more on faces and hands before I'm really satisfied with them. And getting fabrics (clothing, curtains) to drape and wrinkle right is tricky. And I'm not yet experienced at doing shadows, and all those other things that give a picture depth.

Still, I am satisfied this far: I can now scratch out a fairly realistic portrait of something interesting! I couldn't do that before--or rather, I wasn't aware that I could. This is something I'm going to have to pursue. My older brother recommended yesterday that I look into getting a copy of this art method text, which I understand has become something of a classic. And I might have to start swiping my daughters' crayons or watercolors from time to time....

Or even get my own... now there's a concept.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Vertical vs. Horizontal Socialization

I've been tossing some ideas around on socialization--that one topic that causes the most heated arguments between supporters and critics of homeschooling.

Most of the time, when an argument breaks out on this topic, the two sides start talking right past each other. Socialization is of course a complicated topic with many aspects. In fact, the very term itself has multiple definitions, so it's really not that hard for one person to say something, and to have his listeners completely miss his meaning--since he was operating on a different definition than they were.

But I think that most of the arguments regarding socialization revolve around two of its critical aspects. The first of these aspects is the concept that it is through interactions with others that we learn necessary social skills. This is the aspect that critics of homeschooling allude to when they charge that homeschooled children are at risk of improper or incomplete socialization. The argument typically goes like: "If you're not having your children interact with lots of other people from other walks of life, they won't learn how to function in the real world! When they grow up and move away, they'll find themselves bewildered at all the new social settings that they weren't exposed to as children, as they would have been in the schools." Of course, this argument has caused many a homeschooler to bristle and retort:
Quit interrupting my kid at her dance lesson, scout meeting, choir practice, baseball game, art class, field trip, park day, music class, 4H club, or soccer lesson to ask her if as a homeschooler she ever gets to socialize.
Homeschoolers will occasionally argue back by referring to the second of these aspects: it is a well-observed phenomenon that we tend to become like the people we spend time with. If we spend time around a group of people, we tend to learn pretty quickly what they will find funny, and even start to enjoy the humor. We tend to learn pretty quickly what is considered socially acceptable or unacceptable in this circle, and often absorb these views ourselves. This is such an old observation that it shows up numerous places in the Bible, generally accompanied with warnings to select our companions carefully. (The book of Proverbs is filled with such warnings.) Homeschoolers occasionally make the argument that the social environment of the typical school does not make it easy for young, impressionable students to seek out and find companions of high moral character. But this argument, in turn, causes advocates of the Public Schools (in particular) to bristle and level all kinds of countercharges which are beyond the scope of this particular essay.


I'd like to take a look, though, at the ramifications of this second aspect of socialization, because I think these ramifications have huge consequences for our society--not just among school-age children.

Let's set up a thought experiment. We'll compare and contrast two people. The first is a forty-year old man, who's been happily married for twelve years with three kids ages eight and under, and who's well-established in a stable career. The second is a seventeen-year-old boy. Now, we can say right away that these two are likely to see the world quite differently, simply by virtue of the fact that the forty-year-old has much more life experience than the teenager.

For example, consider the way these two think about love, romance, and sex. The forty-year-old, being a man and all, is going to think about sex a lot; but he's going to think about it somewhat differently than the seventeen-year-old will. He's likely to have made more mistakes in his life. He's more likely to have had his heart broken a few times--and he's more likely to have broken other people's hearts, sometimes by accident. And the forty-year-old, by virtue of the fact that he's still happily married after twelve years of marriage, has likely figured out how to keep some discipline over his feelings and impulses--more than one would typically expect of a seventeen-year-old. The seventeen-year-old, in contrast, is a lot less experienced. He may have had some girlfriends, but his views regarding love, romance, and sex are likely a whole lot less mature than those of the forty-year-old. His views of the opposite sex and relations therewith are still more based on juvenile fantasy than experience. Odds are he's still got a lot of mistakes ahead of him before he figures it out.

And this is by no means true only regarding their views of love, romance, and sex. There's a good chance that the forty-year-old will have a more mature understanding of responsibility, of work, of children, of money, of education, of health, and of risk. Now, it's nothing the seventeen-year-old won't learn over time as the harsh lessons of life come crashing in on him; but the forty-year-old has been around long enough to understand something about all of these from first-hand-experience.

The next step in our thought experiment is to take two such seventeen-year-olds and immerse them in completely different social environments. One youth is growing up primarily around other adults, like this forty-year-old man. He's forming meaningful relationships with a lot of them. We'll say he's managed to land an apprenticeship at a local machinist's shop, where he's learning both how to run the machines and fabricate parts, and a little about how to keep the books; we'll say he's been spending time with Habitat for Humanity; we'll say he's been singing in the local community chorus. Although this youth does spend a little time around other similarly-aged youths, it's only a little time; most of his time is spent in the company of adults. (I recognize that this is not the way we generally socialize kids in our society today, which is part of my point later on. Stay with me here.)

The second of these seventeen-year-olds follows a much more standard life-path: being in a regular school setting, he's around other seventeen-year-olds much of his time. He attends a typical school, which is in session for six-and-a-half hours; in addition, he's involved in some sports and other extra-curricular activities that have him around other seventeen-year-olds an extra hour or two each day. At his church, he's involved in the youth group, which has him around other teenagers for a few extra hours each week. And none of this counts the hanging-out time that most teens like to do with their friends. When you add up all this time, it's not unusual for this youth to be around other late-teenagers for half his waking hours or more. And of the rest of his time, not all of that is quality time spent in the company of adults--a big chunk is going to be spent doing homework, or watching TV....

Now, let's revisit the principle that we tend to become like the people we hang around with. Let's assume this principle is true, apply it to these above two examples, and see what happens.

The first of these youths is being socialized by adults, in the adult world. He is immersed in an environment where adult attitudes prevail on the aforementioned topics of love, romance, sex, responsibility, work, children, money, education, health, and risk. Being in this environment, he gets to see first hand just where all these mature attitudes come from. If our principle is correct, this youth will begin to pick up these mature attitudes, even at the tender young age of seventeen. His constant exposure to these attitudes, in natural settings where these attitudes make sense, will socialize him into thinking that these attitudes are normal.

The second of these youths is being socialized primarily by other seventeen-year-olds, who have views regarding
love, romance, sex, responsibility, work, children, money, education, health, and risk typical of modern seventeen-year-olds. Being around other seventeen-year-olds all the time, it's likely that the immature views on any of these topics held by one youth in this group are held by many of them, so such views will be mutually reinforced within the group. Furthermore, it's not unlikely that a sense of generational solidarity will begin to form--something along the lines of a previous generation's "Don't trust anyone over thirty"--that will tend to see any attempt to pass on grown-up attitudes and virtues as unwelcome preaching.

I grant that every generality has exceptions; All told, however, I think it's pretty likely that the first of these youths is much more likely to start thinking like a man, and be ready to take on adult responsibilities at much younger ages, than the second of these youths.

Now, eventually adult values and attitudes do start seeping in regardless of how one is socialized, but in lots of cases it has to happen the hard way. Eventually the seventeen-year-olds will graduate, and some will go on to college, and some will find jobs; and some of them will lose the jobs, and wreck their relationships, and eventually... eventually will begin to discover just why it is that those adult attitudes existed in the first place. Mark Twain said it best:
When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.
Of course, by this time, the next cohort of seventeen-year-olds won't want to hear it either.


So to explain the title of this post: I call it Vertical Socialization when a youth is raised primarily in the presence of adults who are doing adult things--working, raising children, involving themselves in community and political life, and so forth. This is not primarily the way we raise our kids these days. I call it Horizontal Socialization when a youth is raised primarily in the presence of other youths of similar age, segregated enough from the adult world that a separate youth culture can develop, with its own separate worldview. For better or worse, this is the way that our society has been raising its kids for the last century or so (although things were a bit different before then).

And no, it's not just in the schools that we see this kind of age-segregation. After all, most churches beyond a certain size these days tend to split out the kids into age-graded classes, too; and they split out the junior high-age kids into their own group; and the high-school-age youth into their own group; and the college-age and young professionals into another separate group; and the seniors into their own group; and on, and on.

(Not to mention the fact that we've driven our kids almost entirely out of the working world, which I happen to think isn't a particularly good idea. That's waaaay too much for this essay, however; so if you want to see some more ideas on this front, I'd point you to John Taylor Gatto's book The Underground History of American Education, first chapter. This book is a little too screed-y for my taste, but it does provide much food for thought.)

And the fact is, most people prefer it this way. We all like being around those people who are going through the same things we are. I'm in a family with really young kids; it's fun to hang out with other families with really young kids, because we all have something in common. We can swap stories, and swap ideas, and compare notes. It's not as easy for us to find common ground with those who have yet to get married or start families, or with those who're retired and planning on getting an RV and traveling the country. It's a whole lot more work to find points of common interest with people of different life stages.


But there are consequences. It should be obvious by this point that there's a serious weakness to the Horizontal Socialization model, especially when it is adopted on a society-wide scale. The weakness, simply put, is that it damages the ability of people--individually, and as a society--to pass their values on to the next generation. You may want your child to grow up to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, etc., but you aren't the only one socializing your children--and this is true whichever of the socialization models is in use. And if the others who are also socializing your children have values that conflict with yours, well... then you've got some competition. But in the Vertical Socialization model, there's a better chance that the other people who are socializing your kid at least have mature outlooks, too. In the Horizontal Socialization model, your children are being socialized by people who are just as immature as they are.

As I said, on a society-wide scale, this can become a big problem. The trouble is that the values that define our worldview, that make us who and what we are, have to be transmitted from one generation to the next, or they get lost. Do you want America to be a peaceful nation? A just nation? A free nation? A good nation? Many nations aren't; these things don't happen by accident. To the extent that America is any of these things, it is because of the values instilled in the population. After all, We the People create the kind of society that we live in. But if we fail to pass on our values regarding Justice, and Responsibility, and Liberty, the aforementioned national virtues can eventually be lost. (Along these lines, I highly recommend this (very long) essay by Lee Harris that talks about the intergenerational transfer of values and traditions in the context of various contemporary social debates.)

And in embracing Horizontal Socialization, we have in fact selected a socialization model that damages our ability to pass our values on. It results in cultural drift, so to speak--no one's driving this train. I think, looking at the tremendous change in societal values that has changed over the last century--not just in America, but in Europe and much of Asia as well--that we've got plenty of evidence on hand of the kind of cultural drift that occurs when you raise the next generation in an age-segregated culture. When a system of Horizontal Socialization is first instituted, things go well for a generation or so, as most (but not all) children receive their enculturation from other outside sources (family, church, scouts, other institutions of civil society). But a little at a time, an increasing number of these children make it into the adult world without having been ingrained with the mature values of their elders. The presence of these people in the adult world tends to weaken the aforementioned outside sources of enculturation, meaning that each succeeding generation gets less and less of the older, more mature values, until a tipping point is reached and society throws the whole set of values out the window. In our society, this tipping point happened early in the 1960's; but there were plenty of signs that things were heading in that direction for at least a generation before that.


One last observation: there is a temptation in the religious community to try to create parallel social structures--that is, Christian schools, and Christian social settings, in which their kids can be raised and socialized, where they won't be continually bombarded with objectionable values. These social structures are just like the ones in the broader society, only populated with and run by Christians. But if my above assessment is correct, this effort is doomed. The problem is that these structures themselves are what is hindering the transmission of mature values. They incorporate the same age-segregation as the rest of society, and this is what causes a youth culture to develop that is resistant to adult enculturation. (I seem to remember reading recently that Jamie Lynn Spears got pregnant while attending an overnight Bible Study, of all things.)


So now what? My wife and I--and I suspect a good chunk of the homeschooling community is pulling in this direction--have decided to try to institute Vertical Socialization as we raise our children. We recognize that doing so is very counter-cultural, but it's occasionally worth it to tilt at windmills. I'm enheartened by the fact that we're not the only ones thinking along these lines--I only came up with the thoughts that became this essay after absorbing and digesting the writings of many others in the homeschooling community for some time.

So we're under no illusions about this being easy or anything. As I mentioned before, people do tend to prefer the company of those in their own life stage. One can't just throw a bunch of seniors and a bunch of teenagers together in a room and expect puppies to start blooming, or whatever. It may not be easy to find enough adults who are willing to form close relationships with the young'uns (although it's probably easier in a good church, like ours, than it is elsewhere).

And for that matter, it means we have to start pushing against the cultural trend--even in our church, which may be the hardest part of the job. No, we're not under any illusions about whether this is an easy path we've set ourselves upon.

But we do think it'll be worth the work.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Only Thing We Have To Fear...

I've made mention before on this blog our observation that children do not develop linearly. That is, it is not the case that children today are just like they were yesterday, only a little more so; rather, they can be very very different from one day to the next. One day a parent thinks he or she has the little one figured out; but by the next, the kid has developed a new talent, or skill, or fear, or neurosis, or obsession, that completely changes the dynamic of the household. The parent is left thinking, where did this come from? I have previously described it as if a switch has just been thrown in the child's brain. Some feature was off yesterday, and it's been turned on today. Yesterday, the infant could only crawl; today, he's toddling about as fast as his stubby little legs can carry him. Yesterday, the child could only look at the pretty pictures; today, she's putting the letters together into words and reading a book for the first time.

Yesterday, the kid was perfectly normal. Today, she's scared of her shadow. And she's scared of what's around the corner in the hallway. And she's scared that a tornado will come. And she's in deathly terror of the very concept of pimples.

That's right, our Pillowfight Fairy--lovely five-year-old girl with a hyperactive imagination--had the Dark Foreboding switch thrown in her brain sometime in the last week. And the Dark Foreboding switch is right next to the Abject Terror switch, which sometimes gets tripped by accident.

What happened? Mommy and I aren't really sure. It's not any one thing, that's for sure. We think it's partly the fact that her abstract imagination is maturing, and that she is now capable of imagining really bad things that she couldn't before. It could also be the fact that we've seen a whole bunch of videos lately to which she's not accustomed (see previous post for a partial list), many of which had some pretty scary scenes. She's also taken to reading through our set of The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, which she absolutely loves--but which has much humor related to concepts like hungry monsters under the bed and transmogrification and sentient dinner-table food (which doesn't particularly want to be eaten), all of which could potentially be planting some weird seeds in that fertile imagination of hers.

So, of what kinds of things is she afraid?

As I mentioned above, she's afraid of whatever's around the corner in our hallway, and in rooms with closed doors and lights off. After all, there might be something there waiting to jump out and get you. For this reason, it's always best to have someone else go around the corner first--usually Mommy or Daddy, but Little Sister will do in a pinch. After all, if something's there, better to have it take someone else first. At any rate, Daddy usually doesn't have much sympathy for these fears, and Mommy (believe it or not) has much, much less. When she balks at heading back there, we typically tell her, "Oh, pish" (or some other synonymous phrase) and just send her back despite her whining. We operate on the theory that the best way to beat these fears is just to have her get over it--that to do otherwise would be to nurture the fears, to legitimize them. Besides, maybe this is nature's way of teaching little children the virtue of Courage.

(Thinking back to my own childhood, I don't think "fear of what's in there" is all that uncommon. I remember that my younger brother was afraid of being in a room where the toilet was being flushed. My older brother and I--cruel as only older brothers can be--figured out the pattern: he would use the loo, then go wash his hands, then open the door; then he would gingerly tiptoe over to the potty and flushandrunforthedoorforallhewasworth. Then, my older brother (who was hiding behind the door) would push it shut and hold it while my younger brother, trapped in the bathroom with that swirling maelstrom of sanitary terror, would seriously freak out. Good times, good times.)

She's also seen a couple of videos lately that has had tornadoes in them. Interestingly, both of them were recent VeggieTales videos, The Wonderful Wizard of Ha's and Moe & the Big Exit. The former of these tells the story of the Prodigal Son in a spoof of the Wizard of Oz, so of course there's a tornado in there (and some tornado humor as well. Although I must say, they absolutely nailed the green-looking sky that occurs just as it's time to head to the shelter. Having spent some of my formative years in various plains states, their depiction of the sky raised the hairs on the back of my neck). The latter video is a retelling of the story of Moses and the Exodus, as a Western. And one of the plagues was a tornado that ripped through the dusty little town ("Dodge-Ball City") and messed up all the store fronts.

(Side note, apropos of nothing: while I realize the seriousness and tragedy of the plagues of Egypt, I'm not immune to noticing that there's a rich vein of humor to be mined in them as well:
"And then Moses stretched out his staff over the river, and the Lord sent forth great swarms of Hippos all over the land. And they were in their houses, and in their kitchens, and in their bedchambers... and everything that the locusts had left, the Hippos smashed flat..."
And the Lord stretched out his hand toward the Land of Egypt, and... gave everybody a wedgie. From the least of them to the greatest, there was none who was spared, from Pharaoh in his palace to the maidservant grinding at the wheel. And a great cry arose over the land--more like a series of loud yelps, actually."
So think of it! What other plagues could the Lord do, should he desire seriously to humiliate someone? Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled blog post.)

So anyway, we had to explain to the Fairy what a tornado was, and what it could do. As we were describing their power, that they can flatten houses (and occasionally do), she began to get really really scared. We then had to explain that California gets mercifully few tornadoes, and that she really doesn't have to worry about them. We don't think she fully believed our reassurances, though. So I had to pull up a color-coded map online showing tornado frequency by state. See? There are nearly no tornadoes in California in any given year. You're safe.

But then there was the one that has Tonya and me scratching our heads. In place of the Plague of Boils (or sores) in the story of the Exodus, Moe & the Big Exit gives a plague of pimples. That's right, there's a scene in there where the zucchini mayor of Dodge-Ball City looks in his mirror, and little purple pimples suddenly break out all over his face! I thought it was mildly funny. The Fairy thought it was terrifying, and was deathly afraid that the pimples would soon be coming and breaking out all over her face as well!

Hmmm.... this one was a little harder to handle, believe it or not. Only part of that was because we were having difficulty maintaining straight faces while we calmed her fears. The trouble is that, well... pimples are just a fact of life. Our girls are too young to get them now, of course, but given a half-dozen more years or so, they're going to have to deal with them. But try explaining that to a little girl who somehow got the notion into her head that they're the second coming of the Black Death! (Not that she knows anything about the Black Death yet. And we're going to hold off on telling her about that one for a few years yet.)

So yes, little deary, pimples are a fact of life. I had them, your mother had them, you will probably have them too as a teenager, like nearly every other teenager out there. They're just little sores, and they go away after a couple of weeks. And there are some medications out there that can help with them if necessary. They're not dangerous, they're not scary; they're just a little annoying.

To be fair, I have some memories of being seriously freaked out by an episode of Star Trek (original series, of course), when I was not much older than she is now. The episode had these strange energy-based alien lifeforms that would possess the bodies of people, make their faces glow with unnatural colored light, and cause them to make strange noises. I was terrified by the episode. I suspect that seeing those pimples suddenly break out on the Mayor's face had a similarly terrifying effect on the Fairy, for the same reasons.


Ah, well. Tonya and I now find ourselves continually wondering what will strike fear into the Fairy's heart next. And we find ourselves wondering how to deal with it. I think the idea that this is nature's way of teaching kids courage probably has some merit. But since the Fairy is our oldest kid, we haven't dealt with this phenomenon before and we're playing it by ear. Do we have any readers out there who have some similar experiences with their kids? How did you deal with it? What worked? What didn't? We'd love to hear from you.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Concentrated Doses of Disney Princess Lore

...There I was: hurtling forward through gale-force winds, with only two slender bungee cords between me and the deadly asphalt mere feet below!

Well, sort-of. We made it home this last Woden's-Day without too much trouble. My wife drove the kids in her parents' borrowed SUV, and I drove the crunchy minivan home. Aside from being a little cold by the time I got home, and having my left ear exposed to a lot more noise than my right for two-and-a-half hours (now that's a weird feeling), we were all in passable shape by the time we got home. I did observe that I got noticed by a lot of other drivers on the road, who (helpfully!) gave me a wide berth. I almost got as much notice as my older brother did that time we (age: late teens, early '20's) were bored while driving along a desolate stretch of Highway 99 near Bakersfield, so Rick had me grab the wheel from the passenger seat while he slipped a couple of big ugly googly-eyes behind his glasses. He got other drivers to swerve all over the road on that one.

Thankfully, none of my fellow travelers were policemen. I was looking very carefully for them too, so I could sneak over into the left lane if needed and hopefully not have them notice that my door wasn't exactly secure. Thankfully, though, there was no sign of the fuzz. (No, I'm not talking about the kind that you find in your navel. Speaking of which, we found a Cheerio in the Happy Boy's navel the other day. Given that he was wearing several layers of clothing at the time, we're not exactly sure how it got there. We suspect either that he's in training for a life of smuggling, or it was quantum tunneling.)

Where was I?

(Let's see: Cheerios, navels, bungee cords...) Ah, yes. Disney Princesses!

Do you ever have the experience of staying with relatives, and although everyone is happy to see everyone else and catch up with each other, everyone seems to run out of things to do after the first three days or so? That is, you're so far out of your routine, that you can't think of anything interesting to do. You don't have any of your books with you, and your hosts have entirely different tastes in literature, which you wouldn't be able to read anyway because of all that patter of little feet (which resembles nothing so much as a stampeding herd of Hippalos); and you are already caught up with everyone, having already finished sharing all the stories two days ago, and you're going to be here two days longer, and what the hey are we going to do between now and then? And you find that you start getting up later, and later, and later, and going to sleep later, and later, and you start eating like Hobbits, except a lot less healthily; and you just wish that someone would give you something useful to do! But not too useful, because you're supposed to be relaxing on holiday, after all.

Oh yeah, and you and everyone else in your family is sick and your car is shot. Yeah, I hate it when that happens.

Well, when this happens, usually things follow the path of least resistance: you start pulling out videos in great quantities, in the hope that it will keep the kids from driving everyone else completely bonkers. It kills the time, which by this point in your trip, is something that just about everyone desires.

So we raided Papa's & Grandmother's stash of Disney movies. In the last three days of our trip, our precious little darlings got to watch:
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,
  • Sleeping Beauty,
  • The Little Mermaid,
  • Beauty and the Beast,
  • Aladdin, and
  • Cinderella (twice on this one).
Our little girls came away from this phantasmagoria completely convinced that they wanted to grow up to be princesses. Heaven help us.

Of course, we should have predicted this. After a viewing of Fantasia 2000 many months back (specifically, the Firebird Suite number) which had profoundly touched the Pillowfight Fairy, she confidently announced to us that "I'm going to be a wood nymph when I grow up."


So I suppose it was a foregone conclusion that they should decide the life of a princess is the life for me! And pointing out that Jasmine was trying to run away from that life did no good.

Well, it wasn't just the girls who got a concentrated dose of Disney Princess lore. We adults got it too. And seeing so many of these movies in such a short period of time, it does start to provoke some thought. Here are some observations I have, in no particular order:
  • No one ever has to go to the bathroom in these films. Now, I realize that's not just Disney, but still. And in the times and places that these films are set, they wouldn't have had indoor plumbing--they would have used chamber pots. (I seem to recall that one of the Fates in Disney's Hercules movie gave some whispered investment advice to another character: "Indoor plumbing! It's gonna be big....")
  • It really drives home, seeing so many of these movies in such a short time, how much they link beauty with goodness--and how they link evil with ugliness. This is not a new complaint by any means, but seeing so many movies over such a short period of time, one really sees this displayed so often that it can't be missed. This is true even in Beauty and the Beast, which is supposed to break the stereotype. True, the Beast is ugly, and Gaston is handsome. But even there, the Beast cleans up real nice as they say, and when at the end the spell is broken, he transforms into an extremely handsome and well-built young man. And even though Gaston is handsome, there are still visual hints that he is not to be trusted--notice how he has those slightly fang-like incisors? (Or are they canines? I can never remember.) And, of course, Belle is still the prettiest girl in the town--both more slender, and taller, than any other girl they show.
  • These movies are designed to play to the fantasies--and the fears--of girls. Girls very often fret about things like I don't fit in, and My life is boring, and Am I pretty? and Will the right man fall in love with me? and There's got to be more for me somewhere else. Belle sings "There must be more than this provincial life!" (Or is that "provençal life"? Darn those French...) And while the Little Mermaid is one of the most fun movies of the bunch, the message it sends is a terrible one: Ariel behaves really, really irresponsibly, and gets everyone in a whole lot of trouble, but everything is all right because she was in love when she did it; and in the end, she gets her voice back, and her man, and suffers no permanent ill consequences for her stupendous irresponsibility.
  • Those annoying cutesy little singing animals? They're just as annoying as you remember them. Or even more than you remember them, if you're seeing six of these movies in a row (and one of them twice). Of course, that's what the little girls like the best. The Pillowfight Fairy (age 5) would giggle herself silly during the antics of all those little mice during Cinderella (which is why we wound up watching it twice in two days). In Aladdin, she liked the monkey Abu; in Sleeping Beauty, she liked all those birds and forest creatures who filched the prince's clothes and used them while dancing with Aurora.
  • Grumpy's cool. He's the only one of the dwarfs who was able to keep his head in a crisis. And he plays a mean organ.
  • If you're going to be a princess, you've got to be willing to put up with a lot of trouble. After all, you've got wicked stepmothers to deal with, and black magic, and unwelcome betrothals, and annoyingly cutesy animals. Frankly, I'd rather be a peasant. (Actually, strike that. Peasants didn't have very nice lives either. I'd rather be a burgher.)
  • And apparently, princesses all have to get married when they're sixteen. Or (Jasmine, I think) 21 at the latest--lest the whole kingdom fall apart.
And it was interesting to consider the differences in temperament and outlook between the older movies (Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty--all done in the '30's and '40's, I think) and the newer movies (Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin--all done in the '80's and '90's).

For one thing, the whole idea of what constitutes a "beautiful" singing voice has changed. For the first three movies, the princesses all sang with a very high, lyric or coloratura Soprano. So, I was teasing the Pillowfight Fairy, saying, "If you want to be a princess, you have to be able to sing like this: Aaaaaaaahahahahahahahahahahahaha...." (Imagine a grotesque falsetto parody of a coloratura soprano.) So, she tried her best: "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa..." (Imagine a... no, don't.)

Of course, by the time the later movies came out, the female voice in popular music typically doesn't do as much in the higher vocal registers. Nearly everything is sung in chest voice. An artist may hit some notes or sing some phrases in the higher registers for effect, but she typically doesn't stay up there very long. In fact, it's low enough that male singers can often join them (in duets and love ballads, for instance) in the same octave.

I find myself wondering if and when the pendulum will swing back the other way, toward a preference for high sopranos as leads.

But more substantively, there are differences between the two eras in what an image of a good woman, an innocent woman should be. Snow White was sent off by her stepmother (guarded by the hunter, who was intended to murder her) to pick flowers of all things, which she did quite happily and innocently. And later in the movie, she is shown praying that God would have Grumpy come to like her. Somehow, I can't picture Jasmine doing either of those things. The later heroines had a much edgier quality about them.

And our girls thought that the three modern movies were much scarier. And the scariness started much earlier, and was much more intense all the way through the movie. Cinderella only had one scene that could really be described as scary--the one in which the wicked step-sisters ripped apart the dress that Cinderella was going to wear to the ball. But Aladdin had that Cave of Wonders thing right at the beginning, and one chase scene after another, and all that talk about cutting off of heads and hands--not to mention the villain's really annoying sidekick.


What to make of these? Not a whole lot. After seeing so many of these movies in such a short span, I'm really rather glad we don't have any of them here at home--otherwise my daughters would be clamoring to see Cinderella again and again and again.... Also, my appreciation for the movie Shrek is greatly enhanced. And that's not just because of the skewering of the Disney movies that goes on there (like Fiona's really high, shrill singing causing the annoying, cutesy bird to detonate, thus making its eggs available for breakfast), but because it gets the whole beauty thing much closer to the mark. Shrek and Fiona got married as ogres, and they can't sing, and they freak out the cute little forest creatures, and they don't care if you think they're ugly. So there.

I'd much rather have my daughters learn that lesson, despite the fact that they're going to grow up to be drop-dead gorgeous. ;-)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Overheard Today

We're over here at Papa and Grandmother's house.

I popped into the back room on a brief errand today, and discovered the Pillowfight Fairy and Papa. Papa was trying to do some work on the computer. The Fairy was regaling him with one of her very long, very detailed stories. As I've intimated before, the Fairy's stories are really, really long and convoluted. Tolstoy has nothing on her.

Papa was occasionally saying things like "hmmm..." and "Really?" and "That's something else...." while continuing about his work.

I only caught a portion of the Fairy's Magnum Opus, but the part I caught went something like this:
...and then all the sheep were very, very scared because they thought it was a wolf that had come in with them. But it wasn't a wolf at all! It was only a horse. In a racecar....

Geez. I want to hear the rest of that one, now....

Monday, December 24, 2007

Creeping Crud and Car Crunchiness

Remind us never again to travel when the kids are coming down with something.

We're currently staying at Papa & Grandmothers' house, and the kids really like being here. Tonya and I would like being here more, except that we all seemed to come down with something at the same time. Actually, we knew it was going around last week, as we were planning on getting on the road, but we figured it wouldn't be too bad--that it would blow over in a day or so.


Let's see... Mommy and Daddy both came down with it. And, unusually, Daddy got it harder than Mommy did this time. The Happy Boy came down with it, and has not been Happy for the last several days. The Adrenaline Junkie has it, and it has caused her to lose her breakfast a couple of times since we've been here, just like her brother. The Pillowfight Fairy has it too, although she appears to have lucked out: she wound up with nothing more than a really drippy nose, so far as we can tell. We don't appear to have infected the grandparents yet, thank goodness. (They were already sick.)

However, there's still time. And everyone--aunts, uncles, cousins--is coming over here tonight to open presents!

What is "It?" So far as we can tell, It is a "Common Cold." However, It should be thought of as no more common than that experienced by the great Ogden Nash:
Go hang yourself, you old M.D,!
You shall no longer sneer at me.
Pick up your hat and stethoscope,
Go wash your mouth with laundry soap;
I contemplate a joy exquisite
In not paying you for your visit.
I did not call you to be told
My malady is a common cold.

By pounding brow and swollen lip;
By fever's hot and scaly grip;
By those two red redundant eyes
That weep like woeful April skies;
By racking snuffle, snort, and sniff;
By handkerchief after handkerchief;
This cold you wave away as naught
Is the damnedest cold man ever caught!

Give ear, you scientific fossil!
Here is the genuine Cold Colossal;
The Cold of which researchers dream,
The Perfect Cold, the Cold Supreme.
This honored system humbly holds
The Super-cold to end all colds;
The Cold Crusading for Democracy;
The Führer of the Streptococcracy.

Bacilli swarm within my portals
Such as were ne'er conceived by mortals,
But bred by scientists wise and hoary
In some Olympian laboratory;
Bacteria as large as mice,
With feet of fire and heads of ice
Who never interrupt for slumber
Their stamping elephantine rumba.

A common cold, gadzooks, forsooth!
Ah, yes. And Lincoln was jostled by Booth;
Don Juan was a budding gallant,
And Shakespeare's plays show signs of talent;
The Arctic winter is fairly coolish,
And your diagnosis is fairly foolish.
Oh what a derision history holds
For the man who belittled the Cold of Colds!

Yup, we've been fighting the Führer of the Streptococcracy for the last several days now. We think we might have turned the corner, but the Allies thought that just before the Battle of the Bulge, now, didn't they? And I seem to recall that happened about this time of year, too!

Well, yesterday I stayed home with the UnHappy boy while Tonya took the girls to church. And the Adrenaline Junkie, now three, had a spit-up just as they were pulling into the church parking lot. You see, she hasn't mastered the art of blowing her nose yet. The only way she can figure out to make that funny nose-blowing sound like Mommy and Daddy, is to put the tissue over her face, and snort. So, all that gunk stays inside instead of coming out, and it makes her sick to her stomach. Well, Mommy wheeled quickly into a parking spot, and threw open her door...

Crunch. As she opened her door, the car pulling into the next space over hit it just right, that it got all nice and crinkly. It also won't close on its own--thus, the bungee cords in the above image.

So! Not only are we stuck far from home with a sick family, but our getaway vehicle is out of commission. It's drivable, but not particularly watertight or climate-controlled anymore.

And yes, that's the same vehicle we had to get fixed two months back.

So: do we have any Plans B around? Well, yes, when there are grandparents around, there are always Plans B. Papa and Grandmother have a couple of smallish SUVs. The big question, of course, is whether or not it's possible to get all three child safety seats in. This was an issue after our previous run-in with another vehicle. Well, we figured we'd give it a try. After all, while Honda CRVs aren't particularly big (with no third seat), they're a lot bigger than Toyota Corollas.

Well, after about an hour or so of shoving, tugging, pushing, and grunting, we came up with this arrangement:

It's not completely kosher, I'm afraid. I had to loosen the straps on the near seat and yank it to the side in order to get the seat in the middle in place. However, it's not loose. So long as the middle seat doesn't fall out, the near one isn't going anywhere. Not kosher, perhaps, but it'll do.

(It occurs to me that this arrangement might not have worked, had our run-in occurred six weeks from now. In early February, the Happy Boy turns one, and his seat gets turned right-side-forward. There's no telling whether we'd be able to get it installed in that orientation with the other seats--at least, not without a lot of Crisco.)

Anyway, we decided to try a fit check:

About the only thing that we have to watch out for now, is that our children will now have the opportunity to experience the "Quit Touching Me" game, which they previously didn't have.


Tonya and I are strongly considering de-stressing next year's Christmas season. Between our church's annual Christmas Extravaganzas, for which I'm generally the musical director, and all the rushing to get presents ready, and get packed, and on the road, this often turns into the most annoying time of year--not to mention the fact that we always seem to get sick about now. We're thinking that we need to have Christmas next year be a much more low-key, relaxed affair--no travel, no music direction, just us and a tree and some presents, and a nice meal that the kids actually want to eat. Is that too much to ask, or would that, as my Sister-In-Law likes to say, "make the Baby Jesus cry! On His birthday!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Holiday Plans

This is just a note to my loyal readers that blogging will likely be light over the next week or so. We're heading out of town tomorrow to celebrate Christmas with extended family, and I may or may not be able to get to a computer. (There's another computer hog in the family....)

We'll be back in town Wednesday sometime.

An Announcement

The Power Family would proudly like to announce that, as of this evening, at roughly 7:30, we managed to finish off the last of our leftover Halloween candy.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Little Musical Humor

A couple of days ago my Sister-In-Law posted on her blog a youtube link that's lately been making the rounds, of a male vocal ensemble from Indiana University, making a glorious hash of The 12 Days of Christmas (and many other worthy things). She commented that these guys could be distant cousins of the Power Family boys. Her commenters (who know my brothers and me reasonably well) concurred.

Well, as we enter the final stretch of the Marathon and wearily wheeze our way toward the Christmas finish line, we all tend to get a little punchy about the whole season. It's a little difficult to maintain an air of subdued expectation concerning the Birth of Christ, for a full month starting with the day after Thanksgiving, all the way until the twenty-fifth of December. For me, the wonder of the season frequently wears off about the second weekend of December. That is, if it ever gets started in the first place. These last several years I've been the music director for my church's Christmas Musical Annual Extravaganza™; and by the time December rolls around, we've been working on Christmas music for two months, and I want to slap everyone silly, and the singers all want to do the same to me, and can't we just get the season over with finally, for Baby Jesus' sake? So about this time, I tend to enjoy musical parodies of great songs of the Christmas Season much more than the originals:
  • Chest Hairs Roasting On An Open Fire....
  • Walking 'Round In Women's Underwear....
  • Jingle Bells, Batman Smells....
  • Joy To The World, The School Burned Down....
  • Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer....
Then of course, there are all the songs where the words don't change, and the music doesn't change, but the humor is in the way you sing it. The phrase "Don we now our gay apparel" followed by a blithe flurry of Falalalalalalalalas can actually be quite silly, don'tcha know--especially if you can drape a lavender boa around you when you do it. (Although you better not try to strike my harp, or I'll strike you right back.) And the song "Here We Come A'Wassailing" is a mother-lode of silliness, which is even better because everyone knows the silliness is coming:
God bless the master of this house,
Likewise the mistress too,
And all the little children
That round the table goo...
Not to mention that the verse that goes:
Dear master and mistress,
As you sit by the fire,
Please think of us poor children
That wander in the mire.... best when followed by squishy-sounding vocal/labial effects demonstrating what wandering in the mire actually sounds like.

(For those of you who know my brother Rick, ask him to make his "Mud-Man" impression sometime. That's precisely what I'm referring to here.)


I don't have much in the way of Christmas musical humor to share with you tonight, but my brother and sister-in-law did introduce us recently to the team of Igudesman & Joo. These guys are musical comedians, in the mold of the late Victor Borge or of Dudley Moore. We looked them up on youtube, and....

Well, see for yourself:

Here are some other segments of their routine:

Try to guess the song in this next one before they get to the lyrics.

Now, a few years back, one of my brothers and I came up with the musical monstrosity we called "Peter Gunn and the Wolf," in which one of us would sing the "Peter" theme from Prokofiev's work, and the other would sing the theme music to the old Peter Gunn TV show. We actually got the two themes to work together. (And, of course, in the story of Peter Gunn and the Wolf, Peter usually gets eaten about the time we get bored of singing, which doesn't generally take too long.) Well, it appears that my brothers and I aren't the only ones that possess this kind of humor:

I'm in the process of teaching my eldest daughter to play piano now. She doesn't always appreciate it. Given this fact, I'm not going to show her this:

One last one, just for kicks:

Hope you enjoy.

I looked at their website, and I'm not seeing any plans on their part to tour the US anytime soon, which is a serious bummer. But in the unlikely event I have any readers in Sweden, make sure you take the opportunity to see these guys.

You Know the Christmas Season Has Gone On Too Long...

...when you seriously consider getting your daughter one of these.
(And yes, I know it's a parody. Still....)

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Little Light Reading

So, when the Pillowfight Fairy was just learning how to walk, she developed this truly charming habit of wobbling up to our bookshelf and pulling out a little light material. It was particularly charming since she always seemed to go for the same book, each time she tried this. This book was the 1993 edition of Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, by Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard.

The pages on this tome go up to 518, not counting the preface and introduction, which are numbered with those cute little Roman numerals that take me so long to figure out. And here's a sample of the text, pulled at random:
Writers normally communicate their thoughts through a contextually-coherent statement that uses words according to their natural meaning in such a context consistent with the historical-cultural setting. Each word's impact on the total thought of the sentence arises from its grammatical relationship to the other words. Therefore, to discover what a writer meant, one must concentrate on four things: literary context, historical-cultural background, words, and grammar. Regardless of the literary genre, for any interpretation to be true it must be consistent with:
  • the obvious sense of the literary context
  • the facts of the historical-cultural background
  • the normal meaning of the words in such a context
  • the proper grammatical relationship between the words.

A meaning that does not fit all four principles is unlikely to be the meaning the writer intended.

From Chapter 6, page 156 of the 1993 edition.

Well. The thought that our dear daughter was so interested in theology at such a young age was very bracing! Of course we had to protect our books, or our budding reader would have, um... devoured them, but we were careful to try to keep from squashing her natural curiosity and enthusiasm toward the subject.

Two years later, the Adrenaline Junkie was just learning to walk. She, like her older sister, was interested in checking out the books. But we were in a new house, with a new set of bookshelves; and Introduction to Biblical Interpretation was on a much higher shelf, and therefore--alas--out of her reach.

I can't remember for certain which book she went for, but I seem to remember trying to keep her from eating my copy of Halliday and Resnick's Fundamentals of Physics (3rd edition, from 1988). Actually, strike that. That would have been way too much to eat. We were trying to prevent her from accidentally pulling it out onto her foot, thus crippling her for life. But again, hey--if she wants to learn about physics, well... what more could any geek father like me ask for?

(um... for what more could any geek father like me ask? No... how about, ...what could any geek father like me ask for more? Hm. Still doesn't work. Whoever came up with that grammatical rule was on weed.)

So, we had one young tyke who wanted to learn some hard-core theology, and one that wanted to learn some hard-core physics. This seems very promising, does it not?

Well, the Happy Boy (currently 10 months old) is right on the verge of learning to walk. He even took a few unsupported steps today. And he pulls himself to a stand easily and readily, whenever anything halfway sturdy is within reach (and often when it isn't even halfway sturdy. We have to watch him with a falcon eye to make sure he doesn't suddenly pull folding chairs down upon himself).

And those books! What wonderful colors! I think I shall go over there, pull one out and gawk at the pretty colors, and see what they taste like. Hmmm....

So, which book did Mommy have to rescue three times from his gooey little clutches? What caught our little boy's eye, jarred the wheels of his mighty brain into motion, awakened the latent desires of his heart? What budding proclivities have appear'd in his rapidly developing demeanor?

He picked out the 1973 edition of this volume. This edition is bright, bright yellow, of course.


I know all daddies are supposed to like their kids, but I really, really like this one, 'kay?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

How to Cook When You Lack The Key Ingredient

So my eldest daughter comes to me this morning and says, "Would you like to do some Fairy cooking?"


"So, dearest, how do you do Fairy cooking?"

"Well, first you get a Fairy...."

Given our daughter, I was prepared for this to be really gruesome, but thankfully (and surprisingly) it didn't turn out that way.

"...then the Fairy puts its wand on all the things and it makes them really yummy."

Oh, OK. That makes sense. But, this brings up an obvious question:

"What happens if you can't find a Fairy?"

Hmmm, hadn't thought of that. So, I attempted to be helpful:

"Can you substitute a Pixie for the Fairy? Would it still work?"

"Yes. A Pixie would work too."

"Can you substitute an Ogre?"



This little exchange got me thinking, though. In a really odd way, it made me think of the Children of Israel wandering in the wilderness.

No, really--stay with me here.

For forty years, they primarily ate manna. Baked, boiled, mashed, fried, pureed, steamed. It's what's for dinner--and lunch, and breakfast, and tea. They were pretty sick of it there for a while. But that's what they ate, until an entire generation--the ones who had known how to cook normal food--had died in the desert. That means that the entire generation of those that entered Canaan had grown up on the stuff, and little else.

Did this mean that the generation that took Jericho and Ai, um... didn't know how to cook? Or rather, they knew how to cook... manna, and not much else. So they had entire recipe books filled with recipes for which God wasn't sending them the main ingredient anymore. I'm imagining the people looking in their cookbooks, and saying, "Hm, this looks good. Have we got all the ingredients? Let's see, goat... dates... pomegranate... coriander... manna. Darn it, we can't make that one either."

I'm just sayin'.

(Well, I had to. Seeing as I'm sitting home from church on a Sunday morning with a sick girl, and using this as an excuse to do blogging, of all things, I figured I need to put something vaguely theological in there....)

Friday, December 14, 2007

This is Why I'll Never Be President

...and it has nothing to do with inhalation.

A few months back, a loyal reader of mine, and fellow blogger was kind enough to nominate me for the 2007 Homeschool Blog Awards, in the Best Dad Blog category! I was touched by the honor.

Well, I didn't think much of it at the time, but a few days ago I thought to myself, "Isn't the voting happening about now? I wonder how my humble blog is doing?" So I went over to the host site, and looked up the votes to date....

It's pretty pathetic.

Ok, it's a field of 7. I'm not first. I'm not second...

I'm sixth. And the one guy I'm actually leading, has configured his site to block any browser that doesn't allow pop-up ads--meaning in practice that no one using Firefox or Mozilla can read his site--just MS Internet Explorer.

Let me reiterate: I'm losing to every guy except the one who's configured his site to lock out any browser that doesn't permit his pop-up ads.

As of this writing, there have been 432 votes cast with one day left in the voting, and I have all of 6% of the total. (They don't display the exact number at the site, but that works out to about 26 votes. I'm in Dennis Kucinich territory here, fercryingoutloud.)

Well, after doing a little investigating, it appears that most of the other Dads have been actively campaigning for this thing. Imagine! They're actively grubbing for votes! Can they do that?

I, of course, am too proud to pander to the unwashed masses. This is why I'll never be elected to anything. ;-)

We dads do tend to be a competitive lot, though. And if you aren't winning, one time-honored strategy is to change the rules.

So, notice the pitiful state of the guy who's in seventh place in the poll. Don't you feel sorry for him? I think, that to cheer him up, some nice people should go over to the site and give him some love. It should only take about 25 or so of you.

There's more than one way to end up at the extreme end of a ranking. ;-)

Back Home, Safe and Sound

Well, my family and I are all back home after a week on the road. I get to sleep in my own bed tonight! With my own wife!

Um.... that came out wrong. What I meant to say was that we were in sleeping bags all week, and I was on the floor, and my wife was on the sofa, and, um... nevermind.

The training class was helpful. I stopped in at work for a few hours after driving back from the Bay Area, fired up the computer, and tried to see how much I could remember from the training class. I successfully made a portlet! From memory! That accepted credit card data! Not that it has anything to do with our project, mind you, but it's cool nonetheless. And if any of you out there need a portlet that takes your credit card data and gives it to me, just let me know.

Well, I had been blogging between sessions at the training class, so my wife hadn't seen anything I'd blogged about all week. She was rather bemused to read that I was having a relaxing week. Alas, she was not. She was fighting off a cold (with a nasty cough) all week, as was the Adrenaline Junkie; neither of them were particularly spunky by the end of our stay. She felt like she was on duty all the time.

Anyway, it's good to be home. We tend to get spoiled to the fact that we have a really, really comfy mattress. After a week away from home, we slip into our own bed, and say AAAAaaaaahhhh..... I'm really looking forward to that tonight.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Update on an Unusal Week

This is Day Four of my training class.

It's one of the most relaxing weeks I've had in a long time. And no, that's not because of the training. There are a bunch of other factors at work here.

For one thing, we're mostly away from the stresses and tensions of everyday life. While my co-workers are wonderful people, my regular place of employment seems to be infused with a spirit of "we must produce, in order to stave off doom!" Being away from this seems to help. I have a bit more breathing space, so to speak. As we are learning this Web Portal software, I can think about how we are going to use it on our specific project, or I can just marinade myself in the mysteries of the technology; but my "mind-space" feels like it's my own again, to do with as I wish.

For another thing, I'm getting more sleep. The class doesn't begin until 9:00, so there's not much point in getting up until 7:30 or so. I'm feeling much more sharp when I arrive in the mornings.

For a third thing, we have a pair of grandparents to help with the kids and with the household management. Tonya and I don't have to be "on" all the time.

So for all of this, this week is turning out to be an island of tranquility within what is normally a very hectic season. And I know that the moment we drive home tomorrow, the stresses of everything we've been missing will come crashing in upon us again. For one thing, this Sunday is our church's Christmas program, for which I'm the music director; and we have a whole lot of rehearsing to do Saturday. But at least I'll be rested and ready for it.


But I'm remembering all the reasons my wife and I moved away from the Bay Area four years ago, too. I hate traffic. Hate, hate, hate. And red lights. And I really don't like having to spend forty minutes to go ten miles.

Ironically, I'm starting to figure out new routes to get me to my training class every morning that are much faster than the way I've been using up to this point. I've discovered, the fewer left turns you have to make, the faster the commute. I've just about put together a route that uses two--count 'em, two--left turns--and one of those is at a T-intersection where there's no oncoming traffic. (Of course, this means that the commute home at night has all but two left turns, but I consider the route home a completely different problem in optimization.)

The ironic part is that now that I'm figuring out these routes, the class is almost over, and this knowledge will become mostly useless. Ah, well. Maybe the company will send me out for more training at some point in the future. We're using a fair amount of software from this company, not just the Portal stuff; and if I have to learn more of it at some point, it may come in very handy knowing how to get to this lab without having to make more than two left turns.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Follow-Up on the Venezuelan Election

In my previous post on the Venezuelan election, I mentioned feeling surprised that Chavez didn't rig the thing. Well, according to Jorge Castañeda, a former Foreign Minister of Mexico, it turns out that Chavez did in fact try to rig the vote, and failed.

Of course, I have no independent way of verifying what Castañeda alleges; so take from his article what you will. I happen to think what he's saying is highly likely, though.

Details are in this Newsweek article, with a hat tip to Captain Ed.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

102nd Carnival of Homeschooling up!

The 102nd Carnival of Homeschooling is up at Seeking Rest in the Ancient Paths. I haven't had the opportunity to check it out yet, being in the road; but lots of other people have, and has apparently spread fear of my eldest daughter all over the internet. :-)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Out of Town

This is just a note to let my loyal fan base know that I will be out of town for training until this Friday, so blogging may be light- to non-existent.

I'm taking a class on developing Web Portals.

In honor of Portals, my wife has suggested that I bring along our copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Hopefully I'll be able to report that there's more nonsense in the book than in the training. :-)

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Stuff and Such

I have a few items of family news to report.

First, today was the birthday party for the Adrenaline Junkie! Her actual birthday is tomorrow, but today was the convenient day for everyone to come to the birthday party, so today it was.

The party itself was a laid-back family affair. We're not into having huge birthday extravaganzas, as so many parents these days seem to be. We just decorated this morning with whatever we happened to have on hand, which primarily consisted of construction paper.

What can you do with construction paper?

Well, you can cut it into big, thin spirals, and hang them from whatever surface you can.

This is very festive! It didn't take a whole lot of work to set up, and the kids thought it was totally engrossing when the ceiling fan was turned on. (Personally, I thought it was totally engrossing when the ceiling fan was turned on high, but we didn't leave it like that for very long. That would have been a little too festive).

We had both sets of grandparents up, and an uncle from Tonya's side of the family. As I said, a fairly laid-back affair. But note that the guests who did show up tend to be the ones who bring the most gifts. The Junkie made out like a bandit.


The Happy Boy (age 10 months) did something today that he hasn't done before, which indicates to us that something "clicked" in his brain. (This seems to be the way little kids develop: one day, they just start doing something they were unable to do before. How does it happen? We don't know; it just does, like someone threw a switch, and now they have a new level of consciousness.)

The Happy Boy had bumped something and fallen over, and was crying pretty hard--and pouting when he wasn't crying. So, while Mommy was holding him, and the two of us were trying to console him, I scrunched up my face into a pout, too, with my lower lip sticking out.

He looked at me like I was weird or something.

Then I guided a finger of his to my protruding lower lip, and had him push it back in. He found this a fascinating concept. He stopped crying.

So, I stuck my lower lip out again and started pouting. And.... the Happy Boy reached up, and pushed my lip in again. Then we both started giggling.

Then we did it again, and again... and each time, it got funnier and funnier to the Happy Boy who obviously thought: this is such a wonderful game! I can make my Daddy stop pouting with just a push of my finger! I have power!

Now, I found this fascinating, because he's now doing something he hasn't before. It's a new kind of social interaction: he is learning that he can affect other people's moods. He's noticing that he can do things that other people find funny. He's recognizing a certain social situation, and remembering the proper action for this situation, and anticipating the results. I hadn't seen him think like this before.

Tonya has been thinking that he's acting like he's understanding what we're saying much more often. At some point, a parent notices these things: you say something, and he starts to act in a way that tells you he understands. For example, I told him to take a toy out of his mouth today, and he did--the first several times, at least. (Then he started to ignore me--he's teething, after all--and so I had to get physical with him.) It really is fascinating to watch him develop.

And no, he hasn't started walking yet. He's by no means late, and we're totally content with how he's doing; but his sisters were walking by his age. We can tell he's really really close, though; about a week ago, he took a couple of steps by accident, without realizing what he was doing. But Mommy thinks it's likely to happen within the next week.

Then he'll start chasing me around to push my lip in. :-)

Friday, December 7, 2007

More Gadgetry

As a harp player, I can definitely concur with the verdict of (I think it was) Igor Stravinsky, who said, "Harpists spend 90% of their lives tuning their harps and the other 10% playing out of tune."

Keeping a harp in tune can be tricky. For one thing, there are a whole lot of strings on a harp. The most strings you get on a guitar is 12; the fewest strings I've seen on the smallest Celtic harps is 22. My Dusty has 36; full-sized orchestral harps often have 47. That's a lot of strings to keep in tune.

(Incidentally, to get a sense of what my big harp looks like, go to this page and look at the bottom pictures, of harps made of bubinga.)

For another thing, all but the smallest harps use multiple types of strings. My Dusty has many nylon monofilament strings; it has several strings with nylon monofilament cores with nylon wrappings to add mass (giving them rougher textures); and six strings or so with bronze cores and nylon wraps. All these strings react to changes in temperatures differently. If a cold breeze hits the harp, the metal-core strings all try to contract, and the tension goes up, causing them to go sharp; this doesn't immediately happen to the nylon strings. But eventually the wood starts to cool off and contract slightly, causing all the strings to relax a little and go flat. The net effect is for the the bass strings to go sharp and the others to go flat, and this can happen rather quickly and unpredictably.

Many harps--including the higher-end ones--use a couple octaves' worth gut strings in the middle-range. Gut tends to continue stretching throughout the life of the string; it must be tuned a little tighter every time you play it, until the strings eventually break. The gut strings also tend to be very sensitive to moisture in the air.

One other factor that makes harps hard to tune--at least, it did before the creation of electronic tuners--is that vibrations in one string cause other strings with compatible harmonics to start vibrating automatically. And the strings don't have to be perfectly in tune for this to happen; plucking one string causes many others to start sounding, so long as it's within a few cycles per second of the optimal tuning. This makes it difficult to tell whether you have it in pitch or not. One string may be a few cycles per second flat, but it will cause the previously-tuned strings to play, obscuring the fact that you're still a little out of tune. Thankfully, this problem was mostly solved when electronic tuners came in. (Although, for those with over-evolved tastes in music, this causes new problems, since the electronic tuners give you a tempered tuning, and tuning by ear gives you a system based on perfect fifths, which sounds just a wee bit different. As I said, though, modern audiences have to be over-evolved to notice this. Bach would probably cringe, though.)

Anyway, it was with great interest that I saw this:

It would seem that Gibson has come out with a model called the "Robot Guitar" that has a built-in tuning mechanism. From the moment it recieves the command, it can tune itself in a couple of seconds. They apparently incorporate an electronic tuner into the guitar, and use it to drive little servo motors attached to the tuning pins.

The guitar runs for about $2500.

So naturally, I started thinking about what it would take to put this sort of thing on a harp.

I think the answer is: a heckuva lot more than $2500. Every single one of those tuning pins--36 on my dusty, 47 on a full-sized Concert Pedal Grand Harp--would need a servo motor and some mechanism to sound the string. And (especially on the harps that don't have pedals) you'd need some way of specifying which tuning scheme you want to use. I use E-flat, but some people use C or something more exotic, especially when doing non-traditional music. And of course, there are plenty of over-evolved snobs who don't want their harps done with (sniff...) tempered tuning.

Furthermore, installation of these servo motors would weaken the arch. All those tuning pins have a way of acting as a row of splitting wedges on the arch of any normal harp; splits in the arches are a fairly common harp repair as it is. Removing even more material from the arch to accomodate the motors would weaken it further.

Add that to the fact that my Dusty would cost $5145.00 to buy it new, without any newfangled, high-falutin tuning mechanism.

So, maybe it's not too practical. Ah, but one can dream...

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Whole Lotta Nothin'

Haven't had a whole lot to say lately. We've been feeling physically and mentally dull.

Last night, Tonya just needed to unwind, so she played Civilization IV for much of the evening. Remember what I said about skill in siege engines and battlefield deception coming from my side of the family? Um... now that I think of it, it probably comes from both sides of the family. Maybe this is one of those points of commonality that make Tonya and me so well suited to each other.

But while Tonya was busy, um... organizing her foes out of existence last night, she was monopolizing the computer. Thus, no blog post.

Not that I had anything worthwhile to say.

So, for tonight, I might as well go for spectacle: According to Popular Mechanics, some company has invented what amounts to a high-tech sail that can be added to modern cargo ships to reduce their fuel consumption. Now, it's not like the sails of clipper ships; it's actually a gigantic cross between a kite and a parasail. But despite my skepticism that this system will ever actually get adopted in real life, it's still rather fun to think about.

Hope this can keep y'all tied over until I think of something real to write about. ;-)