Wednesday, July 27, 2005


I recently went out with some other moms for, well, a moms-night-out type of thing. Just dinner, drinks, and conversation. The five of us live in the same area, and all have daughters the same age; no one works full time.

It’s supposed to be rejuvenating—getting out of the house, connecting with others, taking a break from the family, right? So why did I come home depressed?

First, the assumption that you need a break from your family bothers me. I love my family, and for the most part I enjoy cooking for us, and generally being with them. I do not need to get away from them; or, if I do, I want solitude, not other people. Some of these moms clearly dislike spending time with their families. (Yeah, I feel that way about some of their kids too.)

Second, the assumption that your children’s friends’ parents will be your friends leaves a lot to be desired. As D crudely puts it, the only thing I have in common with these women is that we all got laid eleven years ago. Four of our daughters attended Catholic school together for several years. The other family, although choosing public school for their daughter, is also Catholic. So I’m different there, too, and switching to homeschooling for The Girl just magnifies that. Now add to this the fact that they all went to high school in the area and are related to half the county.

Then we can move on to surface things like manicures, pedicures, and make-up, which actually reflect larger differences in values. I don’t want to imply that the other women are superficial and I’m deep; but it’s clear that I value different things than they do. The talk turned to going to a resort (Mexico or Jamaica) for a week—just “us girls.” “Oh, it wouldn’t be that expensive, if you’re only paying for yourself—maybe $1,000.” Well, let’s say I had a thousand discretionary dollars—that’s not how I’d choose to spend it.

In one class in graduate school, we did a “values clarification” exercise where we were given a long list of attributes (honesty, flexibility, intelligence, etc.) and ranked them in order of how important they were to us in choosing a new job/boss. Next, the instructor broke us into groups based on our external characteristics—for example, I was placed in the working-mom-with-a-baby group, not the young-single-white-male group, or the studious-Asian-female group. Surprise, surprise, the things that were valued highly by others in my group didn’t rank high on my list. Maybe my rankings didn’t line up with anyone in the class, but it sure wasn’t reasonable to categorize me based on my external, umm, lifestyle.

So, a night out with the other moms just reminds me that I’m different. The solution? Seek out friends with whom you actually do have things in common, not those who live nearby and all had sex at the same time.


Another problem with the night out involved our daughters directly. One mom needed a sitter, because hubby wouldn’t be home till later. I told her to bring her kids to my house (her son is a few years younger than The Boy, but adores him). Next the daughter of mom #2 was invited, and oh, can’t leave out their boy—same age as mine. So I’m already imposing on D. by leaving him with a houseful of kids, even if he’ll mostly be working outside.

Now Mom #3 calls an hour before we’re supposed to go and says, “Why are you having all the girls and haven’t invited L____?” What can I do? Say, “No, she’s been a snotty brat to The Girl every time they’ve seen each other this summer”? Say, “No, enough is enough”? Say, “It’s rude to invite yourself to someone else’s house” (a lesson I try to impress on my kids)? Say, “The other girls don’t want L____," even though I know this to be true?

Of couse not. I say, “Sure, bring her over too!” (I was bold enough to tell her that her horrible twin boys were not welcome—she was probably insulted, even though I didn’t use the word horrible, but happily, they were busy elsewhere.) Got off the phone and The Girl was indeed not happy to have L___ added to the mix.

My dad has a saying:
A dog’s a dog.
Two dogs is half a dog.
Three dogs is no dog at all.
Meaning, if you want a dog to pay attention and do things for you, the fewer the better.

D. has pointed out that this aphorism also applies to the girls. Ours is responsible, and gets along well with The Boy. Two girls could have reasonably been expected to keep an eye on the boys, and perhaps even play with them. Three or four of them? Not gonna happen.

As it turned out, after some initial uncertainly about who was going to be friends with whom, the girls had ice cream and watched a movie, the boys played nicely, and one dad (the smartest, least annoying one) stayed around and talked with D for a couple hours. I probably would have enjoyed that conversation more than the one I had.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


We grow vegetables, and so we eat vegetables. I certainly eat more of them than I have at any other time in my life, and even the kids are pretty good at it. D will eat pretty much anything—his rules are that it should be 1) peeled and 2) cooked thoroughly (both of which I admit to having problems complying with at times).

The kids eat broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, beans, peas, bok choy, celery, corn, potatoes, tomatoes. The Boy turns up his nose at onions (it’s really hard for me to cook without these) and sometimes peppers. Both avoid mushrooms. The Girl will eat kohlrabi. Neither is a big salad/lettuce fan—it just doesn’t have any taste to them. I cook most vegetables plain, no fancy sauces, sometimes butter or cheese but usually not.

The Girl once asked why books so often feature kids who don’t eat their vegetables, a literary convention she doesn’t understand.

Recently we had our first beets. D grew up with them, loves them, no problem. Per his instructions, I cooked them like carrots. The Boy tried a couple, then asked for seconds. The Girl tried them, but wasn’t overly fond of them.

Here’s my bad mom secret: I didn’t have any. I don’t know if I like beets or not. I’ll eat eggplant (anything cooked in butter and topped with cheese is palatable), but I wouldn’t try the beets.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Ok, finished!

We had two copies to share among three readers. The Girl finished early Sunday afternoon, The Boy finished Sunday after supper (I believe he read it all, although he may have skipped portions), and I finished after they both went to bed. Now The Girl is re-reading it, to savor it and study it, rather than just find out what happens.

You end with a sense of disappointment, because we’ll all have to wait two years (?) to find out how it ends. At least it had a more “finished” end than I thought the fourth book did.

My thoughts:
1. Good story, moves along well. The identity of “a main character” who dies will not be a surprise to most astute observers.
2. Some characters seem to have parts just because they’ve been in previous books (Fleur, Dobby, Kreacher).
3. When the title was first announced (what, a year ago?), I was correct in my guess of who it referred to! (The Girl can verify this.) The title seems to be a misnomer—the story is not about “Harry and the Half Blood Prince” in the way the first was about the Sorcerer’s Stone, the second the Chamber of Secrets, etc. At least I didn’t see it that way.
4. I think the verdict is still out on Snape—where his loyalties lie, and how he’ll ultimately behave. He is, truly, the most interesting character in the stories, and I think Alan Rickman will forever be defined by how he’s played this role.

Is it great literature? No, but you have to keep reading to find out what happens, just as I’m eagerly awaiting the next entry from George R.R. Martin, ever since a friend turned me on to his current series. When I started reading these, I thought it was supposed to be a trilogy—but the third one ends abruptly and with many plot points unresolved, and now I learn
I can anticipate at least seven of these. Brad deLong (I think) has proposed a rule about not starting any series till it’s completely published. I guess to be truly safe you’d amend that to, till the author’s dead--Douglas Adams isn’t likely to be adding a sixth book to the Hitchhiker’s Guide “trilogy”.

Saturday, July 16, 2005


Can't blog. Must read. Three readers are sharing one book. Hope second copy will arrive soon in mail.

Thursday, July 14, 2005


A few years ago a friend and I saw the movie “Unfaithful,” starring Diane Lane as a woman who cheats on her husband (Richard Gere). Afterwards my friend got all sanctimonious about the Lane character: “She had a perfect life! Why would she cheat? I would NEVER cheat on S.”

Well, I like to believe I’d never cheat on D., but I thought the point of the movie was that exactly: even given a perfect life, a perfect house, a perfect husband, a perfect child—what are the temptations? What would lead you to stray? And aren’t you all the more susceptible, when you believe you’d never do that?
That’s crazy talk

The Boy (during some movie): What does psychotic mean?
Me: You can't tell what's real from what's your imagination.
The Girl: I thought that's what schizophrenia is.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


I've been reading Michael O'Brien's A Landscape with Dragons because it was recommended on a homeschool list; it contains a lengthy list of books that the author considers OK for kids to read. We own many of them, and have read some. Generally, they are very wholesome stories, probably nothing written within the last 30 years.

His thesis is that if an author portrays dragons (and snakes) as anything other than malevolent, the author is trying to corrupt children's minds, and turn them into pagans. (It was written pre-Harry Potter, but I'm sure he'd condemn those books as well.) On this basis, some great female writers are right out--Patricia Wrede, LeGuin, L'Engel. (He also critiques Disney movies as blatently anti-Christian; ho hum, how original.)

I can't accept the idea that some symbols are inherently evil.

From a review on a Christian site:

What happens if parents reflexively label a multitude of fantasy books as "bad" or "satanic" and forbid their children to read them? Children aren't stupid, and they aren't going to stay ten forever, either. Sooner or later they're going to notice that their fantasy-reading friends aren't turning into satanists or neopagans. They may even read some of the forbidden books for themselves, and realize that there's really nothing harmful in them. If the parents have made a big moral issue out of the books, they'll be discredited, and not just on literary matters. The children may very well think, "If being a Christian means thinking that innocuous books are secretly evil, maybe being a Christian isn't so smart." And they'll be far less likely to listen to their parents, because they've seen how faulty their parents' judgment can be. The scars from such an upbringing can last a long time and keep people very far from the faith.

What a great understanding. If being a Christian means thinking that innocuous books are secretly evil, maybe being a Christian isn't so smart. Therein lies the root of much adolescent rebellion; how are you going to respond when your kids realize that you lied to them?

I am long past the point of being able to know the content of everything The Girl reads. I suspect, but haven't inspected it to be sure, that some of the fantasy she's inhaled contains s-e-x. Although I occasionally recommend books to her, I have never forbidden her from reading a particular book (and yes, in many cases you CAN judge a book by its [lurid] cover).

At 10, probably a lot of stuff in the young adult section of the library is beyond her. But far better to help and allow our kids to develop and apply their own judgment, than to stunt their exposure through the application of arbitrary rules like, "Dragons must be shown as evil." If she came home with "The Rainbow Party" would I be alarmed, would I intercede? Yes! But while I can believe that it's wrong to let a 10 year old read books about peers having oral sex parties, I won't apply a blanket rule that all dragons must be portrayed as bad.

You could argue that allowing free access to books is in opposition to what I previously wrote about letting kids watch TV. I'm able to make a distinction among various media. (And for the record, I don't believe watching TV is bad; there's just many better things to do with your time and your mind. Besides, we don't forbid the kids from watching. We presented choices to them in such a way that they just aren't as interested in TV as in other activities.)

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

We don’t watch TV. We do own one—a single 19 year old set.

When The Girl was born, and we lived in The City, D and I would come home every night from our power jobs, pick her up from day care, and eat supper on the couch while watching “The Simpsons.” This went on till she was 2 ½, right about the time I realized that she really ought NOT be modeling the antics of Bart and Lisa. (We didn’t even have a table in our kitchen then, so we HAD to eat in front of the TV.)

We moved, I became a SAHM, we had The Boy, and the TV moved to its new home, the focal point of the living room. We didn’t watch during meals anymore, and there were no TVs in our bedrooms. But every weekday, The Girl, The Boy, and I would watch “Arthur,” followed by “The Magic School Bus” on PBS. I knew that no matter what the day was like, at 3:00 I could sit on the couch for an hour. We planned outings around being home by 3:00.

And as in most American families, it was all too easy every night to turn it on, sit, and absorb whatever cr*p it threw out. Network only (plus PBS and a couple independent stations)—we never had satellite or cable.

About three years ago (I know it was in the living room on 9/11), D understood that for everyone’s own good, we were going to move it upstairs to a back bedroom. I was uncertain about this decision. The Boy, not yet in school, could easily be entertained with a movie, and I thought I’d miss the convenience of having it (and him) so close when I was working in the kitchen. At three, he wasn’t the type to go watch a movie by himself, far away from everyone else.

It’s been great. One of the best things we’ve ever done.

We have a VCR, and a DVD player, and a complication of remotes to make it all work. No TIVO; the only thing we’ve recorded lately is Nova. (We have computer games that play when plugged into a TV—guess what, the TV is so ancient it doesn’t have the necessary port. They have to be used with a computer monitor. An Amiga monitor, in fact, because it’s the only one with built-in speakers.)

We do watch movies, mostly obtained free from the library, and D & I will very, very rarely watch TV—usually after our movie’s ended! The kids see no commercials, or stupid sitcom portrayals of families, or sexy images marketing something, or horrible local “news” feeds featuring the latest sad shooting, house fire, car wreck, or missing child. I can do all the worrying about such things quite enough for all of us, thank you very much. Nobody ever turns it on just to “see what’s on.”

Now when I do see kid TV (hotels, the grandparents’ houses), I’m struck not so much by the toy promotion as the food pushing. Fast food restaurants, goofy snacks, sugar water beverages. No wonder kids are fat.

So I don’t keep up with Survivor, 24, or Desperate Housewives. D doesn’t spend weekends watching sports (not that he every did). (The Boy is oddly fascinated by televised sports when he gets a glimpse, which is a little . . . unsettling.) I can’t make small talk about TV shows.

Are the kids socially isolated from their TV-watching peers? Yes. Good.
Are the kids super readers because of no TV? Yes. Great.
Am I surprised about what other parents let their kids watch? Constantly.
Am I well informed? Plenty, thanks to newspapers and the internet.

I’m not in the camp that says there should be a lot more censoring (either by government or the producers) of TV content. I’m firmly with those who say turn it off, just don’t watch if it offends you.

Monday, July 11, 2005


The funniest thing I read this weekend:
. . . there has never been a discussion that David Brooks hasn't felt he could add something intelligent to, even when he walks in stone-cold ignorant of all facts pertaining to the matter.

after Brooks said he didn’t have enough facts to have formed an opinion about Intelligent Design.

The kids, especially the boy, have been getting cartoon anthologies from the library, mostly Calvin & Hobbes.

It’s better when cartoonists hang it up when they’re done with the strip, rather than dragging an idea on for too many years (paging Mary Worth), or aging their characters (Lynn Johnston has managed this somewhat successfully in “For Better or Worse.”) Can you imagine if Bill Watterson had made Calvin grow up?

Calvin would now be a teenager, attending an alternative high school for troubled kids, doped up on Ritalin for his obvious ADHD and something stronger (lithium?) for schizophrenia—the inability to distinguish fantasy from reality. His mom would be overweight and selling real estate; his dad, long gone. Ooh, lots of comic possibilities there.

So far this year I have frozen strawberries (from the pick-your-own nearby farm, not ours), frozen broccoli, and canned pickles. Normally I freeze (corn, beans, basil, parsley), can (pickles, tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato juice, applesauce, pickle beans), and dehydrate (tomatoes, jerky, onions). Carrots, onions, potatoes, cabbage, and squash will keep “as is” a long time in a moderately cool place (the barn or the basement).

After the broccoli ripened the end of June, too early for the Farmers’ Market, D brought three large crates of it to the kitchen. I spent an evening cleaning, blanching (holding briefly in boiling water), cooling, and packing it into freezer bags. (You’re supposed to blanch it to kill the growing enzymes. As a test, this year I froze some that had skipped the blanch, just to see how the quality ends up. If I can avoid filling the kitchen with steam on a hot summer day, so much the better.)

I ended up with about 20 bags of vegetables for about three hours work. Is it worth it? Looked at strictly on an economic basis, probably not--although it's not as though I could have been getting paid for that time instead. I look at it with some additional perspectives: 1) it teaches the kids about self-sufficiency (not all food comes from the store); 2) it disciplines me to master preserving techniques; 3) it really does taste better; 4) I feel “rich” knowing I have a house full of food; 5) it honors my mom's experiences and values; and 6) I enjoy it.

We’re not like the Mormons, who I believe are supposed to keep at least a year’s worth of food stored for their family in case of disaster. We’re not like the Y2K fanatics who squirreled away flour, beans, and MREs in secret bunkers. But, in case of some horrible event, we could do a better job than most families of feeding ourselves. I could feed us for a long time on the contents of my pantry and freezer (sadly, that does take power which might not exist, depending on the crisis).

Wendell Berry writes:
A nation determined to defend itself and its freedoms should be prepared, and
always preparing, to live from its own resources and from the work and the
skills of its own people.

So, by preserving my own food, I’m contributing to national security.

Why is it so easy to blog during the week (when I’m at the real job), but so hard to blog on weekends (because that’s when I’m really working, or exhausted from it)?

Friday morning was spent taking the kids to the library in Big City. They’ve been curious about it for a while, and it’s in an old, impressive building, so we made the trek there. A library card for non-residents is $60 annually, so I told them we weren’t going to check out books, but they could read and explore. We weren’t there half an hour when the girl commented that our local library has a better kids’ section (she’s right). Plus, we have a great inter-library loan system, so any book in our system (about 10 libraries) can be obtained within a couple days, and virtually any book in the state can also be requested. It was a great day to be out and about; if I were 25 and with girlfriends it would have been fun to shop, then go to some cute deli or restaurant with outdoor seating, but not practical this day. We ended up at Noodles, a place the girl and I really like. Yeah, it's just a tacky franchise, but an interesting one!

The boy is not a picky eater at home, but when we eat out his tastes are limited: usually a cheeseburger, occasionally a grilled cheese sandwich. At Noodles, he settled for a bowl of chicken noodle soup.

After returning home, I told them they had to pay for taking the morning off (and getting me to loaf!), so they picked peas while I weeded. And weeded, and weeded, then picked cucumbers for the Farmers’ Market on Saturday.

Friday night D took a shower and got up early to get set up at the market. I was filthy but exhausted, so delayed cleaning up till Saturday. First thing in the morning I stumble to the shower, anticipating how great it will feel to get clean—twist the control—no water. Something about the well, the well pipe, and the field irrigation. I cleaned up and covered up as best I could with baby wipes and baby powder (strange; even though the youngest is 7, I still have certain “baby” supplies), went to the market, D came home and worked on the water.

Odd how preoccupied with surface cleanliness Americans are. We take for granted hot, clean water, and our ability to frequently run gallons of it down the drain. Most electron wrestlers in air conditioned offices feel they need a daily shower. Here’s a secret: I don’t shower every day, especially in the winter.

And here’s my normal tip for new parents: your baby doesn’t need a bath every day. You’re washing the dirtiest parts (face, hands, genitals) several times a day anyway—skip the daily bath. With a newborn, there’s better things to do with your time.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Let slip the dogs . . .

While biking with the boy this weekend, one of the neighbors’ (three) rottweilers came running out to the road and made him spill over. She then retreated to her yard; I still consider it an attack. The boy was wearing a helmet, but scraped up his knees, elbow, and face.

Later, after he described the event for the girl:

The girl: “Did you go to their house and yell at them?”
Me: “No, worse.”
The girl: “You sent DAD to yell at them?”
Me: “No, not that bad, just the cops.”

The deputy came to our house, took a report, went to their place to “give them a warning,” and called me later. He was nice, but really, what’s the point. As D says, if something now “happens” to the dogs, they’ll think we did it.

Deputy’s update: the dog is pregnant (great, additional rottweiler neighbors coming soon!), she “would never hurt anyone,” (get a clue, she just did), report when they’re loose again and a $140 ticket “may” be issued.

That’s the drill: first offense, warning. Second and subsequent times, a ticket. But as I think about it, this is at least the fourth time one of their dogs has been loose. And they always act menacing when we walk or bike past. Because we live in a rural area, people think it’s their right to let their dogs run free.

P.S. Dog licensing fee in our area is just $3 for neutered animals, slightly more if “intact.” Bet they haven’t even paid that pittance.

And why, when making a police report, is it necessary to record my child’s school??? Answer: because the computer won’t let you enter the report without filling in that blank. At least for the boy, I didn’t have to reveal that we’re wacky homeschoolers.


I’m jarred (although I suppose I no longer should be) when people who ought to know better improperly use the pronoun “I.” As in, “He gave it to my wife and I.” Our school superintendent does this. My kids’ kindergarten teacher uses this construction as well.

Some supposedly educated people apparently feel as though they should never use the word “me.” If you can’t be bothered to remember the distinction between subjects and objects, use the easy rule I learned from my mom: test it without the other person in the sentence. Would you say, “He gave it to I”? Of course not.

And don’t even get me started on “it’s.” And “myself.”