Book club tonight

Book club has snuck up on me again.  Tonight we’re talking about Kafka’s The Trial and my own husband is leading the discussion.  By the look of things, he has prepared for this in just the  professorial manner one would expect from him.  I, on the other hand, have not even finished the book.

For those of you who have read about our book club dinners before, I think you’d agree that they are really the envy of book clubs everywhere.  My neighborhood is remarkably dense with gourmet cooks and wine connoisseurs, as well as people who disdain television and read voraciously.  American, French,  English and Canadian  chef/readers, and the conversation is always lively.  Tonight’s menu is “Hungarian with a Jewish twist”.  I am making Hot Hungarian Potato Salad, and there’s a mouth watering array of grilled meats, grilled vegetables, and for dessert, pastries which I cannot go near, but that’s OK.

So, I am not finishing the book right now, as I am using the time to write a blog post.  Poor time management?  Yes, probably.   But I also cannot find a quiet place to read anyplace on the piece of real-estate I call home.
People seem to like to hear about our ongoing hullaballoo, and so I will describe today’s episode here.

David, the oldest, is preparing to begin filming a movie shortly, and so we are in “pre-production” mode here.
Costumes are being drawn, sewn, dyed and (when we’re lucky) acquired from Value Village.  So we’ve spent some of the day realizing they need far more than they thought, and so the scramble for medieval clothing is now at high volume.  My sewing skills are fairly basic, but I can see now that they are about to be ramped up.  Groovy.  We went shopping, hunting, scavenging  and came home with a paltry amount of stuff and low spirits indeed.  On Tuesday, after I take my mom the the airport in Buffalo, I expect I will be hunting in shops down there.  Anybody know of a good medieval costume shop in Buffalo….I should mention this is a low budget film.

So, moving along, we arrived home a little bedraggled, we saw Daniel (who is not quite eight yrs old)  racing down the road with……yes, indeed…..he had a bottle of beer in his hand.  He dashed up to our neighbor Mark’s house.   I was looking around for somebody who might be able to tell me what was going on, when Dan reappeared at the side of the van where he breathlessly broke the magnificent news that he just bought Mark’s old  computer for the paltry sum of one cold beer and a hand tied fishing lure.
Now Daniel is busy upstairs rearranging the furniture in order to create the perfect spot for this gigantic piece of equipment.  This will be our tenth computer, by David’s count.   But the first one we got on a trade for a cold bottle of beer.

Overlapping the costumes and the computer there is Michael in the backyard building and now launching rockets.  This draws quite an ogling crowd, and I find myself calculating the cost of new windows whenever this kind of thing is happening.

And my mom has been here for several weeks, and our visit has been really nice, but I find that this she has been ill for much of her time here, as has become the expected routine.  My neighbor Brigitte’s 80 year old parents were just visiting from France, and her experience was similar to mine.  I so much appreciated her good moral support as we talked about the unexpected changes as we see our parents grow older.  In her delicious French accent she declared “Things are seldom as we might desire or expect.”    We had this chat while rockets were being launched toward her dining room windows.  She was completely unruffled, though her whippet was in a full scale panic.

And then, somebody said something like “Where’s Maggie” which set off an alarmed scramble for the 3yr old.

And here is where I found her.

All alone in Jon’s wood shop with the big loud power tools, she was trying to hammer nails into the headboard of the sleigh-bed Jon’s making.  By the time I had my camera in hand, corrections had been completed and she was on to the next thing, as you see.

Crazy stuff happens when I am not looking, so Kafka will not get finished by me today.    I do love to read Kafka though.  I feel so much at home in his crazy, stream of consciousness world so full of weird and wacky detail.

Introduction to The Institutes (and a little skunking)

I spent the week, during odd and short moments when I could sneak off alone, reading the various introductions to a couple of different editions of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, and have also skimmed over a couple of brief biographies of Calvin.  It’s been extra busy  this week, and once I had to lock myself into the powder bath room off my office so I could read undisturbed beginning at 5:30am.    I hid my running shoes so people might assume I had gone off on the trail, and I got an hour out of that little ruse.
Anyhow,  it’s all so very intriguing to me to see how the direction of Calvin’s  life changed and how he developed as a force for Christ as he responded rightly to the circumstances around him.  I am so encouraged and inspired by his struggles and his tireless labors in the face of sorrow and trials and adversity.

He was born into a pious Catholic family, and according to the Catholic websites and one kind of old and dogeared article from an old Catholic Encyclopedia, he was dutifully trained up by his mother to be a good Catholic.  And so these publications ask, basically, “What in the world happened to our boy?”  There is a suggestion that he developed a mental imbalance which manifested itself for the first time when he experienced what  he called his “conversion” as a very young man…..at which time he broke all ties with the Catholic church.

After this,  as French Protestants, among whom were  his own friends,  were being arrested and burned daily, Calvin was writing this treatise on Biblical Christian faith.    The idea in view was that anyone craving  a deeper understanding of true biblical  teachings might find them in his book.   There was nothing of the sort  available to them in the church.

What a bold and beautiful living out of the faith that is!  I love reading this book, and knowing why he put it on paper.  He gladly risked the dangers which were so pervasive  in Europe during the 1530s and ’40s, as he knew that he must stand and make the teachings of Christ plain for every man.

I am so thankful it’s still available to read, and as I have read some of this background material, it’s clear that it’s important for all believers to develop some degree of a similar ability to articulate our faith to whomever we may encounter, and we need to be particularly noisy in doing this when there appears to be persecution of the faithful going on all around us.

I was so much looking forward to putting this post together, and I wrote something up ahead of time and had to save it as a document because our internet was out for a time.  Then when I went to find it, it was all scrambled and full of what looked like cartoon character profanity….tell me you know what that looks like.  I thought, Oh….God is sovereign and would prefer that I write a different post on this, perhaps.

So I did.  And then I went to work a bit on this website, but as I am from the wrong generation and am at all times stumbling in the dark on this business of doing tricky stuff on a computer, somehow I lost post #2….it had to do with trying to cut and paste and change the font.

So that was all on Friday, then our weekend was a bit special with many many extra people, perhaps I had a total of 20 extras around my table from Friday to Sunday.

So this post was left until today.
And stuff was going on as it always does on Monday, so an hour ago I sat down to write here.  I put my little doggies outside for the last “visit” of the evening and turned my attention to this little project.  And as I settled into the chair……just at that moment,  both of my dogs were skunked right outside the dining room door.  Since all our windows are open, the aroma made a beeline for the interior of the house.  And of course,  the entire family was immediately pounding down the stairs to inform me that there seemed to be a skunk in the house upstairs.

The reason this happened is clear.  It’s because I said to someone here this morning “Can you believe the dogs haven’t been skunked even ONCE this spring!”    As the words left my mouth, I knew I should have just kept quiet.

Flying by the seat of my pants

This post is for all you mothers out there.

Do you ever sit down, probably on Sunday evening, and make a gorgeous plan for your week?

My only real gift in life is  that I can make the most fabulous schedules which are broken down into half hour segments, each with its own little box for a proscribed activity, the accomplishment of which will move  the day along like a Swiss railway.

These schedules are like oxygen to me.  And if anyone wants to hear where I got my itch to create them, see me after the lecture….oh…. sorry….. you can just click on this link to find the program that I love the most.

But anyway, because Monday was a holiday in the country where I live now, and because my husband, an anchor and a rock of northern European orderliness, was in Barcelona, and because I am mothering a baby raccoon in addition to the other six humans, two dogs, two cats, two giant lizards and a snake, and because my mother is here and wants to chat for much of the morning, and because I am by nature a flake…..I am just way off kilter.  I never made a schedule, and it appears that I cannot operate without one.

The garden is screaming at me to pull more weeds, plant more clematis and periwinkle, and divide the overbloated hosta.  So I have spent an outrageous amount of time working on that.
And there is a gigantic neighborhood yard sale this Saturday, and there’s a pile of stuff to get ready to sell.
And next  Monday our backyard will be dug up so that I can have a beautiful new patio, and that means there are plants to be moved, saved, and watered, watered, watered.

And then there was that  two hour badminton tournament yesterday.

It’s as if we have been overtaken by a kudzu growth of paralyzing spring fever.

So the punchline to all this blather is that we have hardly done any schooling at all this week.  Like, almost nothing at all!   I heard Helen tell my mother in law on the phone that we were having spring break this week.  That was a sweet way to put it.   But Helen’s like that, she would be the perfect diplomat.  Some kids might have said “Mom seems to be turning into a hippie surfer dude, please send help.”  But Helen makes it sound respectable.

I would like to open a homeschooling mothers confessional here….I have an idea I’m not the only person  for whom this has occurred.

Next week, we will hit the books hard, and I expect it will be a beastly chore to get those kids back in the house after this week outside.

Grendel’s Den

We have just finished celebrating Victoria Day Weekend here in Canada.  It’s one of those weekends that’s most commonly celebrated with tons of gardening work followed by  flopping theatrically into lawn chairs.  We got to go to a party too.  Even though we are only Americans, we followed all the rules and partied like Canadians, and we celebrated Victoria just right.

But we had a cute little cherry on top.  And here he is:

This is a five week old baby raccoon which I found wandering on a busy road.  He had no mother in sight, and I really did look for her.  We have named him Grendel   We are having good success feeding him, and he’s living in the old rabbit hutch and doing quite well.  His favorite meal is warm condensed milk with a bit of raw egg yolk.

My ambition is to release him, when he’s old enough to fend for himself, into the wild just a few miles north of us, where there is an abundance of corn, lots of streams, and very few houses.

I have been amazed by the variety of opinions held upon the subject of raising abandoned baby raccoons.
Anybody reading here ever done this?  And if so, do you have any good advice?

Preparing for Christmas a little early

My friend Scott posted on his facebook page last year some pretty inspirational photos of his extended family’s Christmas celebration at which all gifts were hand-made by the giver, nothing was purchased.  In each photo, each recipient is holding his/her gift with such a look of amazed appreciation.  And they were just having the most contagiously great time.

I kept returning to those photographs, admiring the creativity and love in each of the gifts.   I remember that there was a picnic table, a beautiful turned wood light post, handmade interior furniture, tie-dyed shirts, cookies, and so much more.  For a brief moment, I thought I would ask if they would adopt us.  Then, in a flash of insight I thought “Why join them when I can  just copy them in a shameless way?”

So that’s what we are doing.  This year, we are picking up the challenge, and the kids and I have come up with some pretty fun ideas for gifts to give to people in our house.  We won’t do the entire extended family this year, we’re starting with a more manageable task.

I cannot share all the things that are being prepared, though I will do my level best to remember to get pictures of it all at Christmas.   And as I am making and looking for ideas for things to make, I thought I would share that I am getting some ideas from this blog right here, the blog of my friend Paula.

I have also gotten some cool ideas from knitting blogs and books, but if I show those it would spoil some surprises.  It’s been so much fun working on projects for my little gang and then tucking some things away already, knowing that I have  sweet gifts to pull out in December….

Friday, May 7

I sprang out of bed at 5am, ready to do something amazing with this day.  I had it in mind to sit down and write an amusing blog post about how stimulating it is to read aloud (serially, but in one sitting) Winnie the Pooh, Moby Dick, a biography of Christopher Colombus which is of mediocre quality, and Jensen’s Grammar, and then to read Kafka silently when my tiny brain is already over-full.  I thought there might be something funny in that……

After reading Ephesians, Proverbs and a little smack of John Calvin,  I sat down at the computer to write my amusing post.   My ancient, arthritic, obese dog saw this as his cue and threw-up just behind my chair.
So I didn’t write anything….as I was busy cleaning up dog throw-up, with a cheerful attitude.
And, since  I was up, I got the laundry moving,  figured out breakfast for seven, chatted with my burly husband, threw back a couple of cups of coffee ,  and then sat down to write an amusing blog post at 6:15.
Just then,  Two Children entered the room squabbling about something trivial.
I stopped writing, gave a mini-lecture about The Blessedness of the Peace-Maker and then  went straight out for a long run on the trail by the river, while the squabblers made peace and went over their math corrections.

There is nothing as rejuvenating as a run in the green green forest in May, by the way.
Once home, I showered, fed the gang and planned the day with them, cleaned the kitchen up, did  math and grammar lessons, marked a geometry test,  paid a pile of bills, and then sat down to write an amusing blog post.  While I was trying to be amusing, there were four people in the room talking to me and about me, and then the phone rang adding one more talking person which caused my brains to melt and ooze out of my ears.  When I read whatever I had written, I discovered that it was not amusing in the least.  It seemed like a good time to put together the information the Heart and Stroke Foundation asked me to prepare for them to pick up by 9am…as it was 8:45.

Then I corralled a couple of well-behaved kids,  and we popped out to shop for a new toilet to replace the one which was ruined forever when the septic tank reversed itself explosively into my guest room two weeks ago.
While we were out, we decided to   pick up a new  rug to replace the one that was rendered unfit for humanity on the day of the revenge of the septic tank.   It occurred to me that my mother is coming in four days, and I have to get the room all cozy for her.

~~After one’s septic tank backs up, for a few days it’s just immensely satisfying to have the room CLEAN and STERILE again.  Cozy comes later.

We also bought  32 chicken legs on sale, and the makings of cherry pie a-la-mode,  a bottle of gin and some white wine, three DVD’s for the price of one, a can of paint for the shelving in the mud-room (Benjamin Moore, Raisin), and then arrived home with an ache in my head.

Then, I thought I would write an amusing blog post about reading a pile of unrelated books and having not much of a brain, but now I see there is nothing to laugh at in there.   Daniel and I have spent a bit of time talking about how to best love one’s sisters.  And someone just rolled by to announce that a certain written assignment due on Monday is going to cause them to perhaps run away and become a gypsy.
I think that the point of this post is that my brain IS over full and not large enough.

I am thinking of hiring a stunt blogger for Fridays.

Anybody interested? I will be in the hammock…….


Mixing it up with a little physics quiz…

Anyone who has spent any time at all with my kids since August 2009 is aware that the three oldest are staggering toward the horizon under a crushing weight of physics and chemistry which has been lovingly laid upon their shoulders by their father.

Have any of you heard them groan and complain about this?
Yes, we have all heard it…..and I think it’s kind of funny because I know they don’t really mean it.  If you have heard any physics complaints which were particularly creative, you can share them here as a comment.  It might encourage some other mother who’s got kids howling and writhing on the floor over grammar or algebra or something.

And just to give you an idea of the fun side of physics, and by way of cheering us all up and blowing away some of the thick fog of The Faerie Queene…..here are two of the first questions on a physics test from a few months ago.  Please try to work out the answers and leave them as comments below.  Anyone who gets this one right wins a free copy of Gene Veith’s book Reading Between the Lines. In case you aren’t familiar with this book, read the quotes from it below.

Question One:  Peter is driving along the road at 40 miles an hour.  He throws a bag of garbage out the window at 30 miles and hour (he is very strong).  How far away is he from  the garbage when it hits the ground two minutes later?

And Question Two:  John was right next to the car when Peter threw out the garbage.  How far might John have to walk before he would find the garbage ?

(If you can only answer one question, but you get the correct answer, you are still right. )


Seventeen Years of Real Life

There we are.   Audrey took this photo last night, which was the 17th anniversary of the nearly fateful day when Jon and I were, for a few hours,  refused permission to get a marriage license.

We managed to pull that one out of the fire after a couple of hours of racing around downtown Hendersonville, NC where we persuaded a physician we hardly knew to give us each a physical on the spot, fully clothed, in a stairwell.  I believe he said “You both look pretty good to me.” and he checked off all the necessary boxes and signed his name.
Jon and I  ran back to the courthouse just before closing time, snatched our license up and got hitched 48 hours later on a brilliant spring day surrounded by people we love.

Much of the seventeen years that followed have been like that Thursday afternoon.   Just when it all looks one way, something else rears up and changes the landscape.   And I think it’s all working out pretty fine. What a gift this man  is to me.

Men, Women, Heavy Equipment and Flowers

This post is for my cute husband.   Does that gross anybody out?
PDA on the blog.   He gets a blog post all his own because
A) he is in Amsterdam  wretchdly sleep-deprived waiting for a plane to take him those last couple of inches (on my map)  to Oslo, and  I miss him.  And….

B) he told me four times last night that I have to write this on the blog because  he thinks

1)  it is much more funny than it really is, and  2) it reflects the universal breakdown in communication between Men and Women.

So, in order to get to this story you have to lean way back to May 16, 2002, on which day, Jon hopped into his fun little convertible on a flawless blue-sky California morning with the intoxicating scent of jasmine heavy in the air.

(His car would have been just in the driveway at the back of the photo here.)  And  before he drove out across the canyon to Loma Linda, just a little  too casually he asked if I would be home that day….as something was being delivered  and I should be there when it arrived.       I smiled, nodded, and then hauled my 35 weeks pregnant/almost 40 year old hulk towards our house, which was almost entirely in the deep throws of major renovation, thinking “Flowers, he’s sending flowers….what a guy”                                                                                                                                                                                                        So the day droned on, I and my four little darlings doing domestic things………. the things we did on any ordinary California day…….like A-beka Math, fumigating black widow spiders in the  day…….like A-beka Math, fumigating black widow spiders in the Tonka trucks, shooting the odd rattle snake, shooing tarantulas out of the kitchen, and watching coyote packs drink out of the baby pool.

And after lunch I began to fill the large wash tub in the laundry room with water so I could bathe some animal.

Then, I heard the sound of a large truck (Uncommon for us out in the wilderness where we lived)  and I dropped everything and went to investigate.

It was a big giant truck trying to tie itself into a tiny knot so it could fit through the hairpin  turn  with gateposts on either side which was our driveway.   When the side of the truck kissed the gate and kept plunging ahead, the screeching of metal completely liquified my spine.   I nearly fainted.

It was also noticing that  it wasn’t a florist’s truck.

I think the driver decided to off-load his parcel at the foot of the driveway, and bring it up on that machine that is some kind of cousin of a bob-cat, which you sometimes see  clinging for dear life on the tailgate of an 18-wheeler.
I was  thinking “What on earth…?” or something similar and he was hauling  this enormous box, larger than larger than the bob-cat thingy that was pushing it up the 45 degree incline to the house.   Without a word of English, and my not knowing how to understand what he said in Spanish, he drove it into the garage, set it down,  handed me an invoice and left.

I marched down right behind him to see what he had done to the cast iron gate (which I had just finished painting)……..

.and examined the chipped bricks which would need to be filled in and repainted, grumbling a little as I went along.  Here is a photograph of that gate, just to give you an idea.

I read the invoice and saw that  a very, very nice table saw had just been bestowed upon us.
And so I trudged into the kitchen, thinking that a table saw would certainly help us finish the renovations more than flowers would have.

And then I heard water running.  And for a minute or two, I continued to hear water running, until it dawned on me that I had left the washtub filling…..I had completely and utterly forgotten it as I was so freaked out by that truck demolishing my gate post.

Well……the laundry room (where the water was running) was a long skinny room, with the ironing board along one side, and an iron on it, which was turned on.  It was plugged into an extension cord, and the connection was on the floor.

But I didn’t think about that when I saw that the floor was 3 inches deep in the water
which had overflowed the sink.  So I headed straight for the faucet intending to turn off the water,
and planted my right foot squarely on the little bit of exposed electricity just at the connection between the iron and the extension cord.

And I felt the most astonishing sensation of electricity in my face.  It threw me back, and I grabbed the cord and pulled it out of the wall

A few of us spent the rest of the day wet-vaccuuming the lime green carpet of that laundry room.  And later, I ripped the carpet out, before heading down the driveway to plaster over the missing chunk of my gate-post.


He  heard the story last night for the first time, and now he sees this as some kind of metaphor for all marriage miscommunication.
In addition, he laughed his head off.
It was one of those things where his laughter was funnier than the joke.

So then I was laughing at him, and he was laughing at this thing that’s really no funnier than a whole lot of other days I can remember at that address in the desert in California.

I often look around myself in Canada, and California seems like another universe, entirely.