Friday, August 29, 2008

Because It's There!

There is, of course, a rich vein of humor to be mined when it comes to "weird places your kids wind up when you turn your backs on them for half-a-second". (I'm reminded of an incident I read in the news a few years back, where--as the parent was distracted by a very engaging cell-phone conversation--the kid managed to get himself trapped in one of those game boxes of the type where you control a claw with a joystick to pick up stuffed animals. The parent turned around, and... his kid was in there with all the animals!)

Well, my kids haven't managed to get themselves trapped in really weird spaces yet. But this morning we got a little reminder that we need to keep our eyes on our three-year-old daughter, who we've dubbed the Adrenaline Junkie. In the sidebar of this blog, I describe her this way: "She reached her 'climbing stage' very young, and never left it."

I'd been thinking for a while that this description might not be so accurate anymore. Sure, occasionally we'd be playing around after church, and she'd ask me to put her up in the branches of one of those huge walnut trees they have on the grounds; but aside from that, I hadn't seen her do much actual climbing lately. Well, after this morning, I think I need to leave that line alone.

Item one. For Christmas last year, each of our three kids was given some lovely footstools, crafted and painted by Uncle Andy. Note how the girls have arranged these in their bedroom:
If there was any doubt about what they're trying to accomplish with this, be it known that they refer to this little arrangement as their "ladder".

Item number two: I present a picture of the Adrenaline Junkie sitting on a sofa, with a quilt hanging on the wall behind her, and a very messy table just visible to the right. The piano is outside of the picture to the left, just beyond the edge of the sofa.

We caught her walking along the top of that sofa this morning. In fact, I nearly had to go rescue her, when she slipped and dangled a leg down in the gap between the wall, sofa, and messy table. (I didn't actually see whether she was behind, in front of, or in the middle of the hanging quilt; I just heard her yelling....)

Item three: this is a picture of the master bedroom. See those stuffed animals on the top of the bookshelf in the corner?
That's where Daddy keeps a stash of stuffed animals that he picked up--as gifts, mainly--from childhood up until college, when it was still considered cool to give stuffed animals to the ones you love.

Now, see all those stuffed animals scattered all over the bed? They should be up on that bookshelf with all the others.

The girls like Daddy's stuffed animals. They often come in our bedroom in the mornings, before Mommy and Daddy are really ready to be up, and ask if they could play with the cat or the moose or the crab or the pig.

But today Mommy and Daddy weren't available to get them--and of course, the top shelf is too high for her to reach. So what did the Adrenaline Junkie do?

She climbed up on our bed, and then walked across Mommy's nightstand to get them. When we returned to the bedroom to see where our kids had gone, we found the Junkie with a veritable armload of really cute stuffed animals; and our first reaction was to turn to each other and ask, "Did you let her have them?"


So yes, she's still a climber; and a pretty good one at that. She hasn't really developed much of a fear of falling yet. And because she's so long and thin for her age, she can get into really, really tight places. Ever since the '80's I'd always wondered how that girl fell into that 8-inch well shaft that one time; now that we have the Adrenaline Junkie, I understand.

We're going to have to keep an eye on her.

(And, it would appear, we're going to have to keep an eye on her younger brother; it looks like he's taking after her quite a bit....)

Extreme Poop Management

Upon becoming parents, Tonya and I made a quick determination: Babies consist of about 10% cute and 90% disgusting bodily functions.

And from this determination, we derived a corollary: If you can't find humor in disgusting bodily functions, you shouldn't become a parent. No, seriously.

And to this corollary, we must add a lemma: If you can't find humor in disgusting bodily functions, you should probably skip the rest of this post.


Well, school time has started back up, and that means that kids everywhere are headed back to school, where they can share stories of what they did all summer--and pass around the latest designer germs. It's a little like the way we celebrated Valentine's day when I was in school--you have to bring one for everyone, and you get one from everyone in return.... This time of year is always hard for those of delicate constitution.

But! we say. Our kids are homeschooled, so they're isolated from all those germs, right?

Ha. This is one of those widespread myths about homeschoolers. They are not isolated, just weird.

Anyway, about two weeks ago we were invited to the birthday party of a newly-minted four-year-old boy. Our kids were there, along with at least two-dozen others. This birthday party involved lots of splashing around in swimming pools with hordes of other kids of varying ages; waterfights; a piñata scramble; slightly undercooked hamburgers....

And given how early schools start these days, large numbers of these kids had already been in the classroom for a week or two--plenty of time to start incubating!

Within a few days after this we all started getting the sniffles. I seem to have ducked the worst of it, as I usually do (and I also Zicam the heck out of my nose whenever I even get suspicious that there might be something going around); but my kids and my wife were hit pretty hard.

My wife's offers this diagnosis: there were actually two diseases that hit us. During the first week after the party, the Pillowfight Fairy had a cold (and a really intense-looking, pleasingly geometrical sunburn pattern on her back from all that time in the pool). The Adrenaline Junkie and the Happy Boy came down with the creeping crud: reasonably high fevers, and... um... really unhappy intestines. But thankfully, by the time the week was out, they had mostly gotten over it....

But then this week started, and everyone shared what they'd had with everyone else. So now the Junkie and the Boy wound up with the colds, and the Fairy wound up with the creeping crud.

And to add insult to injury, the Happy Boy has started teething again. Thankfully, it's for his final set of molars; nevertheless, it's for the molars, and any parent who's had a kid go through teething those suckers just rolled their eyes and said, "Uh-huh...." For whatever reason, teething always seems to cause nasty poop. And nasty poop causes, um.... skin complexion problems. On the kid's butt.

The life of parents of toddlers, joyful though it often is, always has a dark threat of poop underlying every moment. One never knows when this Damoclean sword will drop. One moment everyone is happy and giggling and playing and running about; the next, the toddler is the only one happy and giggling and playing and running about, while everyone else is holding their noses and scrambling to grab the kid to get him/her cleaned up before he/she loses containment. It's sudden; it's unpredictable; it's inevitable.

But this week, our house has become Poop Central. It just seems like there's about twice as much of the stuff around here as normal. Our oldest, who's been fully potty-trained now for a year and a half, has found herself dealing with the horrible things your intestines can very suddenly throw at you; and so far as we (her parents) can tell, she's pretty embarrassed about it. After all, when your five-year-old starts spontaneously cleaning her underwear (without telling you first!), you know something's up. And our Happy Boy has been having his teething-poop for the better part of a week now--and has thus gone from going once or twice a day, to something like six or seven times.

And the Adrenaline Junkie is blithely not worrying about becoming potty trained. Although the Fairy (who has a good nose) has started loudly announcing at semi-regular intervals: "Someone has poop!", so we usually catch her before things go too long. After all, with Mommy's cold, she can't smell a thing now.

Well, I was changing the litter in the cat box, the other night, when it suddenly hit me, how much of our time and energy around here is spent dealing with poop. We have to collect it and throw it out; we have to wash it out of cloth diapers; we have to scoop it out of the litter; we have to pull off and dispose of disposable diapers; we have to wipe it off of little un-potty-trained bottoms; we have to help clean up after five-year-olds and their illness-related accidents. Poop! In all colors and consistencies! Poop!

Poop! Poop! Poop! It's everywhere around here, I tell you! Sometimes, it seems as though--with all the poop that gets carried off around here--that indoor plumbing is wasted on this family. There are billions of people in the third world who deserve it far, far more than we do.


Ok, just had to get that off my chest. Back to your regularly scheduled blogging.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Daddies Are So Cool....

So I was helping to get the girls ready for bed tonight, and suddenly the Adrenaline Junkie (age 3) became distraught. "I have a splinter!" she wailed.

Great, I thought. This generally involves me having to get out a pair of tweezers, or a needle, and inflicting something on my little ones that resembles the Death of a Thousand Cuts. At least, one would think that if one were walking by outside on the sidewalk, and didn't know what one was listening to.

So: in cases like this, it's best to go with some kind of distraction tactic, I figured. Now I could point and yell something like, "Oh look! A blimp!" but that only works once, and then you've still got to deal with the splinter. And your daughter doesn't trust you anymore. So...

So I needed a pair of tweezers.

(Incidentally, if you're three, the word "tweezers" is really fun to say, over and over again. After all, isn't that a really, really funny-sounding word? "Tweezers. Tweezers, tweezers, tweezers..."

If Tolkien thought the term "Cellar Door" had a sound that was intrinsically, universally lovely, I suspect he had to beat down a case of the giggles every time someone around him spoke the word "tweezers". I doubt he could say it with a straight face. And he never would have had written the word "tweezers" into one of Aragorn's speeches. Maybe a Hobbit would have said such a silly word, but never the Heir of Isildur.)

I left the Junkie in the bathroom, and went and got my Swiss Army Knife. It has a pair of tweezers--and a bunch of other things.

The Junkie, upon seeing this beautiful red-and-chrome tool in my hand, forgot all about her splinter. "What is that?"

So, I explained to her what a Swiss Army Knife is. I pulled out each tool in turn: the small knife, the big knife, the magnifying glass, the scissors, the pliers, the corkscrew, the philips-head screwdriver, the ballpoint pen(!), and so on... and I finally got to the tweezers. She was fascinated.

And with one hand, I gingerly held the tweezers; with the other, I held the magnifying glass up to my eye and bent in really, really close until I got the finger in focus. Sort of. The trouble is, three-year-olds have this way of wiggling; and when you're trying to look at one under the microscope, they have a way of wiggling clear out of focus.

She started giggling. (Tonya: "I remember a paramecium doing that. About the wiggling, not the giggling....") In order to get the finger and splinter into focus with the glass against my eye, I had to lean way in until I was practically sniffling her hand. She must have thought I was pretending to be a giant puppy or something, because she started giggling even harder. That splinter was becoming more and more elusive...

Eventually I grabbed something with the tweezers and pulled. I doubt it was the splinter; I think it was a wee little bit of skin. But the girl was happy; so my job was done.

So I thought. About this point the Pillowfight Fairy wandered into the bathroom and asked, "What is that?"

Sooooo... I, um... explained to her what a Swiss Army Knife was. I pulled out each tool in turn: the small knife, the big knife, the magnifying glass, the scissors, the pliers, the corkscrew, the philips-head screwdriver, the ballpoint pen(!), and so on... and I finally got to the tweezers. She was fascinated.

Thankfully, the Happy Boy was already in bed.

So I finished up the Adrenaline Junkie's bathroom routine with her, and then it was the Fairy's Turn. And wouldn't you know it:

"I have a splinter too!"

What are the odds? I thought. So I looked, and indeed: there on her hand was a little sore, that looked like it could have had a splinter in it. SOOOooooo... I pulled out my Swiss Army Knife again, flipped open the magnifying glass, and had a look.

That paramecium was still giggling, so I wasn't actually able to see anything that resembled a splinter. I explained to her that I couldn't find it; that it was either buried under the skin, or that it was a completely different kind of sore, and there was no splinter.

At this, she came pretty close to tears: "But that means that the splinter is inside me, and it's not coming out, and it's going to be there for a really, really long time!"

About as long as the gum stays in one's stomach, I thought to myself.... But I thought better of it. I explained that it would be Ok. "Your body is always rubbing skin cells off, and making new ones underneath to replace them. Any splinter eventually gets lifted off and rubbed away with the old skin. There's nothing to worry about."

Ok, that did it. And to show her that there was nothing wrong, I got a band-aid and put it over the sore. If there is a splinter there, I realize the band-aid will slow the process of skin replacement that I just described to her; but this is all about the mental health of the patient more than anything else.


Mommy's prediction is that sometime tomorrow, during craft time, the Pillowfight Fairy is going to "make" herself a Swiss Army Knife with paper, tape, and crayons. This seems to be the way of things; she is introduced to a new tool of some kind, which catches her interest; and then she makes it out of paper. She's done this with everything from DVDs (which were really quite pretty, if not perfectly symmetrical), to wings, to transmogrifiers; so I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if she decides to do a Swiss Army Knife--especially given how she started giggling about the time I was showing her the pliers, and the can opener, and the corkscrew, and the fish scaler...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Our Daughter Survived the Bible Challenge

Roger Z left a comment on one of my posts from yesterday in which he describes the Pillowfight Fairy as "awesomely weird". You know, my wife and I really, really like that description. In part that's because the term is ambiguous, since "awesome" has a couple of different meanings: it can mean "magnificent" or "awe-inspiring" or "beyond comprehension" (as if it were an extreme version of the word "very"), or it could take on its more colloquial modern meaning of "cool", "praise-worthy". So depending on how you parse the phrase, "awesomely weird" may mean she has a strangeness about her that is cool, worthy of respect and praise; or it could mean she has a level of weirdness that is beyond comprehension.

Either way, Tonya and I like the description. And from now on, when the Fairy does something completely unexpected, something driven by her own internal logic (which operates on a completely different plane of logic than what drives any other human), Tonya and I will proudly chalk it up to her being awesomely weird.

And to her being homeschooled. :-)

Had another reminder of this fact today. Once a year, our church puts on the Bible Challenge. This is a little like a trivia game show; all the kids who participate sit on the stage, and each in turn gets called to the front to pick a written Bible question out of a big bowl. The host reads the question. If the kid gets it right, he or she gets a ticket (to be redeemed later for fabulous prizes!); if not, the kid is eliminated. Now, every kid gets a ticket at the very beginning of the game, so even those who get eliminated get to pick out prizes. But all the kids who remain when the time (or the questions) run out are deemed winners, to be issued trophies at a brief ceremony a month or so later.

Now not only is the Bible Challenge like a game show, it's like those underhanded game shows from back in the '50's, where they give lists of questions and answers to the contestants in advance. The goal is not to eliminate players; the goal is to get kids to learn their Bibles. And many kids find this sort of game-show format to be a good motivator to learn their facts.

This is the first year that the Fairy was eligible to participate. When she learned about the Bible Challenge, she became very gung-ho about the whole thing. She wanted that trophy, badly. So we got that list of questions at the beginning of summer, and started going over them. The Fairy, who's always been good at memory work, had them down cold in no time flat.

So we started working on the game rules. The trouble, you see, is that our awesomely weird girl doesn't handle game rules very well. She's more of the Calvinball type; she prefers to make the rules up as she goes. If she doesn't like the way things are going--or if she just gets bored--she will start making up her own rules. Or at the very least, she will start trying to negotiate with the one in charge to make the rules change; that way the game stays interesting, you see. So we had to start role-playing Bible Challenge in our living room in the hopes that she wouldn't do something, um.... memorable when she finally got up on the stage tonight.

(I don't want to think of all the "memorable" things my daughter could have done tonight. It might have involved anything from using the written questions as confetti, to suddenly making up a story while standing at the microphone, to blurting out answers out-of-turn, to showing everybody her belly button, to bursting into tears for no discernible reason, to absent-mindedly pulling her dress up over her head while someone else was answering a question. You never quite know what our girl is going to do next--especially in a new situation like this.)

So Tonya and I--proud though we were of our little girl on stage--were a little on edge tonight. Especially toward the beginning. She was very excited and wiggly, to the point where she could hardly stay in her seat; every time another kid got a question right; she almost (but, thankfully, not quite) got up to do a little dance.

There were a couple of moments where Tonya and I got that OhNoOhNoOhNo... experience. The first time was when she got the question, "What did David take with him to the fight with Goliath?" and she blurted out, "Two smooth stones and a slingshot." The right answer, of course, is "Five smooth stones and a slingshot." At that point I had this horrible, sinking sensation that the Fairy was about to show everyone what she's like when she's really really disappointed. There were other kids who had been eliminated by this point, and they had been really good sports about it; but I wasn't sure that the Fairy was going to take Defeat gracefully. She had been working on those questions all summer, and she wanted that trophy really badly. And she has been known to throw some unholy tantrums when she doesn't get her way. This, of course, gets her no sympathy or lenience from her parents; but that doesn't stop her from causing a scene. But, thankfully, the host said, "I'm not sure I heard you right; could you say that again?" and this time the Fairy gave the right answer.

And she also had this way of trying to start up conversations with the host, instead of just doing her thing with the questions. The other big OhNoOhNoOhNo moment came when the girl sitting next to her was eliminated. She and the Fairy had been in quiet conversation pretty much the whole time--whenever other kids were doing their questions. They were counting the tickets they'd earned, and talking about whatever it is that little girls talk about. But then the friend was called up, and she got her question wrong--and so the Fairy didn't have a friend up there with her anymore! She was rather put out at this turn of events. It almost looked as though she was about to get really mad. She was next up to answer a question, so with furrowed brow, she got up, stormed right up to the host, and told him to his face that she thought he'd called her friend out of order.

That's one thing about the Fairy; she's usually not intimidated by adults. She will go right up to them and tell them exactly what's on her mind. The thing is, her mind is often on remote planets where Spaceman Spiff is being tortured by hideous aliens, and when she strikes up conversations with adults, they often have no idea how to respond to her. If she met you, she'd probably walk right up to you, say Hi, and then say something along the lines of, "I've just been eaten by a hippopotamus." And then she'd expect you to respond....

Well, the host handled it about as well as could be expected--he mumbled something about setting everything right, and had her pick out her next question. Which, of course, the Fairy got right.

At the end of the night, she'd scored five tickets, and she'd earned herself a trophy. She was rather put out that she has to wait until September to get it. We explained to her that they now have to get the trophies made and engraved, and that will take a little time; but I think she felt a little cheated. That's one thing about kids, and about the Fairy in particular; they have a strong sense of justice.


All in all, we're proud of her. She's still got a lot of maturing to do--after all, she's just five. I don't know how she would have reacted had she missed one of the questions; she's not known to take failure well. But....

She's a very eccentric five-year-old, who doesn't know to be ashamed of her eccentricity. I don't think that kids her age know how to deal with her (although she gets along great with several of the older kids--pre-teens on up). She doesn't know to cover up her weirdness; she just extrovertedly puts it out there for the whole world to see. And if my wife and I have anything to do with it, we're going to let it stay that way--and she'll reach her adult years as an awesomely weird young lady.

There Is No Canning of Fruit In Heaven

Yesterday I wrote about how my wife and I have been harvesting and preserving fruit and vegetables now for so many months, that we don't want to look at another fresh fruit for a while--let alone try figure out what to do with it.

Well, in church this morning, as my wife and I were trying to keep our kids from wiggling too much, the preacher was preaching the last sermon in a series he's been doing on the book of Revelation. And we'd gotten to the last two chapters in the book, which give a description of paradise. He was reading (from Revelation 22, with emphasis by me):
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations....
Aaaaaaauuughhhh! There's no escape!

At this point, Tonya and I looked at each other in wide-eyed fear, before dissolving into fits of giggles. And then as we regained our composure, from across the auditorium I saw my sister-in-law turned around and looking at us, with knowing, mocking laughter on her face.

A tree that produces a full crop of fruit every month! Good Heavens (pun not intended, but clearly fortuitous). What are they going to do with it all?

Of course, if the tree does produce fruit each month, then there really isn't any reason to do all that canning and dehydrating and jelly-making, is there? So we're fine there, I suppose....

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Whence Did That Come?

So the other night, as happens on so many nights, I came home from work, and my kids were bouncy and happy to see me. And so we gathered everyone together and sat down at the dinner table.

And, as so often happens, the Pillowfight Fairy decided she wanted to share a story with me. Now, as I've mentioned before, following her stories tends to be a little like following War and Peace when it's three in the morning, and you haven't had caffeine in a while, and you just aren't into depressing Russian literature.

So normally, the Fairy will tell a story, and it goes on and on and on... And I don't want to squash her delicate five-year-old spirit, so I'll punctuate the conversation with "Ok," and "mm-Hmm," and "And then what happened?" et cetera. I was gearing up for this, when she said something that grabbed my attention and squeezed it really, really hard:

"Ok, now I'm going to tell a funny story. It's called, The Pit and the Pendulum."


I decided then and there that I really, really wanted to hear this. But more than that, I wanted to know: How the heck did my five-year-old girl learn about classic American Horror literature?

Now, I don't remember exactly how the story went, so this is a couple-days old paraphrase:
Once upon a time there was an astronaut. Who was also a prince. And he lived in a pit. And he was captured by aliens, who took him into their pit where they strapped him down to a table. And there was a pendulum over the table that was swinging back and forth, lower and lower, over his tummy. And just before it got to his tummy, he escaped! And he flew away and went back to his own pit, where he was safe.
Well. Something is going on here. The classic Poe story does not involve astronauts or aliens, and the hero doesn't live in a pit; but other than that, it follows the outline of the original pretty well: the hero is strapped to a table; the pendulum swings lower and lower, and he gets out of it in the very end. So somehow, in one form or another, the Fairy has been introduced to the outline of the story.

When did this happen? I thought to myself. How in the world did she come up with this?

Well, after a little digging, the truth came out. Turns out, since we've banned her from reading Calvin and Hobbes until the end of the month, she decided to do the next best thing: she pulled out our copy of the Peanuts Treasury, which was published after the death of Charles M. Schulz in 2000, and contains all the strips published from 1959 through 1967.

And it just so happens that there is a sequence of strips in there in which Charlie Brown has been flying his kite, and has gotten so tied up in the Kite-Eating Tree that he's dangling upside down, several feet above the ground. And as he dangles there wondering what to do next, Lucy comes up with Linus. She's explaining to him the story of the Pit and the Pendulum, and as she's explaining the part about the pendulum, she absent-mindedly gives Charlie Brown a push, so that he's rocking back and forth, providing a visual aid.

That's where she got the idea of the Pit and the Pendulum. And she mixed it together with the bit about Astronauts and Aliens, which she got from Spaceman Spiff. Ok, now I understand.


Incidentally, now that we've banned Calvin and Hobbes, and now that she's reading more Peanuts, we've noticed a subtle change in her language. She's stopped referring to her siblings as "fuzz-brain" and "bucko" and "booger-breath".

She now refers to them as "blockhead".

She also tried to sell me information on UFOs for 10¢ the other day....

Enough Already!

During that phase of my life just out of college, where I was commuting by train--and thus had enough time to read anything and everything I wanted--I picked up a copy of a book entitled Witness to America. It was a collection of essays, speeches, and other writings by people who had been well-placed to witness important (and some not-so-important) events that occurred through the course of history of this country. The essays were interesting, because it gave a sense of the way the people who lived so long ago thought about their own circumstances--how they saw their world and their society.

One of these essays caught my attention. It was by Louisa May Alcott. Her father, Bronson, was a member of a transcendentalist "cult" (for lack of a better term) that decided to turn its back on civilization, ride off into the wilderness, and found a New and Better Society At One With Nature. This sort of thing was, of course, quite common in this country during the early-to-mid 19th century.
Thus these modern pilgrims journeyed hopefully out of the old world, to found a new one in the wilderness. This prospective Eden at present consisted of an old red farmhouse, a dilapidated barn, many acres of meadowland, and a grove. Ten ancient apple trees were all the "chaste supply" which the place offered as yet; but, in the firm belief that plenteous orchards were soon to be evoked from their inner consciousness, these sanguine founders had christened their domain Fruitlands...
By and large, these little communal experiments failed miserably, and Ms. Alcott's essay describes in very wry detail all the things, big and little, that went wrong with the commune she grew up in. Basically, the people who founded and inhabited these communities were long on idealism, but short on survival skills, short on stamina, and very short on common sense.
Slowly things got into order and rapidly rumors of the new experiment went abroad, causing many strange spirits to flock thither, for in those days communities were the fashion and transcendentalism raged wildly. Some came to look on and laugh, some to be supported in poetic idleness, a few to believe sincerely and work heartily. Each member was allowed to mount his favorite hobby and ride it to his heart's content. Very queer were some of the riders, and very rampant some of the hobbies.

One youth, believing that language was of little consequence if the spirit was only right, startled newcomers by blandly greeting them with "Good morning, damn you," and other remarks of an equally mixed order. A second irrepressible being held that all the emotions of the soul should be freely expressed, and illustrated his theory by antics that would have sent him to a lunatic asylum, if, as an unregenerate wag said, he were not already in one. When his spirit soared, he climbed trees and shouted; when doubt assailed him, he lay upon the floor and groaned lamentably. At joyful periods he raced, leaped, and sang; when sad, he wept aloud; and when a great thought burst upon him in the watches of the night, he crowed like a jocund cockerel, to the great delight of the children and the great annoyance of the elders. One musical brother fiddled whenever so moved, sang sentimentally to the four little girls, and put a music box on the wall when he hoed corn....
And so forth. She obviously remembers all this silliness quite fondly; but she recognizes that it was, of course, silliness.

Well, human nature hasn't changed. Every new generation has its people who would love to "get back to nature", without really understanding what that means. These transcendentalist guys would have fit right in with the hippies; and the hippies would have fit right in with them (although they might have gotten into arguments about mind-altering substances. Or maybe not...).

And every generation that does in fact manage to get back to nature, gets remembered and immortalized by its children as silly. These children, upon learning that they don't have to plow and harvest every season, and weed every day just to get food, think to themselves: "Forget this. The moment I grow up, I'm going traipsing back to civilization to get myself a pizza and a more sensible lifestyle."

So I remember back to this essay every time I hear someone say, "Wouldn't it be nice if..." followed by all sorts of weak-minded ideas about living "off the grid" (to use the hideous modern term for this phenomenon). Sure, the survivalist in me would like to know how to do these things, in case the Big One happens. And I definitely enjoy working in my backyard, planting, landscaping, and caring for growing things. I think it's good for us to be outside, doing manual labor and getting sun and fresh air. But the farmer's life? That's a hard life. If your hands aren't rough and callused; if you aren't capable of heaving fifty-pound bales of hay into the loft for a few hours a day; if you are squeamish about wringing the heads off of chickens; if you don't relish the prospect of wrasslin' pigs or other large barnyard livestock; then that life isn't for you.


My wife and I recently had a bit of a reminder of this fact.

You see, two years back, in a moment of mushy-headedness, we decided: "Wouldn't it be nice if we could grow all or most of the produce we needed in our own backyard? We've got plenty of space on our lot to do this, if we really wanted to...." And we proceeded to plant no fewer than eleven fruit and nut trees--two orange, two cherry, two plum, one peach, one nectarine, one pear, one Asian pear, and one pecan--in addition to the pomegranate tree we already had. And, well... last year, the trees weren't so big, and we got a quantity of fruit that was reasonable, and we were happy.

This year, we got buried.

And the trees aren't even fully mature yet! Not even close.

And that doesn't count the stuff that came out of our vegetable garden--radishes, lettuce, spinach, peppers, pumpkins, tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, squash, and beans. And it also doesn't count our immature grapevines, which haven't produced yet....

Tonya and I have learned a lesson from all this: God is indeed very generous, even when you neglect the garden. All this stuff was produced with very little work from us. But...

But trying to harvest and process all of this stuff is sheer, unadulterated madness. What do you do with twelve dozen peaches? After you've already dealt with the plums and the blackberries and the strawberries and the raspberries and the nectarines? Good heavens!

After a while, you get sick of peach pie. Seriously. And peach cobbler, and peach leather, and dried peach chips, and nectarine chips, and plum pie, and plum jam, and nectarine jam, and strawberry jam, and roasted pumpkin seeds, and... and...

So tonight Tonya was shelling beans. And I kid you not, she was sorting them into three piles. Three little piles, with beans neatly sorted by color.

"These are the dry ones. These are the nearly-dry ones. These are the green, juicy ones that need to be dried."

I think she's flipped her wig.

(Tonya just protested: she hasn't completely flipped her wig. She may sort beans into little tiny piles, but at least she ripped out the bean plants today so she doesn't have to deal with any more of this in the future. Well, that's something, I suppose.)

I'm not sure that I'm completely all there anymore, either. Tonya made some comment today about how she's actually happy this year that we're going to have a lousy pomegranate crop. We only had a few flowers this time around, and I've only seen one full-sized pomegranate on the entire tree. So how did I react to Tonya's comment?

I nearly disagreed with her! Now how sane could I possibly be? I mean, given that we still have at least a gallon-sized bag full of frozen pomegranate seeds from last year's crop that we haven't even juiced or made into jelly yet. That's good for at least a month's supply of jelly, if not two, at the ridiculous rate we go through the stuff. And I was about to complain that we don't have more?

If our crop is bad this year, we won't be able to survive through the winter of 2012!


In the meantime, does anyone need any pumpkins right now? No, seriously....

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tugging On Superman's Cape

You know, I haven't been following the Olympics very closely.

Partly that's because I've never been much of a sports fanatic. I'll watch it, and be entertained (and even excited, on occasion); but you get me around guys who are real sports fanatics, and I start imagining I'm an anthropologist watching strange tribal rituals....

Partly it's because we don't have a TV around here. That makes it hard really to get into it. Yeah, we can download video clips after the fact, but that takes work.

But none of this takes away from my admiration of the athletes who decide to train themselves silly, and then go to match themselves against the best talent the world has to offer. And I admit it, I'm a patriot of the flag-waving jingoistic type, and I love to see those guys in the Red, White, and Blue take the gold. (And no, I'm not referring to Russia, who are White, Blue, and Red; Or France, for that matter, who are Blue, White and Red, or Serbia....)

And when someone as hard-working, and as good-natured, as Michael Phelps comes along, and good-naturedly sweeps every event he enters, he has my enthusiastic admiration.

So I hope that if and when Phelps sees this news report from The Onion (entitled "Michael Phelps Returns To His Tank At Sea World"), he takes it in the good-humored spirit in which it was obviously intended. Personally, I found the thing funny--especially given the knowledge (gleaned from all those puff-pieces about him) that he has to consume 12,000 calories a day to maintain his weight on that training regimen of his....

138th Carnival of Homeschooling Is Up--Plus a Post By My Wife

The Carnival is up over at Janice Campbell's site. There were a couple of good posts there that caught my eye.

Dana at Principled Discovery writes an interesting post about our homeschooled children's views of schooling. Especially in those cases where the kid has never been in the schools, the kid's view of what the classroom is like is only second-hand--and often inaccurate. Dana writes about how her daughter, when asked about what she thinks of school, will parrot back the things that Dana has said--but without all the nuances. That is, the daughter remembers all the negative things Dana has said, but none of the positive. (After all, if the positives were strong enough, I would have been put in school, right?)

Dana says:
My daughter frequently asks questions about school, why we homeschool and why other people do not... Interestingly, however, if you ask my daugther what she likes about homeschooling, her answer will focus on what is wrong with public schools, a system she has never set foot in. Her criticisms are true, in a caricatured sense, but without experience to draw from they come across as rather comical to me. I know that she doesn’t really know what she is talking about, and regret that out of all our conversations, these few points against the public school system seem to have stuck in her mind.
And later, she concludes:

I am like a translator between two worlds: her homeschooling world, and the somewhat mysterious school world which seems so normal to everyone but her. I don’t want her to grow up with the same sort of stereotyped view of the school system which so many in our society seem to possess of homeschooling. I also don’t want her to go off and explain her limited view with “My mom said…”

It has made me a little more conscious of how I talk about school around my daughter...
It also got me thinking about a related topic.

It seems to me that this dynamic works in many, many areas of life; one generation decides that it doesn't want its children to have to suffer the consequnces of X, so it protects and isolates them from X. The children then grow up not knowing why X is so bad; when asked why X is bad, they must either parrot what their parents said, or they can't answer--since they have no first-hand experience of X. This means, of course, that eventually society is in danger of tossing out the wisdom of the Elders and subjecting everyone to X again.

I've seen this dynamic work in the Church, for example: people who become Christians as adults are often more solid in their faith than those who were raised in the Church--precisely because they know what they left, and exactly why they left it. Those raised in the Church, by good Christian parents, often don't come face to face with real evil, and with the full power of temptation, until they grow up and leave the nest--and this is precisely because their parents raised them according to their best understanding of Biblical child-rearing practices.

How to square this circle? I'm not sure--and it's a pattern that goes back at least as far as the events depicted in the book of Judges.

The best answer I've seen so far is the one Dana offered: that we need to be aware of the way we are passing our views on to our kids--how we speak of things, what we say, what attitudes we display. And we need to keep in mind the desired "end state" of our parenting: what do we want our kids to be like when they leave home? We have to know that, before we can really decide how we wish to raise them.

But this doesn't fully answer the conundrum--it's only a start.


And then, there's this excellent (if rather long) essay about the ways that copying, tracing, and emulation are useful in an educational setting. Our academic society quite rightly has a thing against plagiarism--passing off someone else's work as one's own. However, as the author argues (with many, many examples drawn from her own family over the years), the act of copying can be a powerful educational tool. You want to learn how to draw a realistic-looking horse? Start with a bunch of pictures of horses, and trace them. You want to learn to write like your favorite author? Copy out their work longhand. In doing these things, you become intimately familiar with the source work; you begin to understand how it's pieced together, and what makes it work.


One more. My lovely bride posted an update on how our family is doing, and how our homeschooling year (which started early July) has been going so far. Tonya decided that since we've already finished six weeks, it was time to take a week off.

Anyway, in her post she describes how everyone has been doing, and what's been working, and what needs more work.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Progress On Our New Backyard Project

My wife has this internal clock, that is tick... tick... ticking away....

No, not that clock.

Tonya is, as I have mentioned on numerous occasions, the practical one in our family. Part of what this means--for better, and for worse--is that she has a sense of what the practical deadlines are for any given task.

Tim, we need to get this done by next Thursday...

Tim, we have to get that out in the mail today....

Tim, they'll be here in two weeks....

So it goes. Now, I do have to admit that the petulant, whining child in me occasionally finds this a little annoying. However, credit where it's due: if it weren't for this lovable trait in my spouse, we'd still be doing our taxes.

So anyway, my wife reminded me a couple of weeks back: Tim, summer is almost over, and there were a bunch of things we were hoping to get done before the rainy season starts....

(Which reminds me: I'm going to have to clean out the gutters soon. Darn that woman.)

Thus, our new backyard project. Now this one isn't near as long or involved as the last backyard project we did. That one involved me moving several metric tons of dirt, gravel, sand, concrete, and stone by spade and wheelbarrow. This one isn't nearly so onerous; wood chips are a lot lighter than any of the above.

But this last weekend's phase of the project involved planting.

What did we plant?

Um, plants. Green, leafy things. Heck if I know! Ask Tonya.

They're pretty, no doubt. But if it had been up to me, I would have gone into the plant nursery--no, strike that--I would have gone into Lowe's and picked the first dozen or so green leafy things within reach that looked kinda purty, and that would have been our garden.

But I do know shovels. And dirt. So I took all these plants (helpfully arranged by my lovely bride into an aesthetically pleasing configuration), and I took the shovel, and I started to dig.

And I promptly discovered a deep, dark secret.

(Peanut gallery: "Jimmy Hoffa!")

No, not that secret. It was much, much worse than that.

This part of the yard--sandwiched between the side of our house and our neighbor's fence, right past the end of the patio I built last year--was apparently the dumping ground of all the previous occupants of the house, going back to the 1970's it would appear. And what did they dump there?

Cigarette ash. Two-and-a-half decades worth of cigarette ash, right where we were trying to put the Japanese Maple.

Now, I don't claim to be a chemist, but I figured: that can't be good for the soil quality. And from what little chemistry I did learn, I vaguely remembered that ashes consist primarily of metal oxides, which when dissolved in water, turn the whole system highly alkaline. This probably didn't bode well for those green leafy things my wife called "azaleas" and "camellias", which apparently like rather acidic soils.

So we broke out the soil test kit, which my wife just happened to have on hand (thanks to Auntie Wendy), and I scooped some of the soil--making sure to grab it from the ashy part--into the test chamber. We ran the test, and discovered (much to my surprise) that it had a pH. of 6.5--very slightly on the acidic side.

Well, I still didn't trust the dirt. That wasn't good, honest, clean dirt.

So when I dug the holes for all those big green leafy things, I made sure to dig a much bigger hole for each one than it really required; I put the nasty dirt in the wheelbarrow, and dumped it in an undisclosed location; and then I got new, clean soil by mixing roughly equal parts of plain old dirt (left over from the previous backyard project's excavations) and compost made from grass clippings.

Very long story short, it took way too much time to get all those green leafy things in the ground. And we still don't trust the dirt any farther than we can throw it; I'm going to insist we fertilize the heck out of everything back in that little corner until they're fully mature, just to be sure.

So what does the area look like? Take a look:
Yeah, I know; they look pretty small in this picture. But they'll get bigger; and when they do, the entire side of the house will be lined with green, as will the fence on the opposite side; and that Japanese Maple in the back will pretty well fill the area to the point where that red fence will be pretty well obscured.

And if you look closely, you can see that there are three ferns in pots, right under the windows. This is something we had to plan strategically; you see, opposite from those windows, the neighbor has this ginormous Chinese Elm, with huge roots. I know from firsthand experience how huge those roots are, because I wound up cutting through a couple of them when I put the patio in. We are not about to plant anything next to the fence by that Chinese Elm. If you want to come over and dig that hole, you're welcome to.

So if we can't dig a hole, the next best thing is to get a bunch of pots, and put the big green leafy things in them. It's just as pretty as putting them in the ground; they're easier to maintain; and you don't have to dig big holes through Chinese Elm roots to plant them. But we had to make sure that it looked balanced, so that means we had to have big pots on both sides of the patio.


Just an observation. You know how a cat looks regal and dignified--most of the time? And then you get it wet, and it just looks bedraggled, unhappy, and thoroughly comical?

I've noticed that recently transplanted plants are a little like that, too. You pick up a plant at the nursery. It looks cheery and happy in its snug little pot. Then you take it home, and place the pot where you're going to plant it, and the plant still looks as if it's enjoying life. And then you dig a hole in the ground, manually pull the green leafy victim out of its pot, rough up its roots a little so they're sticking out and not wrapped around in the molded shape of the pot it came from, stuff the thing unceremoniously in the ground, and then moosh dirt all up around it. By the time you're done, it looks... well, it looks like a cat that's just had a bath. It looks like it has bed-hair. It looks like it's having a really bad day.

And usually, in a day or two it's gotten back to is sunny, cheerful self again, unless you've managed to kill it.

Well, most of our plants are doing fine now. That Japanese Maple is still looking a little iffy, though. They're lovely trees, but they're temperamental. You suddenly change the weather on them, or give them too much sun, or too little water (or too much!), or you speak harsh words to them, and it starts thinking suicidal thoughts and its leaves start to crinkle up and wither. Well, our Japanese Maple is starting to show the Warning Signs; it's already in the Goth phase. Tonya has full faith that it will pull through, though; we have a few other Japanese Maples that did exactly the same thing just after we planted them, and they are now strong and healthy. We hope and trust that our new one will emerge from this phase a little more grown up, and with slightly better self-esteem, than it now possesses.


Well, as with so many things around here, this job isn't done yet. You're only seeing two out of four of Tonya's "Zones". That's right, she meticulously drew up a plan for which big green leafy things were supposed to go where, and we've only hit two of the four zones so far. The other two zones are about as big as the ones we've done here, and one of them will require me to go in with a big dose of Round-Up first. (And then give it about two weeks to die off. I can hear Tonya now: Tim, you do know how little time there is before summer ends, don't you?...)

And once all those plants are in, we get to cover this whole section with ground cloth and wood chips, like I showed in the post linked above.

So we still have a good amount of work to be done. Still, it's the kind of work that's satisfying; we're creating our own little piece of heaven here, one weekend at a time. By the time we're done, we're imagining that this little corner of our backyard will be the perfect spot to relax in at the end of a busy summer day.

So long as it's not still 110° out.

Oooh! Ooh! I Need One of These!

Ok, so apparently there's a contingent out there who thinks I need to blog less.

Well, maybe they're right. The other option, of course, is that I could write more posts of reduced quality! This shall be one of those posts.

I saw this the other day, and decided that I needed one. Behold:
Bow before the total awesomeness that is the solar powered necktie.

Man, I need one of these.

Of course, it doesn't matter that I don't have an I-Pod to plug into it. Nor does it matter that I don't have an I-Phone. Or, um... any cell-phone, for that matter. I don't even have a laptop, not that I'm convinced you could actually charge one of those from this tie. (And given the problem that Dell had a few years back with exploding batteries, I'm not sure that would be such a wise course of action anyway. Can we say, "spontaneous human combustion?") I do have a digital camera, but aside from that, I'm a total Luddite.

And for that matter, I usually only wear ties at church, or at special events like job interviews. And I can't imagine needing to charge my camera in either setting. Though I admit, such a tie would probably impress the interviewers at the kinds of places I would be looking for jobs. And, come to think of it, it would impress our preacher too...

So what good is it?

Wrong question. Try: why does it have to be good at anything? It's just freakin' cool. That's why I need it; coolness is its own reason for existing.

N.B. My ever-practical spouse has some suggestions: if you've got solar-power-generating fabrics, why not work it into a coat? Or a hat? It would seem that these things would be getting more sun than a tie anyway, and you can wear them in more places. Hm. She may have a point about the coat, at any rate; but I'm not so sure about going around in public with appliances plugged into one's head....

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Note: Before we actually get to the meat of this post, I have to gripe a little about something. Since the Dawn of the Internet, we have been creating lots and lots of new words. This is proper and fitting, given that we now have to describe lots of concepts that didn't exist before. But if we're going to have to create a whole bunch of new words anyway, can't we make them sound nice? I mean, it makes sense to make up a word that's a contraction of web log, given that "web" is a (sensible) euphemism for the internet, and a "log", well--the English language has used that word to refer to a written record since at least 1679. But Blog? Can anyone think of a less euphonious neologism than Blog? I mean, that's one ugly word, there.

And the term meaning anniversary of a blog that I've seen bandied about is Bloggiversary. If the word blog is ugly by itself, that word is so monstrously bad that it demands that we stand back in awe of its awe-inspiring awfulness. Who thinks these things up, and why isn't it legal to throw rocks at them?

Sigh. I suppose not all English terms can be like Cellar Door.

(Now just wait: I'm about to be visited by partisans of Esperanto....)


On with your regularly scheduled blog post.

Today is my one-year Bloggiversary! (ugh.) That's right! One year ago today, I decided to start my own blog, so that I wouldn't be continually needling my wife about what she needed to be blogging about.

Actually, it was one year ago yesterday that I decided to do it. But I had a little trouble with Wordpress, and gave up for the night; and the next day, I just decided to go with Blogger, since that's what my wife was using and we knew how it worked.

And I've done more writing in the last year than I have ever done in any previous year of my life. That's right, even when I was in college.

(I was a lousy student. In retrospect, I have no idea how I managed to get enough work done to graduate. Of course, now that I've just written that, my wife is giving me all kinds of helpful reminders: "Remember, you didn't have a job then...." Um, yes. Thank you.)

Well, I didn't keep to my one-post-a-day benchmark. Especially moving on into summer, I found myself beset by ennui, nihilism, and just plain writers' block. And eventually, I started hearing the Voice on my right shoulder saying: You should probably be spending a little more time with your family, you know. And then the Voice on my left shoulder whispered: You know, the world will keep revolving if you don't do it, just this once. And you might actually get more sleep. And besides, no one's reading you anyway.

And then the voice behind me would say: Tim, I've got to use the computer tonight.

So, with my ego, superego, and id all telling me the same thing--not to mention my wife--I started to slack off.

I still think I did pretty well, though. In the last year I managed--not counting this one--to post 332 times. And since I put up the hit counter two days later, I've gotten on the order of 24,068 hits--or roughly 66 hits per day.

Of course, about a dozen per day or so were from me, checking to see how many hits I got. :-)

(And I haven't counted up the comments I've received. I haven't seen an easy way of getting Blogger to report that to you.)


So, where to?

Well, I think I'm going to try to keep up this one-post-per-day benchmark, but without killing myself to meet it. (Translation: don't expect quite as many posts as last year, when I occasionally came pretty close to killing myself. Primarily from lack of sleep....)

Furthermore, when I read some of my older posts, I notice something very disconcerting: they're so witty! They're so insightful! They're so full of the joy of living, yet colored with a wry, sophisticated humor. I read them, and I think, Man, I wish I could write like that. It's so much better than the dreck that I've been churning out lately.... And then I get all depressed, and I wonder, what changed?

I think it's all the Happy Boy's fault.

No, seriously. When I started writing this thing, he was a cute, lovable six-month-old, who was giggling, playful, and non-mobile. Now, he's turned into a cute, lovable, devious, scheming, opinionated, always-hungry (not always for food, though), highly-mobile eighteen-month-old Boy. By the time we get him into bed, Tonya and I feel like we've been in a wrestling match. (Tonya: "We have!") So when I finally get in front of the computer and try to think of something to blog about, I don't often have much mental energy left.

You'd be surprised how much energy it takes to do irony.

Ah, well. We knew what we were getting into when we decided to have him. ;-) At any rate, I've enjoyed doing this thing over the last year, even when getting in comment-duels with pompous know-it-alls. And I hope to be doing this for quite a bit longer (all except for the pompous know-it-alls, of course; but you can't venture out onto the internet without running into them).

My wife thinks all this writing may help me land a second career someday. I'm not so ambitious, but it's an interesting thought....

Saturday, August 16, 2008

And The Two Shall Become One Brain....

It is, of course, a well-observed fact that people who've been married long enough start to think alike.

Now, I'm not sure if this is because their heads just get progressively rewired the longer they're married, although that's certainly the case; or if it's more a case of the spouses (spice? I've never figured that plural out properly) getting to know each other well enough that they can predict, "If hubby could see what I'm seeing right now, he'd say this." And by the time you get to that point, you're thinking what the other person thinks, and he's thinking what you're thinking, and you might as well have one head.

Tonya and I have always wondered how long it would take for us to wind up with one head, seeing as we started out so different. Nevertheless, there were ominous signs, even within the first two years of marriage:
Her: So we had to study various theologian guys in my classes, including that German guy... the one whose name starts with an S....

Me: Schopenhauer?

Her: Yes! That's it!

[brief pause, followed by an involuntary shudder as both people get a sudden, serious case of the heebie-jeebies.]
Well, we had another one of those moments today.

Next month the town of Fair Oaks (just south of here) will be holding their annual Chicken Festival--apparently an event of some importance to the good citizens of that august town. And they have placed posters and billboards up all over town with their logo:

Now, the thing is, we never see this logo except when we're bundled into our minivan, with three wiggly kids in the back demanding attention, as we're madly trying to drive somewhere in hopes that we're not late to wherever it is we're going. And the posters and billboards with this image on it aren't very large, so we only actually see these posters for a few seconds at a time, at a distance, while we're preoccupied with something else.

Which means we don't always see what we're supposed to see.

(Side note: I remember once, about twenty years ago(!), glancing at the TV while a commercial came up for a local Chinese restaurant named Hunan Lions. I only saw the image for a fraction of a second. It was a few seconds later when my brain actually processed the image that I saw, and by the time it deciphered all that weird sensory input, it had decided that what I'd really seen were the words "Human Loins". Boy, that caught my attention....)

So anyway, my wife and I have been seeing this logo with a chicken standing next to a tree. And we'd both noticed it. And, it turns out, we both saw the same thing:
Me: You know those Fair Oaks Chicken Festival posters we've been seeing?

Her: Yeah?

Me: The ones that have the picture of the chicken standing next to the tree...

Her [grinning]: that actually looks like a head....

Me [grinning too]: of a lion or bear or some other kind of carnivore...

Her: that looks like it's about to eat the chicken...

Me: which is, of course, completely oblivious to its impending doom.
And this sent us into a fit of giggles. And now, every time we see one of those posters, we can't help but see a very cute-looking bear about to eat the chicken, and we can't keep straight faces.

Anyone else see this, or is it just us?

And if it is just us, then Tonya and I are further along the road to one-brainedness than even we had feared....

Friday, August 15, 2008

None Of Us Is As Dumb As All Of Us

Of course, the title of this post is a reference to the Meetings poster from Despair Inc., but I only used it because Despair doesn't seem to have a poster up about Bureaucracy. And when Despair Inc. lets you down, who is there left to trust?


Ok, so I have this situation at work.

You see, I'm assigned to a program where we're using Oracle. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Oracle, it is a very high-end database system. It's also the market leader, and with good reason: it's got very good performance, and when configured properly, it's nearly bulletproof.

But: it's complicated. Oracle needs people with lots and lots of training to run it properly, to keep it tuned and well-managed. We didn't have any people on-hand with that level of expertise, so I and a co-worker got to be trained at my company's expense.

Incidentally, I suspect this is where Oracle makes most of their money. I mean, Oracle licenses are expensive, no doubt; but they just made Ten Grand off of the training that the two of us took! And those classes were just the basic Admin Part 1 and the basic Admin Part 2 classes; we haven't even done all the really fancy stuff yet. Oracle also offers classes specifically for backup and recovery; for performance tuning; for database design; for instruction in the PL/SQL language. It's a racket, I tell you; for a single person to take all these classes, would take several tens of thousands of dollars.

But I digress.

Well, I work for a very big company. And Oracle is a very big company. And big companies, in order to function, have to design "proper channels" for every bit of information, and for every dollar that changes hands, and for every operation. But these systems have one serious flaw:

They're designed by people.

And they're populated by people.

Ok, that's two serious flaws. The two serious flaws are that they're designed by people, populated by people, and there's no permanent way to delete bad information once it gets entered into the system.

Three. The three serious flaws are.... Ok, you get the point.

And when two big companies get together to try to do business, often the systems from one company and the systems from the other company are mutually anathema. One company says you must do X before you do Y; the other says you must do X after you do Y, and so you can't do either X or Y and both companies get mad at you. And then you explain the situation to your boss, who then calls the other guy's boss at the other company, and then they get into a big fight, and the problem never gets resolved until both companies break their rules just this once....

Well, the handling of the billing for these classes has officially gotten all fouled up.

You see, my company has issued each of its employees a corporate credit card, to be used anytime they have to spend money on company business--especially for travel-related expenses, but also for trips to the local computer store, and for training needs. After making the expenditures, the employee receives a bill; and then he files an expense report, which is approved and paid by the company.

In theory.

When all the planets are in the proper alignment.

But! In order to save money, my company has instituted this nifty cost-cutting measure: if you haven't used your card in the last year or so, your account gets deleted and you can't use the card anymore. If you then have new expenses, you have to apply for a new card.

So most of us are walking around with corporate credit cards that don't work.

Our boss told us, "Sign up for this class and put it on your corporate cards." We duly signed up for the class and put it on our cards. My co-worker, shortly thereafter, received a package of course materials; I did not.

After a week or so of waiting, I decided to call up Oracle to see what the trouble was.

My call was routed through Chile, of all places. My co-workers thought this was hilarious.

So after determining what the problem was, I contacted the correct point-of-contact within my company to get my card reinstated. Upon getting confirmation of this, I contacted Oracle again, and they were able to verify the account was active!

When my package of course materials showed up a few days later, they all joked about my "package from Chile" and wondered if I needed to keep it hidden from the Narcs.

Then the course started. And I was the only person on the roster with the words "Not Paid" next to my name.

What!?!?!?!? So I asked the helpful lady at the desk why it said I hadn't paid. She checked the online records, and those records said that I had paid, so I shouldn't worry about it.

Fine. So I took the class; and a wonderful class it was, I might add. Especially because it makes me more employable. And because my company paid for it. (Or so I thought....)

So a week or so later I got the bill from the credit card company. I opened it up, expecting to see a number vaguely resembling that on the printout I'd made when I signed up for the class--something just above five thousand dollars. (That's $3600 for each of two classes, minus a big chunk because of some discounts).

The actual number on my bill: $915.00.


So, I looked over all my records, checking to see where the nine-hundred and fifteen came from. That number was nowhere on any of my printouts, nowhere on any of my receipts. None of my expenditures were anything close to being evenly divisible by 915.

I have no idea where that number came from.

So of course, I'm very hesitant to fill out the expense report just yet. I want to make sure that I'm paying the right amount of money, so it doesn't come to haunt us later on. I mean, my employer would love to get over five thousand dollars worth of training for employees, while paying less than a fifth of that amount; but if we let it slide, eventually it will turn into a huge mess that will consume far, far more than the amount in dispute just in terms of the prorated salaries of the employees who are trying to resolve the situation.

But until it's resolved, I live in fear that the credit card legbreakers are going to be stalking my family. Although they are corporate cards, they are issued in the names of the employees, after all....

So it looks like I get to spend more time calling up women in Chile with lovely (if undecipherable) accents. (So it won't be a total waste, even if I can't get my case resolved....)



So what brought all of this up? Well, I was reminded of it today after my wife found this little tale at the site of a family friend. We thought it was very, very funny--but only because it's totally true.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

What Do You Think Of College and Employment?

Roger Z over at Zulu Blog has posted an interesting column, and is soliciting feedback. If you haven't seen it yet, take a look.

He posts an opinion column from the Wall Street Journal, that laments the fact that a four-year college degree is required for so many jobs these days, when they aren't technically needed. After all, there are a few fields--accounting is one of them--where your qualification comes not from any degree you've earned, but from passing the CPA exam. If you pass the exam--and it's a hard exam, and most fail--then you're an accountant, regardless of how well you did in school, or even whether you went.

The author of this column submits the idea that it would be better if most--if not all--jobs were qualified this way, as opposed to requiring the four-year degrees as is done so commonly these days. He argues that the skills required in many jobs don't actually match that well with what is learned in college; and that at any rate, it doesn't really matter where your skills come from (college or otherwise) so long as you can prove you have them.

Now, Arby of the Archives--who we've definitively determined wears women's underwear--weighed in, saying that the generalized critical thinking skills that he and his wife picked up in college were tremendously valuable to them when they later entered the wonderful world of employment. He agreed that they aren't actually using their major-study-area knowledge that much, but that the college experience as a whole is nevertheless a big part of their current success.

I've responded to this (in a comment that isn't yet through comment moderation), that many people do learn their critical thinking skills in college, but that this isn't the only way to get critical thinking skills; my wife's extended family, for instance, is filled with people who never got a degree, but who have enough life experience that they developed those skills anyway. I argue that many people only learn these skills in college, because with the way our society raises and educates our kids, college is the first time that they are playing without a net, with real decisions to make that have real consequences. And at any rate, there are plenty of smart, hard-working people in this world who just don't have the temperament to sit in classrooms for four years--and they need to get matched up with jobs that match their skills, too.

I also posted links to these two previous posts of mine that touch on this topic.

What do you think?

Note: best to post your comments over there. Don't want to steal any of his traffic. :-)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Carnival of Homeschooling is Up!

So, after a few months of just being blasé about my homeschooling blogging--which is one of the reasons I started this blog--I've decided to start making the minimal effort again. The Umpty-Umpth Carnival of Homeschooling is up over at Spiritbee's blog!

No, I didn't submit anything this week. Had I done so, it would have been my recent post on Egyptians and Calvin & Hobbes, so if the stuff at the Carnival doesn't float your boat, you can go read that one again.

There were a couple of posts that caught my eye this time around. This post, by Barbara Frank, warns parents--especially homeschooling parents--about the dangers of making the kids the center of their existence. That's a real danger with homeschoolers, because as Barbara says:
I mean, homeschooling takes over your life. You find yourself poring over curriculum catalogs, spending hours on the phone signing your children up for co-ops and lessons and staying up late planning upcoming learning experiences.

And that’s just in the summer! Then there’s all the time you put in working with your children, reading to them, making sure they understand concepts they’re having trouble with, taking them to zoos and museums ….add in feeding them and clothing them and making sure they live in a healthy environment, and you can easily end up living in a child-centered world. And that’s not a good thing.
True, 'dat.

I'm also one of those people who likes to trade stories about people's lives. I love to hear people talk about how they met and fell in love with their spouses; I love to hear stories about the weird things that people's kids have done lately; I love to hear stories about people's hobbies--how they developed their interests, and what kinds of "war stories" they have. And for that matter, I love to hear war stories.

Now that I'm a homeschooling parent, there's another set of stories to throw on the pile: why and how a family decided to start homeschooling, and how they've made it work for them. Along those lines, this post at Home School Online is very interesting. John Edelson talks about a class of parents that he calls "Accidental Homeschoolers." Basically, these are parents who started out with no intention of homeschooling their children, who may in fact be very sour on the wisdom of homeschooling in general; but due to events--troubles at school, poor academic progress, bully or other peer trouble, family issues--have come to the reluctant decision that homeschooling really is the least worst solution for their particular kids.

Mr. Edelson lays out some generalizations about these parents, who may in fact constitute up to half the homeschooling community:
  • Accidental homeschoolers often have the impression that they are unusual in that they are only homeschooling because it’s the best option. Many seem to feel that this sets them apart from other homeschoolers.
  • Accidental homeschoolers’ decision to homeschool often resolves a crisis, or series of crises, with the children, the school, and sometimes within the family.
  • Many accidental homeschoolers have been preoccupied trying to make traditional education work for their children so that when they finally “give-up” on schools and decide to homeschool, they find themselves with no preparation and no real idea what homeschooling means.
  • Accidental homeschoolers start with real trepidation and often with little to no enthusiasm for their endeavor.
  • The number of people starting as “accidental homeschoolers” is increasing now that the public has broad awareness and acceptance of homeschooling.
Anyway, since Tonya's and my decision to homeschool came from a totally different direction, I find the stories of these people to be somewhat strange and fascinating, and I always find I want to hear more.

So... Any homeschoolers out there want to describe your decision process? How did you finally make your decision? How did you make your first years' plans? How did it go? How much "adjustment" did you have to do as you slowly started to figure out all the rookie mistakes you were making?

Then, there's this post that I found amusing. It's about a girl who was doing her copywork practice, when her brother came in and turned on the TV. The dad posts her work, apparently for the whole internet to grade. It's pretty apparent where she was in the paper when the TV went on, because up until that point, the grammar and spelling were actually pretty good....

Anyway, there's a lot of good stuff at the Carnival this week. Check it out....

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Long Lost Winnie-The-Pooh Stories

So the Pillowfight Fairy has firmly decided that she likes the Winnie the Pooh stories. Note that these are the original A.A. Milne stories, with the illustrations by Ernest H. Shepard--not the red-shirted Pooh of Disney.

Today, during quiet time (known as "nap time" to everyone else, except that the Fairy has decided she doesn't do naps anymore, so she has "quiet time" instead), she decided that A.A. Milne hadn't done enough Winnie-The-Pooh stories, and so she decided to write a little fan fiction.

When I came home today, she presented me with a lovely tape-bound six-page illustrated work of new stories. Aside from the pervasive nihilistic undertones and glorification of gratuitous violence that seem to be a hallmark of her individual writing style, and the occasional misspelling, I was duly impressed.

I decided to share with y'all the fruits of her labor. And in case anyone asks, these works are Copyright 2008, The Pillowfight Fairy. (Which means by publishing them on the web, I'm probably getting in legal trouble. Thankfully, we haven't explained to the Fairy about lawyers yet....)

By the way, sorry about the scans truncating letters off of the pages. The pages the Fairy used happen to be just a wee bit bigger than the scanner glass, and the Fairy likes to "Explore the Space," as it were....

(She also loves the More Cowbell skit that made that phrase famous....)


About six months or so I took the Adrenaline Junkie in to get her eyes checked, as one of those innumerable routine doctors' appointments that seem to come all the time when you have three kids.

And, of course, the kids always ask the big question every time you load them up to take them to the doctor: is there going to be a shot today? Well, this time the answer was no. But she was going to get some drops in her eyes, and judging from the volume level of the unhappy victim, that was nearly as bad.

Basically the doctor threw a whole bunch of images up on the wall via projector, and had the Junkie try to identify them: house, airplane, etc. They have to do this with the youngest kids, since they don't necessarily know their letters well enough to tell you that the top line says "E".

And... the results were that the Junkie was developing a little near-sightedness in her right eye.

Thus the drops; the doctor wanted to dilate them to take a look inside and see if there was anything wrong.

His diagnosis at the time was that the left eye was fine, but that the right eye was borderline myopic--just over the edge from what is considered "normal". But he did say that kids are born myopic and often grow out of it; so we scheduled a six-month follow-up appointment to see if her eyesight would spontaneously fix itself.

Well, last week Tonya took her back in. The good news was that it hadn't gotten any worse. But the bad news was that it hadn't gotten any better, either.

So the doctor prescribed glasses. Basically, at this point the goal isn't so much to help her to see better; the goal right now is to get the eye working harder, in hopes that it will correct itself as she grows. So this set of glasses are basically reading glasses--the kind that would be used to help a far-sighted person see better.

Now, we have a bit of a fashion problem here.

The trouble is that in our family, we all have really small heads.

No personal jokes in the comments, please. There's nothing wrong with having really small heads that a well-adjusted family can't handle. And, as they keep telling us, it's not the size that counts, it's what you do with it....


But start with a three-year-old, and then figure that this three-year-old has been skimming the 5th percentile (or less) for head circumference ever since she was born.

Now try to find a pair of glasses that fits her. Good luck with that. Practically everything they tried came out looking horn-rimmed.

Ultimately they picked a pair of frames that was just about the smallest that they offered without having to be special ordered. (And they were pink. They had to be pink. Even three-year-olds take their accessories very seriously.)

Well, today the glasses were ready. What do you think?

Here's what I think.

Most of us, when seeing a picture of a kid, can make a pretty good guess how old the kid is. And even if you're not able to get it to within a year or two, you can at least tell that this one is a toddler or this one is in late elementary school or this one is in high school. To do this, we pick up on age clues. The most obvious of these is, of course, height.

But in a photograph, that clue often isn't there, and our guess of the age of the kid relies much more on the shape of the face, and the bodily proportions. In particular, large heads and tubby bodies tend to be more typical of younger kids; heads that are proportionally smaller, and bodies that are leaner, and legs that are proportionally longer, tend to clue us in that the subject of the picture is older.

The trouble is, our kids are:
  1. Tall for their age. The Adrenaline Junkie is about 85th percentile for height; and
  2. Slender. The Adrenaline Junkie is about 30th percentile for weight, and that's counting the fact that this weight is distributed on a taller frame; and
  3. Small-headed. As I said above, the Junkie is 5th percentile on a good day, and often measures less.
Basically, they have the bodily proportions of much older kids. I sometimes wonder what they'll look like when they get to be teenagers; I suspect they'll have the build of magazine models, much like their mother did.

Now. Put a pair of glasses that's almost too wide on such a face, and it makes the face look longer and thinner, and thus--when you're dealing with a preschooler--much, much older.

Well, when I first saw my three-year-old daughter in glasses today--and especially when I took those pictures and looked at them without all the size context--I nearly freaked.

That three-year-old girl looks like a teenager to me. Especially in this one:

I'm thinking I need to get that shotgun now rather than later....