Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Goals and a word for 2013

I kid you not, I started writing "2012."  That year went by really fast.  So did January, which is why this is getting posted on the 30th and not the 1st.

Last year, I heard about the idea of choosing a single word to define what you wanted the next year to look like.  I chose "understanding."  I felt that if I sought first to understand rather than assume, judge, or leap into action, I would make fewer hasty mistakes.  Particularly I was thinking of understanding Marko, who was aggravating me constantly at that age.  I knew that most of his actions weren't motivated by intentional rebellion, but were coming from feelings he had that I was failing to understand.  When I would lose my temper at him, it was because I was making assumptions instead of asking myself why he did those things.

Working on understanding was very fruitful.  When I took the time to try, it was usually very easy to see what was going on.  He would spill an entire gallon of juice on the floor ... because he desperately wanted to be a big boy and do it all by himself, and didn't realize that it was too heavy for him.  He would melt down every day at 11 a.m. ... because breakfast was too small to last him till noon.  Trying to understand these things made me a lot more gentle and patient with him.

But it ended up going much further than Marko.  I tried to understand my husband, and realized (yet again) that he is his own person with his own issues, and that most of the time the things he did that offended me weren't about me at all.  I tried to understand liberals, and atheists, and traditionalists, and pacifists, and veterans, and I found that all of these efforts made me more kind, more open-minded, less quick to judge.  To paraphrase the Moody Blues, whenever I was angry, or knew hurt, or felt fear, it was because I was not understanding.

The trouble is that this will only take you so far.  Enbrethiliel has an absolutely gorgeous comment on the previous post about the dangers of putting yourself in other people's shoes.  The fact is that not all ideas are equal, and just because I understand where their advocates are coming from doesn't mean I should adopt all those ideas wholesale.

This year, and the past few months in particular, I've been feeling a kind of anxiety about the things I think and believe.  I'm beginning to realize that I don't know nearly as much as I think I know.  Especially this has affected my faith.  I have had an extensive religious education, more than most people ever get.  I read a good chunk of the catechism by the time I hit high school, went to a boarding school that spent more time on religion and related topics than all the other subjects put together, and then went to Christendom, which makes you take three years of core courses in theology AND philosophy.  I know a LOT about Catholic dogma.

But this knowledge has given me a kind of pride, as if I know God because I know about God.  The fact is that I don't.  God himself, what he is like, what he might say to me if he were sitting across the room for me right now, is a big puzzle.  It's not a puzzle I expect to have all figured out in this life.  But it's a puzzle worth working on, not worth shoving into a corner of my mind because my ignorance is so uncomfortable.

This is a long wind-up to telling you what my word for 2013 is.  The word is "seek."  I want to seek God.  I want to seek the truth.  I want to move on from open-mindedly considering viewpoints, and start sorting out the good from the bad and really finding out, to the extent my limited intellect can, what the truth is about everything.

Ambitious, no?

Meanwhile I have some really practical resolutions:

1.  Finish my novel.

2.  Finish my children's prayer book.

3.  Launch my home business.

4.  Grow more of my own food.

5.  Improve my physical fitness.  (Not by exercising per se.  But increasing my overall activity level and perhaps throwing in some squats or stretches when I have a moment.)

Not on the list, for the first time since I got married, is either "get pregnant" or "have a baby."  But you never do know.

What do you want to do in 2013?  (That is, in the other eleven months of it, yikes!)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The problem of human knowledge

Well, I've already written 3,000 words and started a civil war today, so I think it's okay to call it good and write a blog post now.  I admit I'm bragging.  Back in the day, 5,000 words was a good day and I could have a day like that several times a week.  But back in the day I didn't have two small children, so pfffff.  I call a 3,000 word day a big achievement.

I've been thinking a lot lately about knowledge.  What, exactly, is it safe to say that we know for sure?

When I was younger, I thought the world was flat.  That puzzled me, because how did the sun get back to the east after setting in the west every day?  Finally I decided that it was a new sun every day, and that just as the world went on and on forever, there was an endless line of suns marching along, 24 hours apart.

When I was a little older and knew the world was round, I was confused about how the moon could be visible both during the day and at night.  Didn't that mean the people in China and Australia never got to see the moon, since it was always over Seattle?  I wanted to read a book by someone in those places, so I could see if they really didn't get to see the moon, and what that was like.

When I was in college, I took a course called Philosophy of Human Nature, which really should have been called Thomistic Anthropology, because St. Thomas Aquinas was our only source.  We spent weeks talking about the soul and how it was really indivisible but also had parts and these parts were something like the Trinity and OHMYGOSHSOCONFUSING.  I think I got a B in it.  But really there were only short moments during that class when anything made sense at all.

For instance, the proof for the immortality of the soul.  It went like this (advance apologies to anyone who DOES understand Aquinas, because I'm sure I'm doing this wrong): The human intellect can understand any material thing.  Because of this, it can't possibly be composed of any material thing.  Just like an eye can only discern color because it has no color (think of the pupil here, obviously); if it were yellow, it would only be able to see yellow, but since it has no color, it can discern any color.  Further proofs explain how if the soul is immaterial, it can't die, and QED.

I'd be stuck asking so many questions.  If being composed of something means you can't sense it, how come we can also comprehend immaterial realities?  Didn't St. Thomas know that your retina is actually red if you shine a light on it?  The same for any of the stuff we learned, like the process of intellection which is crazy weird.  How, I wondered, did we KNOW this stuff?  Were we actually learning anything at all, or simply learning the vocabulary that St. Thomas used for things that could just as well be explained differently?  (This last question got even more pressing in PHIL 202, Metaphysics.  Mainly I remember passing notes and getting a headache.  I was not cut out for philosophy.)

But there were moments when everything would come together and I would think, "Wait a second!  I actually GET this!  I KNOW now that the soul is immortal!"  Then I would read over the proof and think, "Wait.  I don't get it."

Maybe this class is a bad example, because I soon lost all confidence in the professor the day he told us that women possessed less of the image and likeness of God than men do because we have less of the rational faculty.  I date my identification as a feminist to that moment.  Thanks, Dr. C!  So perhaps the reason I couldn't fit this stuff in my head was that it just plain wasn't true, or not as true as it was presented to us.  Aquinas was a smart guy but (sneaky whispers) he wasn't exactly the last word on everything.

But it's happened in other classes too, other subjects -- when my brother tells me about string theory or I get going on physics problems.  While I'm doing it, it feels like it makes sense.  But an hour later I can't even wrap my head around it.  I don't know if I was right when I understood it, or right later on when I thought it was bosh.

We read stories of scientific discoveries, and there's always a moment when the scientist has a blinding flash of inspiration and hits upon the answer.  What we don't see is the moment when he wakes up the next morning and tries to redo his math.  And it may happen that he can't duplicate it, or he discovers that wonderful revelation was really that he dropped off a zero and he's going to have to start all over from scratch, and he doesn't get the Nobel for ten more years.

Have you ever stayed up late at night pondering reality and come up with a wonderful conclusion that explains everything?  And then the next morning you remember the conclusion, but when you think of going back through the steps that got you there, you think, "Ugh.  Work.  I'll just assume I was right the first time"?  States of mind have everything to do with what we know, or what we think we know, or what we have confidence that we know. 

It has been a habit of mine to re-prove the existence of God to myself from time to time, so that I know I can do it, and so that I don't get into the lazy habit of believing something without really understanding why.  But what if you're plowing through the various proofs (some of which make sense to me, and others of which don't, and I don't bother with) and you just don't feel like finishing?  And not because you are so sure of the existence of God that you don't need to, but because pressing through it is hard and you just don't want to?

I try to keep an open mind about everything.  That is to say, I have my opinions, but I try not to let them get so entrenched that I can't be convinced otherwise.  In the interests of this, I've lately been reading up on global warming, and it really seems to me that it's a real thing.  But who wants to do the research?  Most people I know don't.  They say, "These scientists seem to know what they're talking about, so it must be right," or, "I don't trust those quacks!  It's a hoax!"  I can't know for sure, not being a climatologist, but it seems worthy at least to try.  But it's much easier, and much more in tune with human nature, to let your emotions, your biases, and the opinions of those you surround yourself with to speak for you.

It bothers me that my mind is so fallible.  If I believed something firmly at six, and believe the opposite at twenty-six, how do I know I won't believe a third incompatible thing at forty-six?  When I met him, my husband was a firm monarchist who never attended any Mass that wasn't in Latin.  Now he prefers the plainest English Mass he can find, and he's a libertarian who rails against monarchists.  (He is railing against them now, in a debate about the French Revolution.  That man loves his debate society.)  I think he is closer to the truth now than he was then -- after all, my political beliefs have changed little in ten years, and he's come much closer to them -- but how does he know he's right this time?

On issues where everyone agrees, it's no problem.  On matters of controversy, it's much harder.  Let's list: vaccines, GMO's, evolution, the ideal human diet, child discipline, how common it is for a woman to lie about having been raped, whether gun control increases or decreases crime rates, global warming, whether a planned economy produces more prosperity than an unregulated one.  Mind you, these are all FACTS, facts that should be provable.  But I've researched all of these and the best anyone can give me is a really good guess.  Scientific studies are more fallible than most people think.  The best they can do is point toward a likelihood, and suggest further studies.  You can chop the data one way and get one answer, chop it another way and get a different one -- and that's with the same batch of data.

We do our best.  I tend to lean toward disbelieving those whom I know to have an ulterior motive, but in some ways pretty much everyone has an ulterior motive.  Is this person pro-vaccine because of science or because she would destroy her career as a doctor if she said differently?  Is this person anti-vaccine because of science or because he wants something to blame for his child's illness?  I also tend -- as most people do -- to believe things that are believed by people who share my other opinions.  That's part of why people's opinions are so clearly demarcated, why people who believe in gun control also usually believe in climate change, even though these two things aren't remotely related.

The scary part is that we have to actually make decisions based on our rather shaky knowledge.  Whether an embryo 28 days old is a person or not is a really vital, life-changing question.  We owe it to the truth to try to find it before acting ... but we can never be as sure about anything as we would like to be.  Because of this, I try to be humble about my beliefs.  I know that I have been wrong before, and may be again.  Of course I always think I am right, or I would change my mind.  But this means the other person might be wrong, and obviously being wrong is painful, so that even if I do convince them, they might pretend I haven't because they don't want to admit they're wrong.  So humility goes a long way.

There are some things I believe with a bit more certainty.  I believe that the world exists and that my senses are credible.  I personally have great confidence in my senses, and less confidence the more abstract something gets.  I also believe that nature makes sense on a fundamental level, and the more I learn about biology and the other sciences, the more convinced of this I become.  I believe that loving is a good thing, and that hurting others is a bad thing.  I believe in the ability of my gut to tell me when something is wrong or right. 

I do believe God exists and the Catholic Church is the true one, but after this it gets difficult.  God exists, but what is he like?  A lot of people, Catholics included, seem to think there's a book somewhere that holds "Church teaching" and it's infallible and everything in that book is the stuff you have to believe.  It's actually way more complicated than that; there are defined dogmas and the ordinary magisterium and all kinds of levels from "you really have to believe this or you're not Catholic" to "most saints and theologians and Popes thought this, so it's almost certainly true" down to "St. Padre Pio said it, but you don't actually have to believe that."  If you are a Catholic, that research is up to YOU.  You can just trust some priest to interpret it for you, but what if later you find he was a sociopath who founded an entire order just as a cover for abusing little boys?  (Not to name names, ahem ahem.)  You have to start all over.

I'm not trying to write another 3,000 words here, but I want to know.  How do you live with this level of uncertainty?  Or is everyone else more sure of things than I am, and I just am more of a doubter than most?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Women in combat

I don't know when I've felt more conflicted about a news item than I do about women being allowed into combat.  I've been reading debates on the topic since the story broke (which, by the bye, is a waste of time, no one has anything new to say) and I don't feel any better about it.

On the one hand, since I was about seventeen and actually considered the topic, I've been strongly opposed to women in the military.  I think all the Tolkien and Lewis had rubbed off on me, and I was getting annoyed at how fantasy novels always make their heroines take up swords and be as tough as any man.  It felt -- counterproductive.  If the best thing a woman can hope to do is beat a man in single combat with swords, we're basically all screwed because 99% of us can't do that.  I preferred fantasy novels in which women were mages, clerics, wise women, healers.  Those were things I felt I could identify more with.

Here, let me embarrass myself with an excerpt from a novel I was working on in college:

            “Why must I stay while you go?” she demanded. “I am not the weaker for being a woman.”
            “It is not a matter of being weaker.”
            “Then what is it?”
            Rademard paused. “War is not about fighting alone; it is also about killing. I have killed men before, and I will kill men again soon. It is a soldier’s duty to deal death and to put himself in danger of death. It is this that I fear for you.”
            “I am not afraid of dying,” she said, bitterly.
            “Dying could not hurt you as killing could. Don’t you see that killing someone else would be killing your own heart?” He paused a long moment, then said at last, quickly, “For it could be tender, if it would, and to weigh it against your sword would be to weigh gold against dust.”

Eek.  Embarrassing.  My worship of Tolkien is kind of obvious.  Anyway.

I do believe that war dehumanizes.  I believe that getting yourself into the mindset where you could kill someone else is bad for you as a person, that it reduces your compassion and gentleness.  You can't simultaneously be a ruthless killer and have that affect no other aspect of your life.  Obviously I don't want women to undergo this.

The trouble is, I don't want men to, either.  Men rock babies to sleep.  Men kiss boo-boos.  Men need to take compassion into account when making decisions from deciding wages for employees to voting.

The argument "but women are MOTHERS and we can't deploy mothers away from their children!" is a good one also.  I firmly agree.  On the other hand, who says children don't need their fathers?  Being a military child myself (though my dad was in the reserves and not deployed at all for most of my childhood), I know a lot of military families, and I think every single one of them has suffered through having an absent father.  We already know that absent fathers are bad for children when they're growing up.  The fact that they are killing people in far-off lands doesn't have some mysterious ameliorating effect.  It's also incredibly hard on their wives, who have to do and be everything for the family -- while also handling military red-tape, being available to Skype in the middle of the night, and worrying themselves sick about their husbands.  No wonder many military couples divorce.  It's a wonder to me that not all of them do, and a sign of the amazing relience and inner strength of military spouses.

I would not join the military myself.  I also would not encourage my husband to do so.  In fact (and I'm going to catch flak for this for sure), I told him when we were dating that if he had any dream of joining the military, he should tell me right away so I could find a different guy.  I wanted an actual FATHER for my children, one who would BE THERE.  The military would not have allowed him to do that in the way I felt my children would need.

My kids are both very attached to their dad, and they now BOTH cry at goodbye almost every morning.  When John is gone for a week, the atmosphere suffers.  Marko whines a lot and asks for his dad many times a day.  He demands to be "took wif" and insists that Daddy is coming back not on Friday, but tonight.  I am sure if John were gone for six months, he'd get used to it ... but I doubt the relationship they have now would still be the same when he got back.  Kids need you when they need you, not six months from now.

But -- I can hear you saying -- someone's got to defend our country.  And yes, this is so.  (I personally believe a much smaller military that focused on defending our borders rather than policing the globe would defend us just as well, with less hardship on individuals and families, to say nothing of all the money it all costs.)  But let's stop pretending that nonstop warfare is good for men and bad for women.  It's bad for everyone.  It can only be justified by extreme need.

I am tired of being told that a term in the military will "make a man" of a boy, that you learn all these "manly virtues" there.  What virtues can you learn in the military?  Hard work?  Send the boy to work on a farm.  Courage?  Send him to Alaska to fish; he'll earn good money and face danger on a regular basis.  Self-discipline?  Self-discipline is something you can only teach yourself.  What you learn in the military is externally-applied discipline which will wear off once the young man gets out of the military.  Obedience to authority?  This is a nation that believes in self-government and personal responsibility -- I want my sons to disobey unjust laws.

I'm not sure I believe in the concept of "manly virtues" at all.  Virtue is virtue.  There may be some virtues which come more easily to women and some which come more easily to men, but if so, it seems we'd better learn from one another to acquire all the virtues we can.  If courage doesn't come easily to Sally, she shouldn't shrug and say, "Well, I'm a girl so I'm not supposed to be brave," but just screw her courage to the sticking point and go kill that spider or mouse or whatever it is.  If it's not easy for Dan to put himself in someone else's shoes, he shouldn't say, "All that sympathy crap is effeminate anyway," but instead take a long look at his mother or his wife and figure out how to be as compassionate as she is.  There are no cop-outs for virtue because of gender.  I think that's part of what St. Paul meant when he said "In Christ there is no male or female."

The absolute worst arguments against women in combat are those complaining that our whole nation will be "feminized" if women are allowed into the male-only zone where men can be REAL MEN and get muddy and cuss and ... whatever it is they think women shouldn't be doing.  If you want boys to grow up to be real men, make sure their dad can be around while they're growing up.  Sticking a rifle in their hands and shoving them into a trench isn't going to magically do it, even if there are no women around.

Okay, I take that back.  The worst argument of all is, "Women have periods, and there is no possible way to reconcile this with trench conditions."  Dude, they have pills for that now.  I am not interested in taking those pills, but then I am not interested in joining the military either.  Neither issue is one I feel needs to be legislated; it's a matter of individual choice.

Other terrible arguments include this one: "Any woman of reproductive age could be pregnant at any time.  We have to treat her as potentially pregnant at all times, and she has no right to bring innocent people into a war zone inside her uterus, therefore women should never be in war zones."  By that logic, women should not be allowed to drink, receive X-rays, or ride in motor vehicles.  The fact is we now have the ability to find out pretty darn quickly if a woman is pregnant.  Pregnant women are always sent home if they request it.  And in any event, care for her unborn child is the mother's responsibility, and no one else's.  No one may restrict her rights of free movement or medical care to protect her baby.  A mother is a person first, and not merely a vessel -- and I say this as someone who is unabashedly 100% pro-life.

Or this one: "When women start coming home in body bags, maybe people will rethink this."  Guess what?  Women have already come home in body bags.  Men are dying over there all the time.  Kids--even babies, female babies if that matters--are turning up as "collateral damage." What is it going to freaking take before we say, "Enough, we are not going to win this one and it isn't worth the cost"?  Who is the one coming home with no limbs or no heartbeat isn't the point ... the point is that we are sending off the "best and the brightest" and even those who come back aren't coming back the same.  WAR IS BAD.  Is this one justified?  Why are we not asking this question?

Here's the deal.  Women are already dying in combat.  They are already being captured by the enemy and brutally raped (and so are men, if you didn't know this).  They are already being deployed away from their babies -- even single mothers.  They are already getting raped by their comrades-at-arms.  They are already suffering permanent damage to their health (and so are men).  The only thing that has been held back so far is the ability to serve in the kind of combat situations that get you promoted.  That just seems a little sexist to me!

Mind you, I don't want to see women in the front lines.  I don't want to see them in the military at all -- it's not really a friendly place to women.  I also don't want men to be on the front lines so much, because I don't want this nation to be at war so much.  But preventing women from serving wherever they want to and are qualified to on the grounds of "their nature is different" or "we're afraid they'll get hurt" is just paternalistic.  Set the standards as high as you like, and if the work is really such that women can't do, they won't make it in.  But if they do make it in, you're just going to have to adapt.

And that's my two bucks on the subject.  (Price raised due to inflation and my inability to be brief.)  What do you think?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The ideal breakfast

Awhile back I decided I needed to make actual breakfasts every day instead of just handing the kids and banana and trusting them to whine at me if they wanted something else.  That just left me at 10 a.m. trying to figure out something they (I mean Marko really) could eat RIGHT NOW, and it always ended up being PBJ.  Without PBJ my family would probably have starved waiting for me to get my act together.
So I made a schedule of seven good breakfasts that don't take too long to make.  (For the curious: pancakes, hash browns, french toast, bacon, eggs, oatmeal, and "John makes it" for Sunday.)  I stuck to it for ... a week?  Maybe two.  I hit Tuesday and thought, "But I don't WANT hash browns, they are too much work, and I don't even like them that much."  So I put it off and made nothing and there I was making PBJ at 10 a.m. because bananas (Marko's wakeup food -- he must have it as soon as his eyes open or wailing ensues) just don't cut it.

This recipe is the cure.  You can make it every day.  I know because I do make it every day.  It's sourdough English muffins.  I know you could BUY English muffins, but I'm sure these are healthier and I don't think we could afford to buy a dozen English muffins a day, which is about how many we eat.  I got the recipe from here but have changed it a lot to make it even simpler.

You have to have a sourdough starter that's at least moderately active for this.  Of course if you make it every day, that works out great.  You make the dough and then just feed it the same amount as you took out, or a bit more so you can have some for other projects.

Start the night before.  In a bowl, mix together 2 cups flour (white or wheat -- both are great) and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Then pour in 1/2 cup sourdough starter and roughly 3/4 cup milk.  (Experiment to see what's best.  I use about 7/8 cup I think.)  You can also replace the milk with some other liquid -- water, kefir, rice milk, basically anything.  Experiment.

Mix together until it forms a dough you can handle.  If it's more of a batter, add more flour.  If it won't pick up all the flour, add more liquid (just a tiny bit!).  The exact consistency isn't important.  If it's softish or stickyish, it doesn't matter.  Cover with a lid or plastic wrap.  (I use the same piece every time cause I'm Scottish like that.  (Is that an ethnic slur?  I'm 1/4 Scotch Irish and I do fit the frugal stereotype.))  And just leave it overnight.

In the morning, heat up your skillet or griddle.  I use a cast-iron skillet and set the burner to 2 (it goes low-sim-2-4-6-hi), which is the temperature I use to brown ground beef and a little higher than what I use for eggs.  You're just going too have to experiment.  Pour a little oil on a clean cookie sheet, silicone mat, or counter, and oil your hands.  Get the dough, which will be spongy after rising all night, and pull off little golf-ball-sized globs of it.  Smoosh each one between your oiled hands into a flat disk, and plop it in the pan.  I used to lay them out for a few minutes to rise, but they seem to do fine going straight into the pan, so why add a step?  It should take 5-10 minutes for them to get brown on the bottom; if they are browning too fast, turn the pan down.  They'll also puff up a bit.  Flip them over and get the other side brown, and then they're done and you can do the rest of the batch.  I can fit four in my pan at once, so I just do three rounds.  I start eating as the first ones come off, though!

You can jazz these up all kinds of ways.  You can add pretty much anything to the dough you like -- flax seed, sesame seeds, nuts, raisins, different flours.  And once they're done you can top them with anything you like: jam, butter, cream cheese, lox, sour cream, smoked Gouda, ham, savory cranberry chutney*, cinnamon sugar, poached eggs and hollandaise (for Eggs Benedict), sandwich fixins.  You can cut them in half like storebought English muffins, or just blob the toppings on top.  We usually eat about half the batch for breakfast and then use the rest in our lunch.

So easy.  So good.  And there are two left still ... I gotta go.

*Savory cranberry chutney: equal parts raw cranberries, celery, and onions, whizzed in the food processor.  Add ginger and red pepper to taste, and 1 tablespoon salt per quart.  Pack into a jar and ferment for 2-4 weeks.  This is best with sour cream or strong cheese, atop an English muffin.  Michael eats it straight though.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Bad news and good news

Bad news: As you know, my computer died and I lost all my files.  It's all a great loss, but the worst part is my fiction.  I haven't written much of anything since the kids were born -- writing novels takes a lot of brain space that I just haven't had to spare -- but I had several drafts that I was saving in the hopes of getting back to them someday.  Most important were my three novels.  Novel #1 is a completed, polished second draft.  No worries for that one -- my mother has a hard copy.  How to get it back as a digital version is still tricky, but at least it exists.  Novel #2 is complete as well, but it's going to have to be rewritten I think.  But that's okay too -- when I finished the first draft, I emailed it to several people to read.  I still have it in my Gmail account.  But novel #3 wasn't finished, and so I hadn't shared it with anyone.  I couldn't even remember how much of it I'd written.  Eighty pages?  One hundred?  More than that?  Had I ever rescued my characters from the life raft they'd been sitting on for, oh, six years?  Yes, it's actually the oldest story, abandoned the longest.  I'd written myself into a corner that I was going to need a lot of research to get out of, and I was just waiting for some real free time to do that.  And this file was nowhere to be found.  I searched every folder in my email account -- nothing.  Maybe there might be notes for it in the attic in a notebook, but maybe not.

Good news:  Losing the files motivated me to get back to writing.  I lay awake for several nights (those of you with kids KNOW what a big deal this is) trying to remember the plot and figure out where I wanted to go with it.  I had some good ideas.  Time to get writing.  As I was trying to remember the time period in my life when I had written it, something occurred to me.  I hadn't been using Gmail at the time.  I'd been using Yahoo.  And at the time -- back when I was in college -- my email account was my main location for file storage.  I emailed myself all my important files at the end of every semester, so I could take them home with me.  Might they be in there?

Very good news:  First thing in the morning I searched my Yahoo mail and hit pay dirt!  Novel #1, perfect and complete.  Novel #3, missing some of it (not sure how much) but the majority of it was there!  As a bonus, some pictures from high school and a few poems.

Bad news:  Ugh, I forgot how truly terrible my writing was in novel #3.  I always sound pretentious in a first draft, but this is awful.  I'll probably have to rewrite the whole dang thing.  (But at least I have the 80 pages that I had written, so I can remember what the plot was like.)

Good news: Novel #1, though, is excellent!  I don't mind saying so myself, because when you've let a novel sit for six years, it's kind of like reading someone else's novel.  I couldn't remember, as I read it, what was going to happen next.  Luckily my style was not so horrible in this one.  I changed some formatting and added some explanatory sentences as I read, but that was it.  As I have every time I've read the book -- including the time when I was writing it -- I sobbed at this one scene.  I can't not cry.  It's the saddest thing I've ever read.  I wonder if it would be sad to anyone else or if it's just a me thing.

More good news:  I have gotten to work in earnest on novel #3, which is a sequel to #1 (#2 is a completely different genre, and I am still stuck on how to revise it .... perhaps it needs to age a few more years before I can look at it).  It's taking awful amounts of research.  But the wonderful thing is, we have Wikipedia now!  When I started this book, I checked out dozens of books from the library and found that every single one of them skipped the information I needed.  Now I can find articles on every topic I want, links to primary sources, and a whole organization dedicated to the specific topic I'm talking about.  AWESOMESAUCE.

The past six years have given me enough of a break to see this story with new eyes, cut out the stuff that didn't fit, and radically change the plot.  The thought of losing it all gave me the courage to just start writing again.

Those of you who like to write, I have a recommendation for you.  The next time you get writer's block, might I suggest waiting six years and then taking a pickaxe to your hard drive?

Just kidding.  Go back up your files right now.  Do it.  And then dig up that old Word 98 file, dust it off, and see if you still like it.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

What I've been doing instead of blogging

I really miss blogging.  I certainly haven't intended to give it up.  There have just been so many other things competing for the same dregs of time in every day.

First, as you know, my computer up and died.  In the middle of uninstalling Chrome, in fact, which seems suspicious to me.  John has been tinkering with it and is of the opinion that my entire hard drive is basically gone now.  That means thousands of pictures, hours of music, dozens of story ideas, all my recipes, and one 3/4 finished novel are gone forever.  Luckily the more-finished novels and most of the best pictures were either posted online or emailed, so I can recover them, but the rest is gone.   Do me a favor.  Right now -- right now -- go find your five most important files and make sure they are backed up.  It won't take you 60 seconds to email them to yourself.  Better yet, back up your whole hard drive.  Don't say you will get to it when you have time.  You never will have time.

Then John went out of town for a week in the middle of December.  I was going along fine, handling everything okay, until the last night ... when I came down with the stomach flu.  I don't know what to tell you about watching two very active kids while trying not to hurl, except that I don't recommend it.  It certainly made me wish that my mother lived near me so I could call for reinforcements.

Then we had one week to go before our trip to visit John's family in Wisconsin.  Bringing two littles anywhere is like mobilizing an army; we had to-do lists a mile long.  So of course Michael decided to get sick.  Not the stomach flu -- it seems to have been roseola.  At any rate it matches the symptoms: two days of high, fluctuating fever, which breaks on the third day and is followed by spots on the torso.  Marko had the same at about the same age.  I thought taking care of a sick baby who refused to be put down was hard.  Add in a toddler who still has his usual number of needs, and, well, you can imagine.

The day his fever broke was one day before we had to leave, and you'd better believe I was relieved that Marko didn't get sick too!  But that didn't leave me a lot of time to make a new mei tai for our trip (my old one was chewed up by the dog; very sad).  I got it cut out and ended up sewing it in the car.

Here's how we managed 17 hours of travel (not counting any stops) with two kids.  First, we resolved to leave extra time.  That's what we did when Marko was a baby -- we did this trip with him twice.  But with Michael there's an extra issue -- he hates, hates, hates his carseat.  He sleeps in it great, but if it's not time for sleep, he mostly just screams.  17 hours of screaming wasn't appealing for any of us.  So we decided to make the longest leg, the 12-hour drive to Chicago, overnight.  We left Friday at 6 pm, took turns driving the whole way, and arrived at John's grandparents' around 7 am (6 Central Time).  We rested that day at their house, taking turns taking naps, and spent the night at a hotel.  In the morning we went to Mass and drove the further five hours to John's family's house.

How did it go?  Not as well as hoped, not as bad as feared.  For the first part of the night, the kids kept waking each other up.  One would wake and cry and wake the other, and the second child's fussing would keep the first from going back to sleep.  If we got lucky and they both slept for a bit, they'd wake when we stopped for gas.  It didn't help that Michael was still fussy from being sick.  But the second half of the night, they slept more soundly.  The daytime part wasn't bad at all, though we had to stop and feed Michael, because he napped most of the way.  The last half hour he screamed, though.  The really hard part was recovering from a whole night of driving.  Neither of us slept very well in the passenger seat.

The kids loved being at Grandma's with all their aunts.  They have seven on that side, and all but the two in the convent were there.  So they had plenty of company -- aunts to play with Marko and aunts to hold Michael during all his naps.  It turns out getting held for an hour by someone who doesn't move or make noise is the secret to Michael taking a real nap.  Too bad I can't make that part of his regular life.

For Christmas John gave me a netbook, so I should now have an easier time finding an opportunity to blog.  It's an Asus Eee PC and I love it.  It's so small, I can hold it in one hand and type with the other.  I can stick it on my kitchen counter and read recipes off it.  Its battery lasts pretty much forever, so I can bring it all over the house.  Next step: install Ubuntu.  I am so done with Windows.

On our way back, we got to see the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, which was pretty neat.  The Foucalt pendulum was my personal favorite ... I love to see science PROVEN before my very eyes.  That wore out the kids enough for them to tolerate an afternoon of driving through Indiana.  We just kept driving through the night -- both kids slept better than on the way out -- and arrived home at 2:30 a.m.  It's probably going to take us a few days to recover from that.

So, that was our Christmas.  How was yours?  I hope all of you have a wonderful New Year that's full of blessings.
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