Friday, August 31, 2007

A Somewhat Unplanned Field Trip

With Tonya on crutches our routine has been almost completely thrown away. We have been trying to create a new, temporary, routine out of thin air that copes with our new reality. This involves a lot of "playing it by ear", with the idea that if a thing works, it becomes part of the new routine.

So we woke up this morning with the question that we've had to answer a lot each morning these days, so much that it has become a de facto part of our new routine: what in the world are we going to try to get done today?

Well, we had a pile of library books lying about; and since our pre-ouchie library day was Thursday, and we missed it yesterday because Tonya was getting her cast put on, and thus the books still needed to be returned, we figured we should just all pile in the van and head to the library. So we got there, and..., does your local public library have really weird opening hours, like ours does? I mean, what's up with that? (My former-librarian spouse just piped up: "Limited funds.") The library opens at 10:00 on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday; it opens at 12:00 noon on Monday and Wednesday; and it opens at 1:00 in the afternoon on Friday.

We weren't going to wait around for two and a half hours for the library to open. So I had Pillowfight Fairy deposit all the books in the Book Depository box, which she did quite ceremoniously, one at a time. I also had her try to sound out the word Depository. We need to work a little more on our phonics, I'm afraid. (More on that in a future post.)

But now, we were actually out of our house! In our van! With nowhere that we had to be! What freedom! And the question was raised: what do we do now?

We decided about a year ago that we needed to fight our natural tendencies to be complete homebodies by making an effort to get out and do something special, some kind of educational or cultural field trip, at least once a month. (We figured that if we didn't commit to this sort of thing, we'd naturally just hang around the house until we all turned into turnips or something.) And we've been pretty good about it so far. But August was waning and we hadn't done anything noteworthy yet this month, and with Tonya not in a condition to be adventurous these days, it hadn't been looking like we were going to be able to keep our commitment.

Ah! But here we were now, all of us in the van, already out of our routine! Why not take the opportunity and do something worthwhile, check it off our list, and have another guilt-free month? So I suggested that we go to the Aerospace Museum of California at the former McClellan Air Base. Tonya couldn't come up with a strong enough reason why not, so off we went.

The Aerospace museum is hosting a rather interesting exhibit through the end of September. Details can be found here. The exhibit, entitled "The Da Vinci Experience", primarily covers the mechanical innovations that appeared in his sketches. The company that put together the exhibit basically constructed working wooden models from something like sixty of Da Vinci's sketches on mechanical and military subjects. I'd heard about this exhibit from various sources, and had been wanting to go; but we had never been able to make the time prior to this. But now, we had the opportunity!

(Incidentally, after the exhibit leaves Sacramento, it's heading to Henderson, Nevada, until March. And whither then I cannot say...)

We got to the museum about 11:00 or so in the morning and got checked in. The cashier recommended that if we were interested in looking at both the Da Vinci exhibit and the aircraft, that we start with the latter; it's been very hot in the Sacramento area lately--well upwards of 100°, and unpleasantly humid--and she suggested that the earlier we go out to look at the planes, the less beastly it was likely to be. This sounding like good advice, we went to look at the planes first. Tonya found a seat (she's not much of an aerospace buff, and didn't want to hobble from display to display in the heat on her crutches) and kept Happy Boy with her in his stroller, and I went off with the girls to look at the planes.

This is not a good museum for the parents of a girly girl. The aerospace part of the museum is full of big machines! Jet engines! Rocket engines arranged in such a way that you can't go anywhere without walking directly underneath them! (Pretty scary, if you ask me.) Propeller engines from World War 1 on! (That is, the one where the entire engine rotated with the propeller, to help keep the blooming thing cooled. Apparently the engine acted like a big gyroscope on WW1 aircraft, allowing them to turn rightward very quickly, and allowing them to turn left practically not at all). Ejection seats! Pressure suits! An F-111 cockpit! An entire F-106 in the display room! (Man, I had been under the impression that the F-106 was one of the smaller aircraft. Where'd I get that idea? That thing is huge!) A working simulator! (Five bucks, please. We didn't do it, partly because we didn't want to part with the five bucks, and partly because you had to be this tall in order to ride in it, and Adrenalin Junkie wasn't.)

Boring. B-O-R-ing. They had a poster of the planets on the wall; that's what the girls wanted to look at. And they wanted to climb the stairs.

Anyway, I eventually convinced them to head out into the lot where most of the planes are out on display. I was fascinated by them, and I tried to tell the girls a little of the history of each one, as I remembered it. When I say "the girls", of course, I primarily mean the near-five-year-old. I don't know how much an impression all this stuff made on the Adrenalin Junkie. One doesn't usually care much about the Korean War when one is two. But there was a cargo helicopter there, an HH-3, that was opened up so that people could climb in the back (alas, not the cockpit). She loved it in there, and didn't want to come out.

Pillowfight Fairy was mildly interested by all these big planes. They were all big to her, even the ones that us jaded Aerospace junkies would call "small". I suspect that they all looked the same to her--except for the F-14. She rather took to the F-14. I could tell she took to it, because she named it. I couldn't get her to call it the F-14. No, it became the Flyer 4000! Which actually sounds a little more exciting than F-14, so I suppose she's not completely off her rocker. But when I walked with them around to the backside of the plane and tried to explain the mysteries of the tailhook, they were more interested in picking the flowers they saw growing there.

Well, I was edified, at any rate. I found it rather interesting that there were some Russian aircraft there, not far from the American models that they fought in places like Korea and Vietnam. I'd read that the American pilots in Vietnam had trouble seeing the Russian planes until they got pretty close, because the Russian planes were so much smaller than their American counterparts; but it really drives the point home when you can stand halfway in between an F-4 and a MiG-21 and just look at the two. Good grief, that MiG is tiny! Next to it the F-4 looked like a winged hippo.

But back to our field trip. We went back inside and found Tonya, who this whole time had been fielding comments and questions about her cast, such as: "So, what did you do to the other guy?" and "So did you kick your husband?" and "Did you get that skydiving?" Tonya, being ever truthful and modest, had been responding by telling them the mundane truth: She'd stepped funny on a toy. We relieved her and headed in to the Da Vinci exhibit.

The exhibit started with a ten-minute film on the life of Leonardo Da Vinci, expaining who he was, when he lived, what artistic contributions he made--such as his sensitive use of light, shade, and perspective, and his experiments into new materials and chemicals for use in painting--and a brief description of the political and military situation of the time in which he lived. From that it described his sketches on military and mechanical matters, which are the subject of the remainder of the exhibit.

As I mentioned before the core of the exhibit is a collection of wooden models made from Da Vinci's sketches, each with a written description of what it is and why Da Vinci designed it. About half the models were labeled "Do Not Touch", but the other half were labeled "Handle Carefully", and had cranks or pull-ropes that one could pull to make things happen. As one might imagne, these were the ones that caught the girls' attention. They had a blast turning the cranks and watching the balls roll around; the gears turn; the water spash. I don't know if they caught much about the purpose of ball bearings or inclined planes, but you never know....

We stayed in there for maybe no more than half an hour, because this unplanned field trip had already taken us well past everyone's lunchtime. I suspect that this exhibit would be more interesting for older kids (although we knew that before we went), and I suspect it's more of a guy thing--although girls can enjoy it too, especially if they have a little engineer in them, like our girls do. In the van on the way home, we asked them what their favorite parts were. The Pillowfight Fairy's answer was something like, "I like the wooden things"--presumably in contradistinction to all those aluminum and titanium things sitting outside on the tarmac. The Adrenaline junkie's answer was something mostly incomprehensible but very emphatic, accompanied energetically by hand motions like those from the song "Roll the Gospel Chariot Along".

So we think she got the point! More or less.

Update, September 4: Welcome to visitors from the Carnival of Homeschooling! You might be interested to know that the Pillowfight fairy presented us with her own mechanical sketch this morning, and a very highly amusing one at that, given that it would, in principle, work. The post is here.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Overheard Recently

...outside our bedroom door, really really early in the morning:

"Mommy! Mommy! MommyMommyMommyMommyMommyMommy!


or Daddy..."

The Odyssey Begins

And I'm not referring to our minivan.

...and by the time we're done with this, it will feel like we've been fighting the gods...

So I took Tonya to the doctor this morning. Unlike Tuesday, when we were in and out in under an hour, it took them about two and a half hours to get us done. Most of that was sitting and waiting... and waiting... and waiting....

(Rather like Odysseus on the isle of Circe, in fact, although I hadn't thought of that angle when I started writing this post.)

We learned a little bit more about what happened to Tonya's foot. That little spur of bone on the number 5 metatarsal, the bit that Tonya chipped, connects to a tendon, which wraps around the side of the foot and then goes up the leg where it connects to a muscle. When Tonya stepped on that infernal toy and twisted her ankle, this tendon was put under far more tension than normal, and this tension was what caused the bone to break. Apparently Tonya was fortunate; had the bone not given way, the tendon might have; and that would have necessitated a full-blown surgery right there.

As it is, the bone is expected to heal back to 100%. But it will take some time, and the foot needs to be immobilized until then. Thus, the highly fashionable cast that you see in the above photograph. (The doctor offered several colors, and Tonya picked purple, thus demonstrating once again the wise decision I made when I married her.)

So, where does the whole Odyssey part come in? Well, this is a non-weight-bearing cast, on her right foot. She has to use a pair of crutches. Tonya cannot carry anything in her hands until it heals. This means that Tonya is unable to lift anything for the next four weeks that doesn't fit in a pocket--including babies who need their diapers changed. She can do no cleaning, no housework, no food preparation, zip.

And while I suppose this may sound to some people like their idea of heaven ("Yay! He gets to do all the diaper changes for a change!"), when you start to think about it, it becomes more and more like Hades. We now have to figure out how to get through the next four weeks (and possibly more). I can't change diapers or feed the kids lunch when I'm at work, obviously; Tonya can't take the kids to the library, or to parks, or on walks.... She can't do any driving (since it's her right foot that got messed up). The bottom line is that someone with two good feet has to be at home with the kids at all times; and since that's not Tonya right now, it has to be someone else. Currently it's me, until my vacation time runs out.

We're working out arrangements with Tonya's parents and with friends from church, and I'm going to use up most if not all of my vacation time by the time this is over. We'll get through it--with lots, and lots, and lots of help. And Tonya is going to have serious cabin fever by the time this is over.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Overheard today

"Please do not stand on my good foot."

Legos--Is There Anything They Can't Do?

A few posts back one of my readers left a comment about how I always loved Legos as a kid. Of course, I was a little sneaky about it. Both of my brothers maintained Lego hoards. I didn't, though; I found that usually my brothers didn't want to play with Legos alone; they always had more fun when they were making things with someone else. And I would usually be that someone else. As a result, I got to play with both my brothers' Lego hoards, which meant I got to play with all the Legos.

(And I noticed that somehow, all the good pieces eventually wound up in my sneaky older brother's hoard; my younger brother had a lot of pieces, but they weren't as nice.)

Anyway, I was always fascinated by the mechanical pieces: the gears, the racks, the axles and shafts, the universal joints, the differential joints(!), the lights, the engines....

I had a Critical Thinking class in high school, in which the teacher would give "project" type assignments--not papers to turn it, but rather things like "Figure out how to juggle. Keep a journal. In one month, you will juggle eggs before the class," and "Figure out how to sew. Make a shirt. Wear it to school in one month," and "Design and construct a board game, including instructions. In one month, your classmates will have to figure out how to play it, using nothing more than your written instructions, and they will grade how fun and engaging your board game is," and--my personal favorite--"Build a model car, using this mousetrap as an engine. You will be judged on how far you can get the mousetrap to roll the car." Not being much of a hardware guy at that age (I do software, remember), the only materials I really understood were, of course, Legos. I managed to construct a working tricycle-layout vehicle, about nine inches long, that powered its wheels with a string wrapped around the axle, that was tied to the trap arm of the mousetrap. When the mousetrap closed, it pulled the string, turned the axle, and moved the car. My vehicle came in second place in the class, with a distance nearly of 20 feet on a smooth, clean floor. (The winner got his to go about twice as far. But then, his thing was an engineering work of art; lightweight, with large, heavy wheels that acted as flywheels, and graphite lubricants....)

Anyway, I saw a post recently over on Instapundit, that linked to this video:

This is just nuts. I love it. Here's what's happening: the user presses buttons of various colors; the machine selects Legos of the selected colors, and builds a little car out of them. The whole thing is built of Legos. It is a work of art. And like good art of any form, it doesn't need to answer the question, "What is it good for?" It is beautiful; and as with the music of Mozart, its beauty provides all the reason it needs to justify its existence.

As Tonya says, "It's too bad you don't have time for another hobby." Especially while she's on crutches....

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Diagnosis and Prognosis

Tonya had a doctor's appointment earlier today, and so we know a little more about what's wrong with her foot.

The X-rays revealed that Tonya chipped a little piece off of her number 5 (pinkie) metatarsal on her right foot, right on the spur near the base. For those of you who don't know your metatarsal from your metacarpal, here's a diagram (note, this is a diagram of a left foot; Tonya mucked up her right):

The doctor said this is the kind of thing that eventually heals by itself, but it can take a while, especially if you don't keep the foot immobilized. So Tonya's foot has been wrapped in a compression bandage, and has been put in what we can only describe as a "foam medical sandal". In a couple of days we'll go back in and they will put her in something the doctor called an "E-Boot".

The upshot is that Tonya won't be at 100% for several weeks yet. She's on crutches and is unable to put any weight on the foot for now.

So I'm getting to do much of the work around the house that she normally does. The Pillowfight Fairy had an interesting comment earlier today; she wishes that "...we had two mommies." Well, I suppose that it would be practical to have a spare.... But somehow, I don't think that Tonya is that practical. :)

Monday, August 27, 2007


Just a little bit of family news. This evening Tonya tripped on one of the toys that our girls had left strewn about, and took a bad tumble. Thankfully, the Happy-most-of-the-time Boy--whom she was carrying at the time--wasn't hurt, just quite put out at finding himself suddenly on the floor; but within five minutes of the event he was smiling and giggling at everyone again, like it had never happened.

Mommy wasn't quite as fortunate. She feels like she sprained something in her right foot. She hasn't been able to put any weight on the foot since her fall, and the only pressure she can abide is from the compression bandage we put on it.

She has a doctor's appointment tomorrow morning. We'll keep everyone informed of what we find out when we're there.

Update: I have to say, though, it was really rather romantic, in a weird sort of way, when I got to carry her down the hallway to our bedroom this evening. Although I had to do it sideways because we have narrow hallways. And I could have been a little more graceful when I plopped her on the bed....

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Hello, God. Are You There? It's Me, Pillowfight Fairy

Like every Christian parent, we wonder from time to time how we are doing at teaching our children about God. Sure, we try to live worthy lives, hoping that the example we set rubs off; and we talk to them about God when the opportunity presents itself. We also attend a church that has a good educational program for the children.

(Although they make so many odd crafts in their classes that we sometimes wonder what exactly they do in there. Usually we wind up bringing home about three items apiece for each of our girls--papers that have been partly colored, things glued to popsicle sticks with the glue still wet, such weird things with brads and beads and paste and glitter and cotton balls, that we can't figure out what exactly the teacher was getting at. For example, the following item wound up in the mass of stuff that we brought home from church today, among many other unidentified items:

Those are pasta shells glued to bits of construction paper, glued to a paper plate. Now tell me: any idea what Bible story the Adrenalin Junkie was studying today? Is this the stuff that the Prodigal Son was trying to feed the pigs? Are these the stomach contents of Jonah's whale? Or is this thing supposed to represent a more abstract theological concept, like Redemption, or Utter Depravity, or even Transubstantiation? Personally, I'm inclined to the idea that what you're seeing here is one of the seven deadly sins.)

Ahem. Where was I?

Occasionally one of our kids will say something that lets us know that bits and pieces of this theological instruction are getting through. The Pillowfight Fairy will occasionally say things about God that shows that she's thinking about Him, and that she has what can accurately be described as a child-like understanding of Him.

For instance, we tell our kids that God made everything in the natural world: the sun, the sky the trees, the birds, the cats, the dogs, the clouds, the rain, etc. So Pillowfight Fairy naturally extrapolates this to all kinds of other things. A few weeks back we were out in the backyard when the sprinklers came on (which is always exciting), and the Fairy commented "...and God made the grass, and the trees, and the sprinklers...." So I responded as well as I could; that, well... actually, God made all the raw materials, but that people had actually used the raw materials to make the sprinklers. I explained that I was the one who dug the trenches and laid the pipes in the ground, and installed the sprinklers; that the pipes and sprinklers had been made by other people, and that we just bought them. I didn't go into the manufacturing processes behind items made of polyvinyl chloride--I figured I'd confused her enough. But I did try to work in the concept that God likes to create things, and that when he made us, he made us so that we like to create things too; that God gave us the ability to take the stuff he made and arrange it to useful or beautiful purposes.

Ok, but God still made all the things in the natural world, right? This includes trees, and butterflies, and cats, and birds, and so forth. So a couple of days later, she says something along the lines of, "Maybe today God will make some puppies in our yard." So Tonya and I looked at each other, and we each could tell the other was thinking, "Boy, I hope not." But of course we had to explain that while God has the power to create anything He wants, for the most part he finished up creating the animals a long time ago. New animals today aren't so much created, as they are born. But of course, we've been telling the Fairy all along that God made her. And in fact, one could argue the point that every new life is in some way a miracle, that each of us--Pillowfight Fairy included--were created by God, but then you have to explain to a four-year old that this kind of creation is different from the kind of creation that happened in Genesis, when God made everything ex nihilo. And although we think that the Fairy is rather advanced for her age, and although we're using a Classical Homeschooling approach, she hasn't just yet been exposed to Latin so we can't use terms like ex nihilo with her.

At sunset tonight, while we were driving home from church, the Pillowfight Fairy said something along the lines of, "God painted the sky," which was a lovely concept to which Tonya and I happily assented. But shortly after this, the Fairy said something along the lines of, "...and when God doesn't notice something, that's when we should pray about it."


Tonya responded that "God's actually pretty good at noticing things, but he likes it when we pray to Him anyway." Thinking about it, this is about as good an answer as one can give to a four-year-old. Try to go too far beyond this, and you risk going way above the head of the little one, and quite possibly way above your own head as well.

Part of the problem is precisely that the Fairy has stumbled upon one of the mysteries of God: Why should we pray, when He already knows everything we need? This is not a question with a simple answer, and different religous sects throughout the ages have tried to address the mystery in completely different ways. The Muslims, to give one example, have decided that one should pray not to inform God of what we need or would like, because He already knows what He's going to do, and what He's going to give us. To the Muslim, prayer is strictly a prescribed act of devotion, at five set times each day, and is not really an act of communication (after all, the words are already known in advance). What do we need to communicate to God that He doesn't already know?

And in a way, this would make sense, except for the fact that the Bible is loaded with examples of people praying for all kinds of reasons, including from a desire to change God's mind, at which prayer is sometimes successful! And Jesus explicitly tells us to ask for what we need--see Luke 11:9-13 for an example. How exactly does this work, though, if God already knows what we need?

Now, we Christians are supposed to pray for many reasons; Christianity sees prayer as genuine communication with God. But what are we to make of Paul's statement in Romans 8:26-27:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

This passage often gives those of us in the Church of Christ fits. After all, it talks about an active, sentient Spirit that lives with us and communicates with God on our behalf, in such a way that we cannot fathom. And, it does so because we ourselves "do not know how to pray as we ought." And furthermore, this passage shows up just before Paul goes off on all this stuff about Predestination and Election (all that "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion" business--Romans 9:15).

And David himself (later echoed by Jesus) could occasionally say something like "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" in Psalm 22:1. So the Fairy's observation that "...and when God doesn't notice something, that's when we should pray about it" isn't a completely unreasonable thing for her to think. Answering her completely and accurately would be difficult if she were of any age, let alone when she's just four.

On the other hand, with the Fairy we don't see a whole lot of in-depth analysis. After all, she's four. Furthermore, I'm reminded of Jesus' teachings regarding children, such as in Mark 10:13-16:

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

So, what to make of this, and my little girl? The Fairy is trying to figure out her place in the universe a little at a time, and trying to figure out God and the way He works. This is entirely appropriate, and entirely natural. Her faith isn't supposed to be an intellectual faith; she's not expected to get all the answers right. What I take from the above passage is that whatever limitations in her understanding of God she might have, she probably has the big things down, simply by virtue of the fact that she's a kid: God is big and strong, God makes amazing things, He loves me and cares for me, and He wants me to be good because He doesn't like punishing people. While there's plenty of room in Christian life for pursuing wisdom and understanding through use of the intellect, the Christian life is not actually about intellect. I think Jesus' words above indicate that even a four-year-old is capable of getting the important stuff.

Even if they're a bit disappointed that God didn't make puppies in the backyard today.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

News you can use

IF you order a whole bunch of sand, the better to make concrete with; and

IF you let said sand sit around for a couple of months in a big pile in your backyard, because you ran out of gravel with which to make the concrete, and

IF you then get in a big load of gravel, and start making a big batch of concrete,

THEN the ratio of dry ingredients will consist of roughly:
  • Three parts gravel,
  • Two parts sand,
  • One part portland cement, and
  • About one-one hundredth part dessicated feral cat poop.

I'm just sayin'....

Anyway, when I finally, finally get this project done, party at my place! :) If anyone still wants to show up, at any rate....

P.S. For anyone who decided to calculate the exponential curve I described in the previous post, you will find that it contains a point of inflection, concave downward, starting... about... now.

Onward and upward!

Well! Sometime in the last 24 hours, my blog counter passed 100 hits. I'm on a roll now! Watch out, Instapundit!

Of course, Somewhere between twenty and thirty of those were me, checking my own blog to see if anyone had left any comments. But still, It's quite a milestone. Think of it like this: for the first 36 years and 4 months of my life, I got no hits whatsoever. And then to get 100 in just a week? This is huge, folks. Try fitting an exponential curve to that raw data sometime, and just imagine where I'll be a year from now. :)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Happy Boy, alla vittoria!

Happy Boy didn't have a good night last night. Our family has been hit with a mild cold, and both he and the Adrenaline Junky have been feeling under the weather. Last night Happy Boy wasn't very happy; he kept waking up crying. We somehow managed to make it through the night, but weren't very rested by morning.

After I had gotten up and dressed this morning, I took not-so-Happy Boy into the dining room and put him in his high-chair, and then I started to get my breakfast. He just wanted to be held, just wanted cuddles... and I couldn't give him as much attention as he wanted, because I needed to get ready to go to work.

So, I had the bright idea: Mozart! That would help, certainly. And everyone knows that Mozart is good for cognitive development in babies! :) So I went over to the stereo and grabbed a CD of highlights from the Marriage of Figaro. And sure enough, the little boy calmed down some, and started listening to the music.

And so did I.

Now, I have a difficult time just letting music play in the background. I tend to be much more of an active listener, trying to figure out chord progressions, trying to figure out what makes a certain piece of music work in a certain way, and so forth. When I listen to music--especially Great music, the stuff that becomes classics--I tend to push everything else out of my mind and listen. And if I happen to have the sheet music on hand, I get very tempted to pull it out and read along--out loud, if it's vocal music. Of course, this makes it hard to get anything done, and it can annoy the neighbors....

Well, it just so happens that during my Opera days I had as a textbook a collection of Bass arias. This collection had four arias in it from the Marriage of Figaro. So I succumbed to temptation and pulled out the book, and started reading along.

By this point the novelty of the music had worn off for the not-as-Happy-as-usual Boy, and he wanted more attention. So what did I do? Well, the CD had just started up an aria that I had actually studied, so I sang it directly to the kid, accompanied by the CD.

And the boy loved it! He smiled, and giggled, and drooled (nothing new there), and wiggled with that whole-body happy-baby response that only comes from fully contented babies. Oh yeah, I am Daddy. I'm good--really good.

And then I realized just what I was doing: I was singing Figaro's aria "Non più andrai" to my own beloved kid.

Oh, the irony.

Now, for those of you who know the opera (Hi Mom! Hi Dad!), you probably already get the humor of what I just did. For those of you who aren't so well versed in this greatest of art forms, this Gesamtkunstwerk, here's a little background.

In the opera, there is an adolescent boy named Cherubino (literally, "Little Cherub" or "Little Angel") who has been hit by puberty really, really hard, and is madly in love with every woman in the castle--especially the Countess. The Count is not amused. He has decided to get rid of the young boy by getting him drafted into the army. The lovesick young lad is devastated that he is being removed from the object(s) of his desire(s), and is more than a little scared of heading off to war. The character Figaro--valet of the Count, town gossip, and all-around-mischievous schemer, is gently mocking Cherubino and the mess that he finds himself in, and lays it on pretty thick....

Here's a brief translation of the lyrics. As you read this, picture me as Figaro, and my happy, flirty, giggly little boy, my very own Little Angel, as Cherubino:

No more will you flit about like an amorous butterfly
Night and day, disturbing the sleep of beautiful young ladies,
You little Narcissus, you Adonis of love!
You will no longer have these beautiful feathers,
That light and gallant hat,
That well-coifed head of hair, that brilliant air,
That blushing womanish color!
(You will be) Among soldiers, by Bacchus!
With a big mustache, a tight tunic, a gun on your shoulder, a sabre at your side,
With your neck straight, your face forward, with a great helmet or a great turban,
With much honor! But little cash.
And instead of the fandango, a march through the mud!*
Through mountains! Through valleys! In the snow! In the sun!
With the concert of blunderbusses, the bombardments, the cannons,
All together smiting your ears!
And then, of course, the ending that really needs no translation:

Cherubino, alla vittoria, alla gloria militar!
And my own Little Cherub was just grinning, and smiling, and laughing through it all, that I couldn't help but pinch his little cheek.

Well at any rate, I thought the scene was amusing. And if you're interested, here's a video clip of the aria, as sung by Jose van Dam**:

*Note, the word Fandango rhymes with the Italian term for mud, il fango.

**The part of Cherubino, although a male part, is generally played by women these days, because counter-tenors were, um... made, not born, and, um... they don't make them anymore.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Literary Criticism

So after the Pillowfight Fairy finished her schoolwork this morning, she decided to write and illustrate a brief story.

For those of you who haven't been introduced to Pillowfight Fairy yet, she's not quite five, going on not quite seventeen. She has developed a certain self-consciousness about her artistic and literary creations, not wanting her parents or anyone else to see what she's doing until she has completed it to her satisfaction. (And even then she might not want to let you see it. As I said: going on seventeen.)

Well, here's the story she created this morning:

What am I, her father, to make of this? Just listen to the nihilism, the irony, the grinding hopelessness bearly concealed beneath that bouncy exterior? Who can escape the fear inherent in the idea of waiting, waiting at the bus stop, without one's bat, well after midnight*? Who can escape the malicous repression contained in the imperative, "NOW SiT AND SiT All of YOU"? Who can escape the echoes of the horrible realization of King David, or even of Oedipus Rex, that "I... i am THE BOY" and the anonymous, androgynous stick figure's dehumanized lament of "I AM iT I AM"? What answer can anyone give to the one who realizes there's no answer to the question of "WHo I AM AT All". And the other figure at the bottom of a deep, deep well filled with some unidentified but probably nasty red stuff--does it not draw upon the worst nightmares we all share, of a horrible knowledge that there is no escape?

And to top it off, we have "NO TuB TO PlAy". How very sad.

Well, we either have a budding Judy Blume here, or a Maya Angelou, or even--God forbid--a Vladimir Nabokov. Where did we go wrong?

*Note that that's a waning crescent moon low on the horizon, indicating sometime after midnight, but before sunrise.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Couple of New Experiences

Note: for today's post and for subsequent ones, I will be appropriating the nicknames of my three kids found on my lovely wife's blog here and here.

Today I had a couple of new experiences. Nothing major, like visitation from the Ghost of Christmas Present (well, that would would be new), but interesting nonetheless.

First: I'm having writers' block. Nothing new about that, but it's rather odd that after only five posts in four days on this new blog, I couldn't think of anything to write about. Is my life really that boring? And Wendy, I'm totally sympathizing about your NaBloPoMo travails last year. So this truly is a new experience: I've actually been enjoying writing, I want to write something, and I can't think of anything to write about. What's up with that? That's totally opposite of my experiences in school, where I knew exactly what I was supposed to write about, and simply couldn't bestir myself. (That is, not until about two periods before it was due. Then I would pull out a sheet of paper, and every time my third- and fourth- period teachers would turn their backs, I would scribble out a sentence. Then I would hand in the paper in fifth period, and get at least a B+. Everyone else hated me.)

But now that I actually want to write, the muse deserts me. Again I ask: What's up with that?

So my lovely bride came to my rescue with an excellent suggestion. Turns out she had to go to a physical therapist this morning, to learn how to care for the knee that's been giving her trouble recently. Now we're like most homeschooling families, in that the father works outside the home while the mother does the homeschooling instruction. But today I got to do the instruction while Tonya was being subjected to that strange voodoo that physical therapists do. (And you should see some of the exercises she's supposed to do now!)

The experience puts me in mind of juggling bowling balls.

Lots of them.

(Tonya just nonchalantly piped up: "Yeah, it puts me in mind of them too.")

Whoa. Ok, all three of them are pretty young, and all three of them like lots of attention. But since all three of them are at different age levels, it's rather difficult to find one activity that can satisfy all three of them. So the strategy is to get one of them started on something he or she can do alone, then attend to the next kid, then the third, then go back to the first, until the bowling balls start crashing down around you and you decide to do something completely different. With this in mind (except for the part about the bowling balls), I started Pillowfight Fairy on the math worksheet, and supervised for a minute or so until I was sure she understood the directions. Then I sat up Happy Boy outside our little playpen area, because he was bored with being set down inside it. This seemed to work, so I pulled out a couple of books and started reading them to Adrenalin Junkie. (Yeah, like that's going to work.) So about this point, I realized that Pillowfight Fairy was having trouble with the concept of adding things on a number line. Now, it's not that she doesn't get number lines; but I think that she just didn't "grok" this particular diagram on the worksheet, and she would have had no problem had it been exactly the same problem with a different style diagram. But anyway, as I was doing this, the Adrenalin Junkie was wanting more books read to her right now. And Happy Boy increasingly, um... wasn't. And then someone had poop.

The whole thing reminded me of this muppet show skit. (Just the first 2.5 minutes or so. It didn't remind me the least bit like the rest of the clip.)

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the experience, and I got to see just how far Pillowfight Fairy has progressed in her studies. She's very good at reading, and is pretty good at reading instructions from a worksheet and carrying them out. And the Adrenalin Junkie can sit still-ish for longer and longer stretches with nothing but a pile of books (and occasionally someone to read them to her, although this is sometimes optional).

And Happy Boy just needs a good tickle now and again, and he's set to go.

So, on the whole, I can see how people do this. It doesn't take superhuman talent. On the other hand, it does take a great deal of dedication, flexibility, and situational awareness. After this morning, my admiration and love for my cherished spouse is duly re-affirmed.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Happiness is...

...a big pile of construction materials.

Isn't this a lovely picture? Doesn't it just evoke a powerful vision of unlimited potential, of greatness yet to be? Does it not make you want to grab a flathead shovel, or pull out your wet/dry tile-saw, and just create, as God intended for Man to share in his work of creation, when he breathed his own creative spirit into our nostrils? Does the above not simply move you?


Oh, my friends, my friends! You don't know what you're missing. Come over some Saturday and you may share in the bliss.

What you see in that picture (aside from all that limitless possibility) is the light at the end of the tunnel for the "never-ending landscaping project" (it started last October) that I've mentioned in a few other places on this blog. That is the pile of gravel, which will become the concrete foundation for the patio; and those are the stones that will pave the walkway and patio when the concrete is done.

It was delivered earlier today. When I got home from work this evening, the first thing I just had to do was lay out some of the stones into a sample pattern like what the walkway will eventually have. Preliminary indications are that it's going to be beautiful.

Now, I suspect that my lovely wife occasionally rolls her eyes at me when I'm not looking. However, I never suspected before I became a homeowner how much I love the manual labor, of simply building beautiful, tangible, solid things, by the sweat of my brow. Sometimes I think I missed my true calling by going into software....

Anyway, when we get this thing finished, finally, finally: party at our place.

Ooh! Ooh! I Want One of These Things Too!

But, as usual, my wife won't let me get one of these things either. She claims that we can't spare the potatoes.

Of course, to be a really cool contraption, the inventor would have to figure out how to incorporate some kind of breech-loading mechanism....

(My wife was watching me type this, and was expecting that last sentence to turn out, "...would have to figure out how to incorporate some kind of FLAMING POTATO!" Um, sounds good to me....)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

I Want One!

...but of course, My wife won't let me get one.

She's the practical one in our marriage. Without her, I'd probably have killed myself long before now.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Weird Juxtapositions

I've been thinking about several seemingly unrelated things lately, and came across a completely unexpected connection between them all. I thought I'd take the time to put it into words, bounce it off of all of you, and see if there's actually something here (the alternative, of course, that this case falls into the category of The Rest Of The Time I'm Generally Incoherent).

Item 1: For those of you who don't know, I was once involved in opera. I was in the opera program at San Jose State, then I went into the chorus at the Opera San Jose company (a very good small company, by the way; I highly recommend it), and I even had a small role in a start-up company in Captiola a few years later (Alcindoro, from La Boheme, for those of you who care to know).

So I found this article to be highly depressing. It's a long article. For those of you who don't wish to read it (though I would highly recommend that you do so), it concerns the recent phenomenon of "Director's Theater" (or Regietheater auf Deutch, since the Deutch seem to be the ones who spawned it). In Regietheater, the director's vision is elevated in importance above the vision of the composer and librettist. Stage directions in the libretto are thrown out; the people are put in costumes of which the composer would never have dreamed, the settings are changed, elements are added or subtracted at the whim of the director, and what emerges at the end of the process is often unrecognizeable to people who actually know the opera. Incidentally, this trend is happening in pretty much every kind of performance art, including drama and ballet. The linked article describes the phenomenon in much more depth than I have here.

I remember encountering Regietheater a few times when I was in Opera San Jose. One production (which I was not in, but several of my friends were) turned Mozart's Magic Flute on its head, so that the Queen of the Night was a jilted mother whose daughter was being brainwashed by the strange cult led by Sarastro, who was a lecher with his eyes on Pamina. And of course by the end of the opera the Queen of the Night is vanquished and Pamina is an honored member of Sarastro's congregation, so the way this production put it, the brainwashing was successful. This obviously turns the entire point of the opera on its head; the opera, as written, is about heroism, forgiveness, magnanimity, fraternity; the way it was staged turned it into a horrifying tragedy in which the oppressive, racist patriarchy vanquishes the well-meaning mommy who was just trying to raise her child according to her own values.

I seem to remember one of my friends who was in the production commenting at one point, "Well, you wouldn't want it to be like all the other productions of The Magic Flute out there, would you?" I also seem to remember that his attitude had soured on the concept a little later on into the rehearsals. I also seem to remember that they didn't get a whole lot of business that season, that Irene Dallis (the company founder) declared that "I'm sick of seeing half-empty theaters!", and that later seasons used much more traditional stagings. But I also remember the company making little baby steps back toward Regietheater in the following seasons.

Item 2: While I was musing on Regietheater and trying to understand the mindset of the directors, I came upon this article, which has a few interesting things to say regarding the way we as a society permit ourselves to express anger. Specifically: while we've always had anger in human society, we have in the past seen it as a potentially destructive force, and we've considered one's ability to control one's anger a virtue. But that's changing. Now those who openly display their anger, who openly hold their opponents (in politics, in sports, in many spheres of life) in contempt, are seen as heroes among their fans; while those who behave with decorum are increasingly seen as squishy by their would-be fans who want them to take a harder line.

So here's where I started to see a connection. One of the things that Freud introduced into popular thought was the concept of "catharsis"--that is, that when one has strong emotions, it is unhealthy to deny them by maintaining an outward calm. Maintaining calm when one experiences turmoil inside is "repression", supposedly, and leads to all kinds of psychoses later on. The way to deal with strong emotions--lust, anger, etc.--is to "let them out", by acting on those impulses.

This was a very different concept from what had been widely accepted before. Prior to this, the prevailing view was that our discipline, our ability to control our impulses, was what set us apart from the animals; it was what made civilized life possible--including the more sensitive aspects of romance, art, meditation, and so forth. One's inability to control one's anger, hatred, or lust was deemed a serious character flaw. It is said that George Washington had a huge, fiery temper, but that he recognized this fact and took pains to discipline himself so that he could still direct himself with composure when angry--and by any contemporary account, he was spectacularly successful.

But after Freud, all this became seen as not merely not virtuous, but in fact downright unhealthy. The person who uses discipline to control his or her anger or lust, to keep from saying what he or she really wants to say, is now seen not as controlled and disciplined, but as repressed (at best), or a hypocrite, or even psychotic. After all, they're not letting you see in their actions what they really think!

It seems to me that this inversion of the value system--that the kinds of expression that were once considered vices are now considered virtues, and vice versa--is at the root of both of the phenomena that I just described. In the case of Regietheater, the sensitive aspects of Romance--the troubador serenading the beloved under a balcony, the witty double-entendre--are seen as weak substitutes for what the people really would rather be doing. So, the director decides that the original stage directions are passé, and he shows you what he thinks the people would be doing if they were actually honest about it, as he defines honesty; and he then goes on to make the absurd claim that, yes indeed, he is following the spirit of the opera left by the composer--he's just paring out all that boring stuff and making the story relevant to modern audiences.

Likewise, the politician who swallows his anger at his opponent long enough to hammer out a workable compromise has "betrayed" his constituents, who often believe that the way for this country to move forward is first to punish the ones who got us into this mess in the first place! Often the politician's constituents--and even, his allies in elected office--want to fix the bridge/energy policy/tax code/immigration mess eventually, but the first order of business is to wreak justice on them. The one who talks to those across the aisle either isn't deemed angry enough, or is a hypocrite for not permitting the anger they do have from dominating their actions toward their colleagues. The result, of course, is that everyone gets angry; those who don't get angry enough get punished on election day; and urgent problems aren't fixed, but are used as political weapons against one's enemies.

Item 3: It was while I was contemplating this last little bit that the third event happened. At our church, we have a playground where kids can play after services. And anytime you get enough kids together, there will be some rambuncious ones. We have one in particular at our church who's two years old, but is very big and strong for his age. A couple of times I caught him hurting other kids--not through malice, because I don't believe that a two-year-old can really understand what malice is, but just because he is so young, so big, and so strong, that he can hurt other kids without realizing that what he's doing is wrong, or even that he's hurting them at all.

Now, I need to say that this is not because of any deficiency on the part of his parents. They are aware that their kid is a bruiser; they do their best to discipline him whenever they know he's done something; and they have requested other parents who catch him doing something to snitch on him (which I did, and not only because it was one of my own kids who got kicked).

What kind of man will this young boy grow up to be? Well, there is a chance that he'll grow up to be a bully, but I don't really think that will be the case here. There's a guy at our church now named Phil, who's about 30 years old, about 6'3" and 300 lbs, who's just a big teddy-bear of a guy with a great sense of humor. I've never met a happier guy in my life, with the possible exception of my 6-month-old (more on that in another post sometime). Phil is also very, very strong; he has broken up fights before, and has saved people's lives. I pity the young man who first tries to date one of his daughters. I suspect that the two-year-old bruiser has a pretty good chance of growing up to be another Phil.

But how does one get from being a two-year-old bruiser to a 30-year-old protector? Speaking as a daddy, I can vouch for the fact that kids that young don't really have a good sense of the "other" having a "self". A two year old might think, other kids are merely actors in my own world, and exist for my benefit; if one of these other kids does something I don't like, then there's something wrong with the world, and Mommy needs to come rescue the situation right now.

And how does the kid begin to grasp those really, really abstract truths, like the "other" having a "self", having rights, and having intrinsic worth? It happens slowly, as we parents impose social norms on our kids. We insist that our kids share their toys, even when they would rather not. We forbid them from beating up other kids, or taking their things just because they're bigger and because they can. We discipline them as necessary to make sure they live more or less in harmony with their peers, insofar as that's possible for a two-year-old. In short, we repress them (cue Imperial March here).

Ultimately, it is by following these norms that the kid learns what it means to value someone else. When the kid treats other kids as well as he or she would want to be treated, the kid learns something of the value of other kids, and what their rights are. To generalize, the kid's practiced behavior ultimately helps to shape the kid's worldview.

Notice how foreign this concept is to the Regietheater director, or in the Freudian worldview. The idea that we can become--say--altruistic, by behaving altruistically; that we can become magnanimous, by behaving magnanimously; that we can become romantically sensitive by behaving in a romantically sensitive way; that we are truer to ourselves when we practice our virtues and maintain our decorum, than when we pretend that indulging our whims is itself a form of virtue--soars way over the head of Herr Director, who views the altruism, magnanimity, and romantic sensitivity as nothing more than hypocrisy, illusions which merely distract us from knowledge of our "true" greedy, contemptuous, lustful selves.

(Great. Now I have to tie this all up.)

There are some really poisonous philosophies in our public culture that have the power to mess up our kids. Thankfully, we can sidestep a bunch of them just by doing the things we know to be right--teaching our kids to treat each other right, and exposing them to good literature and art that illustrate the virtues (and what comes from the lack of these virtues). I suspect that morally speaking, most of the teenagers in the church I attend have more maturity, more sophistication, than many of the masters of the Opera Houses of Europe, who due to their accepted worldview wouldn't understand real art if (mixed metaphor alert) it bit them in the butt.

Talk amongst yourselves...

Friday, August 17, 2007

Hello, World!

Of course, naming your first blog post ever "Hello World" has to be the most clichéd way of starting a blog Man has ever conceived. I mean, I just googled the term "Hello World" and got over nine million hits! Yeah, this is a good way to set my new blog apart from the pack right at the beginning. I'll bet Instapundit is just quaking in his boots now...

But then, another term for "cliché" is "tradition", and the "Hello World" tradition is one with an admirable pedigree. The purpose of traditions is to inform us of our place in society and in the universe, and to inject a little order and purpose into our lives. It is traditional for a programmer, learning a new computer language, to start by creating a program in the new language that does nothing more than print the words "Hello World" to the screen. After all, if you can't figure out how to get output to the screen, you can't tell what your program is doing, and you should probably change your major.

So, what does this "Hello World" post indicate is my place in society and in the universe? Probably it means that, so far as blogging is concerned, I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing. Additional evidence was provided last night when my first attempt at writing this post (which was significantly wittier and more original than what you're reading now) got swallowed into the ether by a WordPress hiccup. I mean, I clicked "Save and Continue Editing", and what happened? Poof! Followed by a message that "We apologize for the short notice, but WordPress is undergoing maintenance and you will be unable to access your dashboard for the next 43278 minutes". That, plus a bunch of other problems, and I gave up and decided to restart my blog on Blogger instead of WordPress.

Further lesson learned, I have now decided to compose my blog posts in Notepad and transfer them to the blog post editor form when I already have it fully composed. See, I'll get the hang of these internets thingys eventually.

So what am I doing here? Well, I figured that all the cool people were doing it. Although on further reflection, I'm not so sure of it. Regular blogs are, like, so early-2006. It occurs that all the really cool people aren't actually doing it here, they're doing it on Facebook. (All the people who only think they're cool are doing it on MySpace). But then, I long long ago gave up any hope of ever being one of the cool people, so this doesn't bug me.

I suppose the reason that I'm here is that I'm a horrible backseat driver. My lovely wife started up her blog last October, and ever since then I've had Blog Envy. I find myself saying things like, "Oh, you should write a post about the time that..." and "I think you should capitalize that Q" and "Are you sure that's a word?" and "Maybe if you rearranged the paragraphs like this and added a little exposition here, the blog post would flow a little better". But despite being an absolutely lovely, wonderful lady, she doesn't always react well to my gentle remonstrations. So I ultimately decided that if I started up a blog of my own, I could correct my own grammar to my heart's content without bugging her. Great! Perfect solution! Now I just need to think of some decent things about which to write.

These will be on pretty much any topic that tickles my fancy--frequently the kinds of things I try to talk to my lovely wife about late at night, while she's trying to go to sleep. They include family, child-rearing, religion, philosopy, science, society, harp music (harp is the instrument I play), vocal music, especially sacred vocal music, and whatever else happens to grab my attention enough to help me overcome my habitual laziness, kick everyone else off the computer, and pound out a few hundred words.

Oh, and I like comments. :-)