Monday, April 30, 2007

Lost Tooth!

I'm interrupting my regularly scheduled blogging to make a very important announcement. Madeleine, at the age of six years and eight months has lost her first tooth and is just a wee bit excited about the event.

No, Superdad didn't really use the pliers. He used one of those rubber circles that are used for twisting lids off jars to pull the dangling tooth out.

Madeleine immediately started jumping around and screaming at the top of her lungs while racing into the bathroom so she could see what she looked like.

Madeleine tells us the Tooth Fairy's going rate for a tooth among her fellow first graders is $5. Seems a bit high to me but Madeleine is confident that that's what she'll receive since all the other kids did. It only seems fair...


We spent this past weekend up in Wisconsin's Northwoods with Superdad's family. Saturday was a gorgeous spring day and the weather dictated that we simply must spend the day outside.

What does one do outside in the Northwoods on a beautiful spring day? Why, shoot guns, of course. I had never even seen a gun in real life (well, other than on a police officer) until I met Superdad, let alone shot one. I had no interest in it, I wasn't going to do it and no one could make me.

But then I met Superdad and he loved to hunt and I wanted to impress Superdad, so I agreed to go out to a shooting range with him so that he could site in his rifle for the upcoming deer season. While there he asked me if I wanted to shoot.

"No!" I thought to myself. "Um, sure," is what came out of my mouth.

What followed is an enjoyment of target shooting. No, I have no interest in going hunting, and I don't have to impress Superdad anymore, so I feel pretty confident saying I'll never go, but target shooting is a completely different matter. It brings out my usually repressed competitive nature.

On Saturday the shooting was just my speed. Superdad and Super Grandpa set up a target and brought out the baby gun (a .22 rifle) since my girly, delicate shoulder can't handle any sort of recoil. I was a little annoyed that the kids got to go first, but I tried to act like an adult and waited my turn.

Hank was beside himself at the opportunity to shoot a real gun. Superdad and I weren't entirely sure if Hank was ready to grasp the seriousness of the situation and act accordingly. Boy, were we wrong.

Superdad ran through a lengthy gun safety speech, complete with how-tos and what to never, ever do and I think Hank knows the rules better than I do now. Superdad decided he was mature enough to try it out.

I never realized exactly how much there is to know about a gun: how to clean it, how to load it, how to chamber a round, how to know when to shoot, when not to shoot, when to turn the safety off, etc. and was always a bit nervous around guns. I still am, to a degree since I can't do all of those things but I rely on Superdad to be there and provide instruction (I would never, ever shoot on my own; I don't know enough). I've come to believe that if you think your child might become a hunter (which Hank already says he wants to be) that it's important to start teaching them the basics early on so that by the time they're in the woods with a weapon on their own the rules of firing a gun safely are second nature.

Finally, it was my turn. I kicked butt with the .22; packing in five shots in a 2" radius, and then moved onto Super Grandpa's 9MM pistol. I didn't do quite so well with that, but it was still fun. Superdad wants to buy me a 9MM so we can join a gun club and target shoot together. Romantic, huh?

For those who blame the violence in the world on the mere existence of guns are who are loathing this gun post, fear not. Later in the day we took a lovely walk through old family haunts and gorgeous Northwoods scenery. But since we didn't shoot anything, I thought I'd save the walk for a post of its own (tomorrow, maybe?).

Sunday, April 29, 2007

My New Living Room

You all already know how much I love the mail. It's beyond pathetic, really, how much I love the mail.

But there's something I love even more than the mail: a UPS or Fed Ex delivery. I admit it, if I hear a large truck coming down our street I drop everything, run to the window and cross all my fingers and toes that it will stop in front of my house, even if I'm not expecting anything.

Imagine my elation this past week when the Fed Ex Ground truck slowed and eventually stopped in front of my house! YIPPEE!! My speedy little Fed Ex delivery guy sprinted up to my door carrying a rather large package and my level of giddiness was beyond measure. I ripped right into the package and found my IKEA slipcovers (you know, the ones I had to order on eBay because IKEA sucks).

We bought our Jennylund IKEA chairs about three years ago. We chose the white slipcovers because we liked the way they looked and figured they'd be easy to wash. What I never factored in was 1) well, they're white and get filthy easily and quickly and 2) they take a minimum two days to wash and dry (more if you're like me and forget to take them out of the washing machine) so that's two days where I would bar the door so people couldn't peek in and see my un-slipcovered chairs.

They look fine, even when with a little bit of a "lived-in" look (read: dirty) but those greedy bastards at IKEA keep designing cuter and more tempting slipcovers every year. I finally told myself I could just order a spare set; you know, so when one was being washed I wouldn't have to deal with the un-slipcovered chairs. A very, very important consideration, really.

Here are the Jennylund chairs prior to being rescued by the Fed Ex delivery man:

And here they are after:

Much nicer, right? Who here honestly believes those white slipcovers will actually find their way back the chairs (and why should they; IKEA now makes an even better style of white Jennylund slipcovers)?

Friday, April 27, 2007

Hobby Lobby

Or is it Lobby Hobby? I don't know. What I do know is Madeleine's school has a display in their lobby and any child who wants to has a chance to display something that they're interested in from home for a week each year. Its name is the Lobby Hobby. Or Hobby Lobby. Whichever the store of a similar name is not. Who cares, right?

This week is Madeleine's big week and she chose to take artifacts from our trip to Folly Beach, South Carolina last July. It contained sea shells that she collected on the beach, pictures of our trip, a picture she drew of us on the airplane prior to leaving and a doll from the Charleston, South Carolina Historical Society store that is modeled after a doll from the late 1700s.

Tuesday she took her class down to show off her display and answer questions.

"What questions did your classmates ask?" I inquired after school.

"I don't know," was her response.

"Madeleine, it was only a few hours ago; surely you remember some of the questions. Did anyone ask any questions?"

"Yes." A regular orator, that Madeleine.

"OK, who asked questions?" Do you see how good I am at badgering my children? I should have been a detective.

"Well, A__ did."

"OK, what did she ask?"

"She wanted to know how long I was on vacation."

"And what did you tell her?" Pulling teeth I tell you, pulling teeth.

"Well, I couldn't remember."

"Oh. Did anyone else ask any questions?"

"I don't know, Mom. Can I have a snack?"

Thursday, April 26, 2007


I don't know if I've ever mentioned it before, but I'm a Jane Austen fanatic. I first read Pride and Prejudice about seven years ago and I fell in love along with Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. I've re-read the book countless times since then, not to mention watched the BBC movie based on the book on a semi-regular basis.

Since then I've paced myself. There are only a finite amount of Austen works in print, you see, and I don't want to have read them all. I want some anticipation, some excitement to remain in the idea of an yet unopened Austen novel. I've managed to limit myself to Emma and Sense and Sensibility but finally, last week, my copy of Persuasion, that had rested on a bookshelf in my home for two years, finally had its way with me and I read it.

Oh, I loved it. Full of Austen wit and nuance, it was delightful. It was a bit darker than Pride and Prejudice. Her heroine, Anne Elliot, is considerably less bubbly and happy than Elizabeth Bennett. Poverty and the realities of the times were not wholly ignored, though most commentary was centered around a wealthy, aristocratic family and their social sphere. But Captain Wentworth is a lovable hero, with none of the reservations that are easy to own regarding Mr. Darcy, the characters are endearing, the storyline involving and interesting and I believe this might be the first Austen novel since Pride and Prejudice that I may re-read.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

First Haircut

At eighteen months old Elisabeth's hair had yet to meet the blades of a pair of scissors. Lately, though, we've been noting her hair starting to cover her eyes and mutate into some less than tidy 'dos.

It was time to act; a visit to Ms. L___ was in order.

Fun was had by all. By me, snapping picture after picture, by Elisabeth who was intrigued by the robe, the combs, the chair and Ms. L___ by teasing and playing with another member of my brood.

VoilĂ ! All done!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Movie Review, VI

Are you getting a sense how behind I am on my movie watching? I believe this movie was originally released in 1999. It's actually a convenient defect though because the library is chock full of movies everybody wanted to see eight years ago. I may not be able to speak intelligently about the current cinematic landscape now, but just as today's popular movies fall of the public's radar you can be sure I'll catch up.

Snow Falling on Cedars is a well-known book and, from everything I read, critically acclaimed. I never read it. The movie came out and I transferred all the praise I'd heard about the book over to the movie and decided I wanted to see it. Someday.

Sunday night was this night. I'm quite sure Superdad, while reading this, is feeling like he dodged a bullet by being out of town and missing my most recent movie selection. I put the kids to bed, popped some popcorn and settled in alone. Gloriously and blissfully alone.

The best parts of the movie were the popcorn and the solitude. Otherwise, there wasn't a lot to write home about. The acting was better than average, especially Youki Kudoh's performance, and it was a very visually pleasing movie, but something about it all just didn't connect. There wasn't enough passion, save some forlorn looks every so often, to make the love-of-a-lifetime storyline plausible (for me, anyway) and some parts moved a little bit too slowly to hold my somewhat wavering interest.

Overall, it was a decent movie and decidedly better than something as brain-numbing Talladega Nights but I'd hoped, that after waiting eight years to see it, that it would be better. Oh well.

The Well-Trained Mind

I finished this recently and found it extremely compelling. It follows along the same premise as Dorothy Sayers' essay The Lost Tools of Learning that I posted here, but this is more of a how-to book than a more general book offering support of their educational philosophy (though it does that too).

A comment on my post about Sayers' essay addressed the overwhelming task of implementing a classical education, and I'll confess that I felt a bit rudderless when we were initally discussing whether or not to home school. That is, however, until reading this book which offers some excellent text suggestions and breaks things down into more manageable tasks. Instead of looking at the overall trivium and becoming overwhelming, it breaks the three different phases of the trivium into yearly, manageable doses.

Clearly this book is not for everyone. It's not really the sort of book you curl up with in front of a fire, if you know what I mean, but it's extremely interesting, and considering the growing popularity of the home school movement and, within that, classical education, it's a terribly relevant book if you're interested in keeping up with current education trends.

And, to give equal time, I am also very interesting in reading John Holt's book How Children Learn. Holt is, I think, considered the, or one of the first, pioneers of the "unschooling" movement that's also growing by leaps and bounds within the home schooling movement. I confess I know little about it, but from what little I do know, it doesn't ring as true to me as a classical education does, but I'm still interested in reading the book and seeing how another large segment of children are being taught.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Friday Night

Fun night last night! To start we met two other couples at Cubanitas, a really fun (and yummy!) Cuban restaurant in downtown Milwaukee. Then we were off to the symphony where we saw Garrick Ohlsson perform one of my favorite Chopin piano concertos.

The second half of the concert was a rearranged Brahms piano quartet which was entertaining, but I felt a little weird hearing a piece I'm fairly familiar with have so much percussion and brass added to something that was supposed to be just, well, a quartet. However, it appears there are proponents and foes of Arnold Schoenberg's 1937 arrangement throughout the music world and I'll let the experts duke the ethics and propriety of the issue. For a non-expert like me I'll just say I enjoyed it, but prefer it as it was originally composed.

One last note: we're going through the Milwaukee Symphony's 2007/2008 calendar and would love advice and input from "experts" out there which concerts might be the best in terms of upcoming star performers and wonderful, classic compositions. I have my eye on a few but would love to hear others' opinions.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Virginia Tech Victims

Having not watched TV over the past week I didn't realize how much the Virginia Tech shooting television coverage has been focused on the shooter, Cho Seung-Hui, until hearing other people talk about it. Everyone seems to know his name and something about him, but not of the names of the thirty-two lives he took.

Here's a really nice piece that's solely about the victims. There's a short biography of each and, for most, pictures as well. A nice tribute to those whose lives were cut tragically short.


It's Friday. It's warm and sunny. Superdad and I are going out to a fantastic Cuban restaurant for dinner tonight with friends (no kids!) and going to a Milwaukee Symphony concert after. Do days get any better?

Thursday, April 19, 2007


I love that IKEA offers a wide array of products that are relatively low in price that I generally like. I enjoy visiting their stores and I've bought quite a lot over the past few years on various visits. I'm sure I will continue to do so.

That said, I don't think I've ever dealt with a business, store, restaurant or otherwise, whose customer service was so horrifically awful. I know, I know, it keeps their costs down. Whatever. All I know is it's impossible to get an answer from anyone, talk to an actual person on the phone or buy anything on-line.

Thankfully I found my most recent desire on eBay (two new slipcovers for our Jennylund chairs, if anyone is interested) and will save myself the headache of numerous unanswered phone calls or the trip to the Schaumburg, Illinois store, where they'd probably be out of stock of whatever I wanted anyway. And wouldn't be able to order or hold it for me, and this I'd find out at the remote customer service desk after standing in line for fifty minutes.

Darned IKEA. I wish I didn't love their stuff so much.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


I love to drive. I always have. I especially love it when I'm by myself and I can choose whatever I want to listen to, I can play whatever that is as amped up as I want and I can sing as loudly as I choose (well, except when I'm at a red light or something and people can see me morphing into Axel Rose because that'd just be weird).

But since that never, ever happens (hello, I drive a minivan; there are always passengers!) it's easier for me to remember what I hate about driving. Or, more specifically, what I hate about other peoples' driving, because, well, I'm not going to critique my driving (and I'm sure no one will dare remind me of my most recent stupid run-in, right?).

So, here it is, my list of driving pet peeves. Fun, huh?

1) Turn only lanes. If they're there, shouldn't you use them? Why do people straddle the line between the turn lane and the driving lane thus negating the purpose of having a turn only lane? Thanks, middle aged, Buick driving lady, I wasn't making a left turn but now, thanks to you, I waited along with you for all the oncoming traffic to pass and could've made the turn also!

2) Parking lots. Do you realize that people actually walk through parking lots, not limited to, but including small children, senior citizens and people with disabilities? And furthermore that there are cars that can, and do, pull out at various times and that maybe, just maybe, driving through the parking lot at eighty-five miles an hour to snag one of the last thirty available spots isn't the best idea? Thank you, college-age, Honda Civic driving, Paris Hilton wannabe, I sooo appreciated having to lunge for my four-year-old son while exiting Walgreens as you whizzed by looking for the very best spot in the half empty lot.

3) The highway. OK, quick quiz: if your cruise control is set and you're merrily poking along at a set speed, in which lane do you belong? The left? The center? AAAANNNNNNNNN!!! I'm sorry, wrong answer. No, the correct thoroughfare for someone who is not currently passing another vehicle is the right lane. There are no exceptions to this rule. None. I am so appreciative of the Ford Contour driver that obliviously drove the exact same speed as her neighbor in the right lane for five straight miles while I repeatedly banged my head against the steering wheel begging-- no pleading-- with her in my head to just move over. Just a teeny, tiny bit. Please, please, please. I feel fairly confident in saying that the ten or so cars lined up behind me frantically gesturing and furiously miming were ever so grateful as well.

4) Tailgating. I'm not talking about brats and beer at Miller Park here folks, no, I'm talking about people wanting to ride in the trunk of my car. Can't you see that it's full enough? I assure you, were you to actually gain access to the interior my children peppering you with question after question after question after question after question after question would soon have you begging to get out. And if they didn't, I would because, well, I don't know you and I don't want you in my car, so please, give me a couple car lengths of space, people! Props to you, Chevy Blazer guy, because of you my children now know and love the word "idiot." Isn't that wonderful?

Any I missed? C'mon, I know you've all got some doozys you'd like to share.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Hank is a gymnast. Have I mentioned that before? Yes, he takes gymnastics lessons once a week, and has since he was two years old. Doesn't that make him a gymnast? No? Oh.

Seriously, this boy has sought to take lessons week after week for over two years now. I'm completely sick of it. I'm sick of the way the gym reeks of sweat the second I walk in the door, I'm sick of locking myself in the viewing room with Elisabeth week after week while trying to prevent her from hurting herself and, most of all, I'm sick of carting us all up there week after week. However, Hank has enjoyed it, so I've persevered (are you feeling sorry for me yet?)

Guess what. Now Hank hates it. He's sick of and thinks it's boring and wants to quit. In fact, he's upstairs throwing a tantrum right now, "But I don't LIKE gymnastics!! It's boring and I hate it and I'm NEVER GOING THERE!!!!" I wouldn't be surprised if my East Coast readers confessed to having heard him.

Well I hate it too. If I hate it and he hates it, do I still have to make him go? Sadly, yes, I think I do. First off, and least important, we already paid for the lessons. And they weren't cheap. Secondly though, and most importantly, we told Hank when we signed up what he was making a commitment to see it through, even if he ended up not wanting to do it. I know, he's four and can't completely understand that concept but generally I still think it's important to help him understand that if you make a commitment to something you have to be responsible and stick it out, if for no other reason than to just, well, be responsible and stick it out.

It doesn't mean I have to like it.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Day at Park

I think the mercury rose to almost fifty degrees this past weekend. Considering only a few days prior we'd been subjected to a winter storm warning and a cumulative snow fall, I felt that fifty was pretty warm. We needed to take advantage.

When Madeleine was a baby we took her to the park incessantly. It didn't matter that she couldn't really do anything, we still took her and enjoyed watching her fascination with all the different equipment and her jubilation at being swung higher, higher, higher!

Elisabeth? I don't think she'd ever been to a park before yesterday. She loved it. She loved swinging, exploring, climbing... she loved it all.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Lost Tools of Learning

I forget, at times, that life happens outside the blog and what's been decided there doesn't always get conveyed here. To give the following essay context, and also to keep you abreast of our lives, I suppose it's time to share that we're giving home schooling a go next year, for sure.

Last night I ran across a (very old!) essay that sums up how I feel about education. I know very little about the essay's author, Dorothy Sayers, but she articulates so perfectly what I think is missing in education today and she also outlines, for anyone who's interested, the format Superdad and I are interested in pursuing with Madeleine next year.

Following is an excerpt, but if you have kids in school or are interested in education and educational philosophy, I recommend reading the essay in its entirety.

That I, whose experience of teaching is extremely limited, should presume to discuss education is a matter, surely, that calls for no apology. It is a kind of behavior to which the present climate of opinion is wholly favorable. Bishops air their opinions about economics; biologists, about metaphysics; inorganic chemists, about theology; the most irrelevant people are appointed to highly technical ministries; and plain, blunt men write to the papers to say that Epstein and Picasso do not know how to draw. Up to a certain point, and provided the the criticisms are made with a reasonable modesty, these activities are commendable. Too much specialization is not a good thing. There is also one excellent reason why the veriest amateur may feel entitled to have an opinion about education. For if we are not all professional teachers, we have all, at some time or another, been taught. Even if we learnt nothing--perhaps in particular if we learnt nothing--our contribution to the discussion may have a potential value.

However, it is in the highest degree improbable that the reforms I propose will ever be carried into effect. Neither the parents, nor the training colleges, nor the examination boards, nor the boards of governors, nor the ministries of education, would countenance them for a moment. For they amount to this: that if we are to produce a society of educated people, fitted to preserve their intellectual freedom amid the complex pressures of our modern society, we must turn back the wheel of progress some four or five hundred years, to the point at which education began to lose sight of its true object, towards the end of the Middle Ages.

Before you dismiss me with the appropriate phrase--reactionary, romantic, mediaevalist, laudator temporis acti (praiser of times past), or whatever tag comes first to hand--I will ask you to consider one or two miscellaneous questions that hang about at the back, perhaps, of all our minds, and occasionally pop out to worry us.

When we think about the remarkably early age at which the young men went up to university in, let us say, Tudor times, and thereafter were held fit to assume responsibility for the conduct of their own affairs, are we altogether comfortable about that artificial prolongation of intellectual childhood and adolescence into the years of physical maturity which is so marked in our own day? To postpone the acceptance of responsibility to a late date brings with it a number of psychological complications which, while they may interest the psychiatrist, are scarcely beneficial either to the individual or to society. The stock argument in favor of postponing the school-leaving age and prolonging the period of education generally is there there is now so much more to learn than there was in the Middle Ages. This is partly true, but not wholly. The modern boy and girl are certainly taught more subjects--but does that always mean that they actually know more?

Has it ever struck you as odd, or unfortunate, that today, when the proportion of literacy throughout Western Europe is higher than it has ever been, people should have become susceptible to the influence of advertisement and mass propaganda to an extent hitherto unheard of and unimagined? Do you put this down to the mere mechanical fact that the press and the radio and so on have made propaganda much easier to distribute over a wide area? Or do you sometimes have an uneasy suspicion that the product of modern educational methods is less good than he or she might be at disentangling fact from opinion and the proven from the plausible?

Have you ever, in listening to a debate among adult and presumably responsible people, been fretted by the extraordinary inability of the average debater to speak to the question, or to meet and refute the arguments of speakers on the other side? Or have you ever pondered upon the extremely high incidence of irrelevant matter which crops up at committee meetings, and upon the very great rarity of persons capable of acting as chairmen of committees? And when you think of this, and think that most of our public affairs are settled by debates and committees, have you ever felt a certain sinking of the heart?

Have you ever followed a discussion in the newspapers or elsewhere and noticed how frequently writers fail to define the terms they use? Or how often, if one man does define his terms, another will assume in his reply that he was using the terms in precisely the opposite sense to that in which he has already defined them? Have you ever been faintly troubled by the amount of slipshod syntax going about? And, if so, are you troubled because it is inelegant or because it may lead to dangerous misunderstanding?

Do you ever find that young people, when they have left school, not only forget most of what they have learnt (that is only to be expected), but forget also, or betray that they have never really known, how to tackle a new subject for themselves? Are you often bothered by coming across grown-up men and women who seem unable to distinguish between a book that is sound, scholarly, and properly documented, and one that is, to any trained eye, very conspicuously none of these things? Or who cannot handle a library catalogue? Or who, when faced with a book of reference, betray a curious inability to extract from it the passages relevant to the particular question which interests them?

Do you often come across people for whom, all their lives, a "subject" remains a "subject," divided by watertight bulkheads from all other "subjects," so that they experience very great difficulty in making an immediate mental connection between let us say, algebra and detective fiction, sewage disposal and the price of salmon--or, more generally, between such spheres of knowledge as philosophy and economics, or chemistry and art?

Are you occasionally perturbed by the things written by adult men and women for adult men and women to read? We find a well-known biologist writing in a weekly paper to the effect that: "It is an argument against the existence of a Creator" (I think he put it more strongly; but since I have, most unfortunately, mislaid the reference, I will put his claim at its lowest)--"an argument against the existence of a Creator that the same kind of variations which are produced by natural selection can be produced at will by stock breeders." One might feel tempted to say that it is rather an argument for the existence of a Creator. Actually, of course, it is neither; all it proves is that the same material causes (recombination of the chromosomes, by crossbreeding, and so forth) are sufficient to account for all observed variations--just as the various combinations of the same dozen tones are materially sufficient to account for Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and the noise the cat makes by walking on the keys. But the cat's performance neither proves nor disproves the existence of Beethoven; and all that is proved by the biologist's argument is that he was unable to distinguish between a material and a final cause.

Here is a sentence from no less academic a source than a front- page article in the Times Literary Supplement: "The Frenchman, Alfred Epinas, pointed out that certain species (e.g., ants and wasps) can only face the horrors of life and death in association." I do not know what the Frenchman actually did say; what the Englishman says he said is patently meaningless. We cannot know whether life holds any horror for the ant, nor in what sense the isolated wasp which you kill upon the window-pane can be said to "face" or not to "face" the horrors of death. The subject of the article is mass behavior in man; and the human motives have been unobtrusively transferred from the main proposition to the supporting instance. Thus the argument, in effect, assumes what it set out to prove--a fact which would become immediately apparent if it were presented in a formal syllogism. This is only a small and haphazard example of a vice which pervades whole books--particularly books written by men of science on metaphysical subjects.

Another quotation from the same issue of the TLS comes in fittingly here to wind up this random collection of disquieting thoughts--this time from a review of Sir Richard Livingstone's "Some Tasks for Education": "More than once the reader is reminded of the value of an intensive study of at least one subject, so as to learn Tthe meaning of knowledge' and what precision and persistence is needed to attain it. Yet there is elsewhere full recognition of the distressing fact that a man may be master in one field and show no better judgement than his neighbor anywhere else; he remembers what he has learnt, but forgets altogether how he learned it."

I would draw your attention particularly to that last sentence, which offers an explanation of what the writer rightly calls the "distressing fact" that the intellectual skills bestowed upon us by our education are not readily transferable to subjects other than those in which we acquired them: "he remembers what he has learnt, but forgets altogether how he learned it."

Is not the great defect of our education today--a defect traceable through all the disquieting symptoms of trouble that I have mentioned--that although we often succeed in teaching our pupils "subjects," we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think: they learn everything, except the art of learning. It is as though we had taught a child, mechanically and by rule of thumb, to play "The Harmonious Blacksmith" upon the piano, but had never taught him the scale or how to read music; so that, having memorized "The Harmonious Blacksmith," he still had not the faintest notion how to proceed from that to tackle "The Last Rose of Summer." Why do I say, "as though"? In certain of the arts and crafts, we sometimes do precisely this--requiring a child to "express himself" in paint before we teach him how to handle the colors and the brush. There is a school of thought which believes this to be the right way to set about the job. But observe: it is not the way in which a trained craftsman will go about to teach himself a new medium. He, having learned by experience the best way to economize labor and take the thing by the right end, will start off by doodling about on an odd piece of material, in order to "give himself the feel of the tool."

Here's the rest.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

eBay Etiquette

What is proper buying and selling etiquette on eBay? Is there an established code?

I don't sell things on eBay; I buy them. Not a lot, but I find a good deal on coat here, a book there or some other miscellaneous thing that seems like too good of a deal to pass up. I bid. I win. I pay within seconds of winning the auction and email the seller within a few minutes offering shipping information and a very polite request for positive feedback.

Now, it would seem to be that at this point, or after my Pay Pal payment reaches the seller's account, I should receive my positive feedback. My work is done; I have been a good eBay consumer, no?

Two times within the past few months the seller refused to leave feedback until I'd left mine and with the current item I'm waiting for the seller hasn't even bothered to respond to my email or acknowledge that I won the auction, though they've been paid and contacted.

I'm not going to get too bent out of shape. If I get my item in due time and in good condition I will leave positive feedback for the seller. Shouldn't the same have already been done for me? EBay experts, let's hear your thoughts.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Spring Break

Vacation this week; Madeleine has the week off of school. So, we head south, to a sunnier, warmer climate. No. South yes, sunnier and warmer, no. We're in Silver Lake, Wisconsin, about an hour south of us, and to greet our arrival it snowed.

Instead of enjoying warm spring weather we headed south again-- to Chicago-- and spent a day poking around Shedd Aquarium.

Both kids enjoyed it; the highlight being the dolphin show. While walking to the car I asked the kids if they enjoyed all the Pacific White-sided dolphins, Beluga whales and Anaconda snakes and Hank said, "It was so boring, right Madeleine?"

"Boring Hank? No, it was faaaaaaaan-tastic!" Madeleine exuberantly responded.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," gushed Hank. "It was faaaaaaaan-tastic!"

So there you have it. The Shedd Aquarium is faaaaaaaan-tastic.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Movie Review, V

Another movie Superdad and I watched recently. I remember wanting to see it when it first came out (years ago!) but always forgot about it when at the video store. The other day I was racing past the video section at our library, only focused on herding the kids to the check-out desk and just getting out of the dang library when I glanced up and saw this movie.

It seemed to call out to me from the shelves. "Rent me, rent me," it chanted. I did.

What a fun movie! It was unique, tawdry without being uncomfortable and funny. It's one of those movies that just absorbs you from the first moment and never really lets go.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Elisabeth is weaned.

A few weeks ago, nursing just before bedtime and sometimes naps, Elisabeth made it clear she thought it was more fun to latch on for two seconds, laugh and then bite! She was clearly becoming less and less interested in breastfeeding, only really nursing every third night or so.

I had enough. I just stopped offering, instead choosing to sit down with her on my lap and reading a book before laying her down in her crib. I expected tears, fighting and resistance. Instead she compliantly stuck her fingers in her mouth, grabbed her precious fuzzy purple blanket and went to sleep. Since that time she's not made any indication that she misses nursing.

I feel so free. I can leave at bedtime once again! No more pumping! No more leaking! The benefits are numerous.

So why do I feel so sad?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Easter Highlights

Friday night we color Easter eggs. No. That's not right. Superdad and the kids color Easter eggs. I make supper, thus avoiding one of my least favorite Easter tasks.

Poor Elisabeth. Once again, she's forgotten until she makes herself noticed and the task is virtually finished.

Easter morning. A six a.m. photo shoot bears some, erm, interesting pictures but nothing noteworthy.

We're home and success-- the Easter Bunny came and left! The hunt for baskets, eggs and presents ensues.

Madeleine doesn't want to share her booty with her sister. See the annoyed look on her face?

Hank doesn't want to share either. Or, more accurately, doesn't even notice his sister's designs on his present.

The table, prior to eating.

The table during eating.

And that's it. The rest of the day included a lot of mess, cleaning up and passing out (due to fatigue, not the fabulous Spanish red Superdad chose for our Easter feast).

Monday, April 09, 2007

Easter Picture Preview

I just downloaded pictures from yesterday. Turns out I took sixty-four pictures. Sixty-four. Isn't that ridiculous? And do you know how many are good? Zero.

Still though, I'm sure I'll share more later in the week because, well, there are sixty-four pictures to choose from.

This picture though... it kills me. All I wanted was to snap a cute picture of the three kids in their Easter clothes. Just one decent one would have sufficed. Just one.

Instead though, here's one of the highlights:

Wake Up

During the school week I have to wake my kids up just before 7 a.m. daily. I'm always met with groans, someone sticking their head under their covers and lots and lots of attitude. Hank will grumpily stomp into the bathroom after being coaxed out of bed with the threat of punishment after the minutes of cajoling, kissing and trying to be nice have failed. He'll sit on the bathroom rug and turn our space heater on, aimed directly at him, full blast. Then I have to start over with the pleading, cajoling and out and out threats before he'll begin the ridiculously long process of taking his pajamas off sooooooo slllllllloooooowwwwwwllllyyyy that you just want to die. This is a daily event, week after school week.

So you'd think that on Saturdays, the one day of the week he could sleep in that he would, right?

Um, no.

On Saturdays the little darling wakes up at 6:30 or earlier. And this past week, on Good Friday, on which the kids were off of school, Superdad and I thought we'd for sure get to sleep until 7:00, 7:30. It was in the bag. It was a Friday and there was no place to be!

No. Hank was up and rarin' to go by 6:20.

And did I mention that he's not content to go play quietly for an hour or so? No. He tromps into our room, bangs open the door and starts giggling as he climbs into our bed. He doesn't climb in for sleep, though. No, his mission is to tell bad jokes, giggle and get Mommy and Daddy out of bed. Who knows, maybe it's payback for the days earlier in the week.

A Saturday or two ago Hank had made is way to Superdad's side of the bed. Superdad was doing his best to groggily carry on a conversation with Hank and Hank, getting more and more frustrated about Superdad just not getting up said, "Daddy, it's 6 dot-dot two-four (translation: 6:24)."

Superdad groggily responds, "Hank, 6:24 is too early to get up on Saturday."

Hank's face breaks out in a big, wide grin and says, "Not for ME!"

Apparently it's just too early all the other days of the week. Just not on Saturday. Lovely.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Christ is Risen!

He is risen indeed!

Happy Easter, folks!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Enjoying Spot and Dot

Enjoy the rabbits, kids, because babysitting them for five days is the closest you'll ever get to owning a rabbit.

And they are. I've had this stupid fenced in rabbit yard set up in my living room for three days straight and the kids have logged some serious hours with Spot and Dot and are already murmuring about wanting a rabbit. Yeah. Right.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Welcome, Spot and Dot

This is Spot:

And this is Dot:

Spot and Dot are brother rabbits and they belong to Hank's preschool. Believe it or not, being their caretaker over school vacations is a sought after, highly coveted position. We won the lottery this go 'round for half of Hank's Spring Break, and we brought home our prize yesterday.

Only, we had a small mishap. A teensy, tiny, silly little problem.

While carrying their rather large cage down to the basement the bottom of the cage fell out from under itself. Yes, you read that correctly; their cage broke in two while being transported down the stairs. Thankfully we were almost all the way to the bottom stair, but everything went flying: their rabbit litter, their food, their water...and... Spot and Dot!

OK. I'm exaggerating a bit. Spot and Dot didn't really go flying so much as they fell. Straight down. And they're rabbits; they landed on all fours and appeared relatively unaffected. Oh, I'm sure they were scared beyond belief, thinking to themselves, "Who in tarnation picked these people to watch us!?" But physically? They're fiiiine.

And they seem to have forgiven me. They're just as cuddly and playful now as they are at Hank's preschool. Of course, they hid under a shelf in their cage for a couple hours after The Incident, but I'm pretty sure they would have done that anyway, fall or not. You know, new surroundings and all that (nod along, folks, nod along).

Would you forgive me if I told you how awful I felt? And stupid? Yes? Good.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Easter Preperations

It's Holy Week, as I'm sure many of you are well aware. Lots, lots going on.

The scrubbed down, my-life-is stress-free-and-easy breakdown is like this: tonight is Maundy Thursday, which means church for Superdad (too late at night for tired, unruly kids to join what is always a somber, quiet service). Tomorrow is Good Friday, which means church in the afternoon. And Sunday, of course, is Easter, which means a sunrise worship service, breakfast at church and then home to see what the Easter Bunny left while we were gone and a huge afternoon Easter feast, which Superdad and I host (which this year will include my family, Superdad's family and our pastor and his family).

Here are all the nuances that were missing from the edited breakdown: today is grocery shopping, cleaning like a madwoman and cooking. Superdad will be gone. All day. Friday is more cleaning, polishing silver and more cooking. Saturday is last minute errands (fresh flowers, wine, renting The Passion of the Christ [which Superdad and I will watch Saturday night] and all the things I forgot when grocery shopping on Thursday), all the cooking I was supposed to get done Thursday and Friday but didn't and deciding what table linens and china to use for our Easter feast. Sunday is manically cooking, washing up and playing hostess.

Don't fret though, folks. We've been hosting Easter for about six or seven years now and I adore it. I love it all. I love the way the house looks when all scrubbed, polished and picked up, I love having lots of people I love around and I love the challenge of orchestrating a holiday meal.

Or maybe I'm just so thankful for Christ's resurrection and finally being able to say "alleluia" after eight long weeks of Lent and singing "Jesus Christ is Risen Today" that I'm still on a high after church and I just think I love it. But whatever; I'm always happy on Easter.

On this year's menu? We'll start with Borscht (courtesy of Wicky, my mother-in-law, who, as it happens, is 100% Ukrainian, just like the Borscht) and then move on to roast leg of lamb, oven roasted potatoes, ham (courtesy of Diana), scalloped potatoes, oven roasted asparagus, a tossed green salad, Paska (courtesy of Wicky), two Jell-O salads, one with fruit, one without (guess who requested those *cough, cough* Madeleine and Hank *cough, cough*) and then we'll move onto dessert, which is also courtesy of Diana, so I only have a vauge idea what it is, as yet, though I'm guessing trifle. R_____, our pastor's wife, will also be bringing a salad or appetizer. I'll also be contributing a couple pans of egg strata for our breakfast at church on Easter morning.

At some point I hope to sit down for five minutes and reflect on the importance of this holiday and give thanks for the blessings that have been bestowed onto us.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Tough Decision

There are a lot of reasons people will give as an explanation to elucidate why they're done having children. Some of the most common reasons I've heard are "kids cost a lot of money, kids are a lot of work, we don't have the space, I don't know if we could handle it" and so on and so on. They're all understandable reasons.

But I have a new reason. A reason that eclipses all other reasons and I think it's rarely considered when a couple discusses whether or not to have another child.


Have you ever thought about the laundry? The sheer, massive amounts of laundry that will show up in your laundry baskets day after day, week after week year after year? It's mind boggling to me how many dirty clothes a little person can create. Paint here, marker there, grass stain here, leaky diaper there... the justifications for changing clothes midday are ceaseless, it seems to me. I'm not ashamed to admit, right here, out in the open, that I've ordered my older children to just leave their dirty clothes on, gosh darn it.

It's a fact that still befuddles me, but I'm quite sure that the three kids combined have at least double the amount of dirty clothes in the laundry room right now than Superdad or I do. At least. Probably triple.

New parents, take heed. The emotional strain of an additional child? Piece of cake. The money issues relating to the little darling? They work themselves out. But the laundry, oh! The laundry.

I may never recover.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Movie Review, IV

Another weekend, another rented DVD. You might assume Superdad and I don't get out much. You'd be right.

It's a sweet movie, centering on the lives of Irish immigrants trying to make it in America. More than that though, it's a movie about a family; one that's been torn apart by the death of a young son and the aftermath of dealing with that loss. It's a poignant tale and although I liked it I won't say I loved it.

The acting is top-notch; even the young girls, who have to be the two cutest actresses I've seen (and they're sisters in real life, too!) are superb.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Kitchen Adjustment, V

The new kitchen floor project (which also included a small hallway and half bath) is finished and Superdad and I love it. Love, love, love it.

On Friday, when it was finished, and we were given permission to walk on the glorious new floor, even the kids were thrilled. Beyond thrilled. In fact, I don't quite know what came over us; maybe it was the fumes from the newly sealed floor, but before I knew what was happening the strains of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake overtook us. Before we were aware of our surroundings Madeleine had become Odette, whirling around the kitchen, madly trying to show Hank, consumed by the persona of Price Siegfried, that I was the evil Odile, and not his true love. Unfortunately for us, Superdad, unmoved by one of Tchaikovsky's greatest works, was quick with the camera.

How embarrassing.