Saturday, January 31, 2015

Pumpkin cream sauce

I never seem to have time for a "real" post, so today you get a recipe.

My kids love mac 'n' cheese, but on the one hand cheese is expensive, and on the other, I'd like them to eat more vegetables sometimes.  So I came up with this sauce, which can go on pasta or chicken or perhaps some spaghetti sauce.  Whatever you like.

First, you melt some butter -- about 2 Tbs -- and completely mix in an equal amount of flour.  Then pour in about a cup of milk and bring to a simmer while stirring to make the cream sauce.  After it starts to thicken, put in half a can of pumpkin -- 1/2 to 1 cup.  Then season with garlic, salt, pepper, thyme, and sage .... just a little pinch of each.  If you want to really gild the lily, you can put some parmesan in.  And then pour it all over your noodles.

It's ridiculously good.  Even the kids think so, and they think they don't like pumpkin.

Friday, January 23, 2015

7qt - teething


The washer is fixed!  A friend came over and tinkered with it, and now it isn't leaking.  Not entirely sure what the problem had been, perhaps some hoses weren't screwed in quite right or something.  I am now really enjoying laundry -- I am so happy to be able to dump in the clothes and walk away!  Though laundry has never been a dreaded chore for me anyway; it beats dishes hands down.


Miriam appears to be teething.  At least that's how I read extreme fussiness, poor sleep, and trying to bite my face.  I am a bit miffed because this girl has led me to believe all this time that she was an easy baby, and here she is pulling out the rug on me!  She wakes up every hour or two throughout the night, and I can't get her back in the crib so she has to sleep with me.  Which I hate.  Last night she added an extra feature, the three a.m. "it's totally morning, mom" awake time.  Plus the 5:30 final wakeup.  Not cool, Formerly World's Happiest Baby.

She won't fall asleep in her wrap anymore, she pushes against me and cries.  She will fall asleep while nursing, but then wake up if I move or if the boys make any noise .... and you know how often THAT happens.  I finally figured out, halfway through yesterday, that nursing her IN the wrap sort of works.  It's not my favorite, but it allows her to get some sleep anyway.

I picked the wrong week to try to give up caffeine.  (Thought it would help her sleep ... though it clearly isn't!)


Yesterday's post was intended to finally explain how I can be happy with being a woman.  And it works for me at the moment.  The trouble is, sometimes it doesn't.  Sometimes a prestige group simply appears to be a scam to get more work out of people.  To the question "why do I have to suffer more for the common good than others?" there is never any real answer.

But I think that one of the things that makes a big difference to how I view my life is having the right models and archetypes.  I have to be able to imagine myself as something I can admire.  For quite a long time it was Ma Ingalls; I love Ma.  But that stopped working.  And then for awhile it was Mother Earth -- the idea of being life-giving and growing helped me through some of my last pregnancy.  I don't feel I need that so much now.  My model at the moment comes from Lois McMaster Bujold.  (Yeah, when I like an author I talk about them constantly, you know how it is.)

In her science fiction books, the planet Barrayar is ruled by a warrior caste called the Vor.  Mostly they're just an aristocracy and nothing particularly special.  But from time to time you see that they are something more than that -- they are people raised with the understanding that they are always, always, always going to put Barrayar before themselves.  They are never allowed to be deficient in courage.  They are never allowed to follow sentiment before duty.  It's just their demanding culture, and it makes many of them rather unhappy.

But they are also heroic.  There is a scene in one of her books in which our hero, Miles, is negotiating a hostage situation.  A Vor lady is being held hostage so that the terrorists can finish their destructive plot that will kill all these innocents on a space station.  Miles chooses to call their bluff, risking the lady's life.  It turns out okay, but afterwards Miles apologizes to her.  He says that he really didn't want to risk her life, and he doesn't expect her to forgive him for putting the good of the space station first.  And she says something like, "Why did you have a second's hesitation?  I'm Vor.  Of course I would be willing to give my life for the space station, who do you think I am?"

Miles, being Vor himself, instantly understands.  Being Vor is tough and not much fun, but by golly, when you need someone to give their life for something, they're the ones you want.

And that's kind of how I am seeing being a woman right now.  It's about being called to something extra, something you didn't choose, but something that's desperately needed, so what can you do but accept it?  The knowledge that you are doing something vital makes it possible to see the sacrifice as worthwhile, even if you don't enjoy a second of it.


Speaking of womanhood, I wrote this post on my other blog which might interest you guys too.  It's about the joy and dignity of work.


This week's episode of Papal Hysteria is the rabbit edition!  Oh boy, panic and lament!  I am just ... not bothered by it.  At all.  (Enbrethiliel, though, feel free to skip to #6, I won't be offended.)

It seems to me clear enough what the Pope said.  Which makes me think sometimes that people are deliberately misreading him to have something to get mad about, but let's give them the benefit of the doubt that they really think he's saying something bad.  And to explain that you have to see the context.  The interviewer asked him about birth control, and the subtext (it seems to me) was pretty clear: You, Holy Father, claim to care about poverty, but the reason for poverty in the Philippines is all those dumb Catholics breeding like rabbits -- and that's your fault because you won't let them use the Pill!

And his answer was in three parts: First, the birth rate in the Philippines is not high, it's just over replacement.  Second, the Church does not either say that people must have the maximum possible number of kids, it's always been about generosity AND responsibility.  There's never been a teaching that you must have more kids than you can afford, or that you must get pregnant if your health is endangered.  And third, poor people want to have the kids they're having, they see them as a gift.  Don't give them pills, they don't want pills, they want help for their kids.

Not offensive to me, not at all.  He was never saying that Catholics think we are supposed to be like rabbits.  He was saying that some non-Catholics accuse us of having to be like rabbits (it's a slur many of us have heard before; I have) and that is simply not true, it's no part of our doctrine that we mindlessly reproduce, it has ALWAYS been a matter of discernment.  So when you see a family of ten, it's not that the pope made them have a bunch of babies they didn't want -- that family wanted and chose to have that many.

But what about his specific comment about the woman with the seven c-sections?  Well, there's two issues.  First there is the question of telling somebody's specific story.  When priests use this trick in their homilies, I always assume the story is either made-up or a composite, because it would be pretty awful to tell a real person's real story.  I mean, how would you feel to have your own problems trotted out, even anonymously, as a "what not to do" in the sermon?  And yes, if this is a real specific case, to the point that the woman could identify herself, the Pope shouldn't do that.  Not sure if that is the case.

The second issue is, is his judgment on the situation even correct?  Is getting pregnant after seven c-sections tempting God?  Well, it depends.  I do think it could be.  If your doctor has told you, "Look, after all those cesareans, your uterus isn't in good shape.  If you get pregnant again, I fear a rupture or placenta acreta," well, I'd listen to him if I were you.  The risks of pregnancy increase quite sharply with each c-section.  Two or three is pretty darn safe.  Seven, eight?  I wouldn't.  Personally, I wouldn't.  Not on purpose.  And that's with me having no other risk factors and living in a country with good maternal care in general.  The point stands -- we are not supposed to put God to the test, doing dangerous things and demanding that God make it all right.  He doesn't work that way.  And as a mother of seven, you do have a responsibility to the kids you have.  But if you are actually in that situation, ask your doctor what your specific risks are.  It might be no more dangerous than any number of other worthwhile things you do.

Unfortunately, the Pope makes it sounds like with all these wonderful licit means to avoid pregnancy, all Catholics can avoid pregnancy for sure whenever they want.  And that's not actually true.  Of the people I know with scads of c-sections and health risks, generally they try not to get pregnant and do anyway.  Agreed, the Pill has a failure rate just like NFP has.  But I am not sure what the Church would recommend in those cases.  Abstinence till menopause?  Or does it depend on just how bad the risk was?

And I suppose this is why the Pope also mentioned that confessors should be merciful in dealing with these issues.  Not that they should give people permission to break the moral law -- but that they should understand that couples face really strong temptations in their marriages, and instead of calling them names, accusing them of failing to love their spouses or God, they should give absolution and a merciful penance, and if necessary refer them to things which might help, whether it's a convincing argument for the Church's way or a doctor or NFP teacher who could help them out of their difficulty.  The Church's teaching is hard sometimes; we need the support of our priests.


Marko is OBSESSED with Doctor Who.  He'll wake up in the morning and demand gel for his hair so he can be the Tenth Doctor.  Then he goes and builds a Dalek out of tinker toys.  Later on he declares my room is the TARDIS and keeps running in and out of it on a mission of his own.  Anything stick-shaped -- ANYTHING -- becomes a sonic screwdriver.  I have to say I don't mind.  I like my kids following my fandoms.  And John can't complain -- last week it was battle droids.


So the other day he was monkeying around pretending to write, like he sometimes does.  It makes me feel bad, because unschooling's about following the child, not neglecting the child, and yet I hardly ever have the time to do letters with him, even though he's interested.  He has a letter puzzle, and I think by now he knows what all the letters' names are at least.  Earlier this week we had some fun making words with the letters from his puzzle, but only for about ten minutes because then the baby started to cry.

So  he is sitting at the table "writing," and I'm thinking about how he's nearly five and hasn't taught himself to read yet.  The kids in my family all read early, so I don't really know what the right timeframe is, but I've felt very strongly that I shouldn't push him yet.  I mean, why do kids have to read in kindergarten anyway?  So I resolve not to stress out about it, but also not to be quite so neglectful.  Maybe I should make some time to work on letters with him.  But first I should read up on literacy.  Reading first, or writing first, like in Montessori?  Print first or cursive first?  Why is this all so complicated?

In the middle of this he asks how to spell "golf ball," and I tell him, slowly, not really expecting him to write it because his most letterlike shapes so far have been a bit of a Rorschach test.  But when I go over there, what he has written actually does look like "HOLF BALL."  Not bad.  So he flips his paper over and demands I spell TARDIS.  So after about 20 minutes he and I -- with me mostly keeping busy doing housework around him, and just telling him what letter to do next -- have come up with this:

[picture of the Doctor and his sonic screwdriver]
[picture of the TARDIS]
[picture of a Dalek]

He goes on for another hour or two and fills up three more sheets of paper, front and back.  He refuses to write about anything that is not Who-related.  Some of the letters he doesn't know how to write, and I pull them out of the puzzle to show him.  Only after I do that a few times, he starts playing helpless and wanting me to do that with every single letter.  Oh well.  I play along, no biggie.  He's holding the pen right and his letter shapes are getting more controlled.  If he wants to pretend he suddenly doesn't know what an A looks like, whatever.  Ever since then he's been doing some writing every day, because he can.

I'm just pleased as punch.  I try not to care overmuch about literacy -- I mean, it's not one of the main skills for the under-six bunch, they have so much else to master that's important like self-control and empathy and not running into things -- but, well, it is awfully important in our society, and it's natural for every parent to worry a lot about it.

And there's my kid, proving unschooling really does work, and that in between all the toy obsessions and fandom crazes, everyone once in awhile kids go nuts about learning

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The privilege of being a woman?

My only sister is getting near "that age."  Meaning, the age when we have to explain to her the facts of life.  This is supposed to be done in a positive and affirming way, but I'm really struggling to find a way that doesn't sound like breaking her the bad news.

"Congratulations!  You know how you've always been comfortable in your own skin and your body never gave you the least bit of trouble?  Yeah, well, those days are over."

As her big sister, I feel I'm supposed to be able to reassure her about being a woman, but it just brings home how uncomfortable I tend to be with the idea myself.  I was fine as a teenager and young adult -- I figured the downsides of female biology were just the price I had to pay to get to be the lucky one that would get to be pregnant and give birth.  Now that I've actually had to do those things, I'm beginning to suspect there's no good news.  Womanhood, even apart from any cultural issues, involves some suffering.

But now I'm the mother of a girl and I feel even more intensely the necessity of getting this right.  I can't, I must not, teach my daughter that she's unlucky to be a woman, that it's a disadvantage or a burden.  I want to show her a model of womanhood that will make her feel privileged to be who she is.

Motherhood is hard.  It starts with queasiness and back pain, then you pass through the anguish of labor, then you lose a lot of sleep and baby only wants the one with the breasts, and after a few years of that the bond with the baby is so strong that their whole life, they're very likely to want you most, especially when they're hurt, angry, or vomiting.  And because, likely as not, you're blessed with an extra helping of empathy, you're going to find yourself going to truly ridiculous lengths and ignoring your own heath and well-being to help your kids with their problems.

G. K. Chesterton is one of the few men I know of who can say "women should stay in the home" and make it sound like a compliment.  He says that being a wife and mother is a good deal more demanding and requires more skill than most other occupations, so putting the burden of childcare and housework on women is asking a great deal of sacrifice, but it has nothing at all to do with saying that women are dumber or less capable than men.  It's saying that they are smarter and stronger.

However, it's kind of cold comfort to be told "you have to suffer more and work harder because you are better" when you don't really feel you are better.  When plenty of people don't mind saying it's because you are worse, because you aren't capable of making good decisions, because Eve ate that dadgum apple.

Thinking about this, it occurred to me that culture has two ways of getting some people to take on a disproportionate amount of burden for the good of the community.  Way #1 is to take away the rights of that group.  Take serfdom or slavery.  "Our society needs somebody to pick the cotton, that somebody is you.  Because you'd protest at this if you had rights, you now have none."  And historically, this has been a lot of what has happened to women!  Society will suffer if mothers don't want to get pregnant, don't want to give birth, don't want to breastfeed, don't want to help with the homework and wash the dishes and so forth .... so let's make sure women have no other options but those things, and then we can count on them sticking with it.  If they can go to college, run for office, win the Nobel Prize .... why would they stay home when that requires so much suffering?

Yes, I am agreeing that sexism had a very real purpose.  It was to make women keep doing the massive body of work that no one else could do or wanted to do, without which society could not function.

There is another way, though.  There is the prestige group.  Take, for instance, the Marines.  The Marines never lack for recruits, even though being a Marine requires all kinds of miserable work like running for miles carrying heavy backpacks and bunking out in the cold or heat.  The reason is that being a soldier has high prestige in our culture.  It's understood that this is hard, that it takes real skill to do it, and that society relies on it.  We feel the same about police officers and firefighters.  We know that these are the people who make society function, and they do it by sacrificing more than we do, and so we give them respect and honor.

I think, to some extent, the reason women get so frustrated, especially stay-at-home mothers, is that we really are giving up a lot in order to do what we do, and yet our occupation is given very little respect.  Being a mother is hard, takes real skill, and society relies on it, but there are a million reasons why mothers aren't respected.  Partly it's a desire for control -- mothers aren't doing their jobs right, the way we think they should, and so they don't deserve respect.  (Hence all the shaming for working moms, stay-at-home moms, poor moms, moms with nannies, homebirthing moms, non-vaccinating moms, helicopter moms, attachment parenting moms, tiger mothers, and so on forever.)  You are a domestic goddess, until you question your doctor, and then you're "just a mom with an internet connection."  You are the heart of the home, until you let your kids walk to the park, and then you're irresponsible.  Your work is vital for the survival of the next generation -- until you're poor, at which point it doesn't count as work, as far as the welfare system is concerned, and you have to be seeking a "real" job.

I understand this, I really do.  Like sexism, mother-shaming has a purpose.  Since mothers are doing work on behalf of all of society, everybody's got an opinion about how they should do it.  However, I'd a million times rather have a little bit of help than a lot of advice.  And I wouldn't mind a bit of respect.

I understand, it's hard to respect mothers when they have a job that isn't at all exclusive -- just about any woman can do it, and women are half the world.  And it doesn't come with all the skilled, creative tasks it used to, like gardening, spinning, weaving, and brewing.  (Well, except in my case.)  And it looks an awful lot like the work a daycare worker does for minimum wage.

But I maintain that the grueling, life-changing, heart-opening work that is motherhood actually makes you stronger, smarter, better.  Like any of those other demanding, service-oriented jobs, it forces you to overcome your limitations and transcend your self-love.  The skillset is different that it used to be -- we are now experts on height-weight charts and gluten-free diets instead of on sock-darning -- but it was never about the skills.  It's about what it means for a person to take on more of the burden of society than average.

And that respect, most of all, comes from within.  A Mother's Day card doesn't make up for the lost sleep, catching vomit in your hands, the agony of birth and having to listen to them talk about spaceships for years on end.  But when you see what you do as a sacred calling, as a special thing that not everyone gets to do and not everyone can, it gives you a sense of purpose.  I've found and lost that sense of purpose more than once.  I don't know how to hold onto it more firmly.  But it makes all the difference in the world.

Yes, I know, I started off talking about women and I've only talked about mothers.  I won't apologize for being exclusionary, because that's sort of the point of a prestige group -- it's exclusive.  However, I will say that the main disadvantage of being a woman comes into play when you have kids and find that it's not just a tangential addition to your life, like it might be for a man, but winds up changing you in ways you didn't expect.  And, of course, all the differences between women and men are ordered toward parenthood.

But even if you never have kids, being a woman might require some suffering, and like all suffering, it has the possibility of making you stronger and wiser.  For instance, periods.  They aren't fun.  I don't like them.  But I think there's something in having them that makes us stronger.  It teaches us that we're not always in control, that stuff happens.  It teaches us how to suffer and how to nurture ourselves through it, on the one hand, and put a brave face on it, on the other.  Men don't seem to know how to be sick.  Either they take to their beds and whimper whenever they get sick (the classic Man Cold) or they try to power through it because sickness is weakness (which is what John does).  Women know about having a cup of tea and going to bed early but still showing up to work.  We know that sometimes our feelings might be irrational and so we know that sometimes, there's no choice but to ignore them.  We know that we are not in total control, but we learn not to let our bodies be in total control either.  We learn to sympathize with others.

It's a kind of wisdom you develop over years and years, something I wish there were no need for, but I can't regret that I have.  Despite all my complaining about the sacrifice and suffering involved in being a woman, deep down, I don't want to be a man.  I feel that I'd be losing something important.  True, all the "gifts" of being a woman aren't really gifts that benefit ourselves.  Like the power of the priesthood, they are gifts at the service of the community.

But still, there's a pride in saying "I have given something very special to my community, something not everyone could give or has given."  I think every person who has done anything really selfless understands this.  It is a privilege, even if all it means is that we give and give and get nothing back.  It's a privilege, even if we didn't choose it.  It's a privilege because service is something special.

I hope my sister and daughter learn this -- that throughout all their lives, whenever they suffer the disadvantages of being women, they feel in their bones that it's a privilege too.

Friday, January 16, 2015

7qt - disaster week

Hoo boy, what a week.


First, I was doing a load of wash.  (I call laundry "the wash" and a washing machine a "washer."  Is this wrong?  John makes fun of me for it, so it's probably a Northwest thing.  Or a my-family thing -- being military on both sides, my family has its own jargon which I can't always track down.)

Anyway, it was still agitating and hadn't yet rinsed when I smelled smoke.  Went into the laundry room and the whole room was smoky.  So I shut off the washer and messaged John, who said something was probably burning out inside.  Maybe the motor?  Neither of us is an appliance expert, but we soon suspected it wasn't fixable.  I mean, the thing has got to be at least twenty years old; it came with the house.


Sometime in there, can't remember if it was before or after the smoking-washer problem, Michael spilled a cup of milk on my laptop keyboard.  And what's worse, he failed to tell me he had done so, so I didn't find out till I was done with whatever chore I was doing and tried to use my computer.  I poured all the milk out and restarted, but still nothing.  The trackpad worked, but nothing else.  I managed to take the password off so I could surf the internet, but you can't do much without a keyboard.

Especially work on your novel, if you happen to be writing one, and have had to take weeks off for Christmas break anyway, and are eager to get back to it lest your inspiration shrivel up and die.  Oh, woe.

The bright side of all this is that, on the one hand, we are a two-computer family, so I have been using John's.  It has some disadvantages, like the fact that it's in the corner where I can't watch the kids as easily, and that he sometimes likes to use it too.  But it's keeping me connected .... though no noveling is happening right now.

And on the other hand, I find a replacement keyboard -- something I could plug in and use -- would only cost about eight bucks.  Don't you love how technology just gets cheaper and cheaper?


Then we went for dinner to a friend's house, but we forgot to tell them John doesn't eat gluten, so they served us pizza.  It had clearly been specially made just for us and they were quite anxious about whether we would like the toppings ... neither of us could figure out a polite way not to eat the pizza, so he just ate it.  And was correspondingly rather sick.

Also we had underestimated how late we'd be out -- we got back at 9 pm with three very tired kids.  The boys readjusted within a day, but were crabby for many more days.  Miriam, after a week, has only cranked back her bedtime to 8 pm.  It used to be seven.  Sigh.


For a day or so, the laundry just sat all soapy in the washer, but eventually I got up the nerve to stick my hands in the icy water (our laundry room isn't heated) and fish out the laundry.  Rinsed it in the tub, thank goodness the dryer works!  So we had clean laundry at last.  Normally I do wash at least every other day, or I run out of cloth diapers.

And then some friends of ours offered us an old washer they weren't using, so John went out there on the weekend to get it.  I stayed home dealing with the monsters -- seriously, much of the week they have been at each other's throats -- and thanking my lucky stars / God that we have such good friends who just happen to have a spare washer.

But when John got it home, it was quite a chore to get it down one set of concrete steps (the ones that lead from the road to our yard) and up another (the ones from the yard to the backdoor), especially considering there were ice patches.  But we got it done, and John hooked it up.  We did a load, no problems.

But a little later I went into the laundry room for something and found a small puddle.  Uh-oh.  I cleaned it up.  The next morning I went in there and found a lake.  We cleaned it up -- using the broom to sweep the water out the backdoor onto the concrete steps, where it promptly froze into a solid sheet of ice -- and turned off the taps that feed the washer ... our thought being that that must be where the water was coming from.  But we got one more little puddle even after that, so I guess not?


So, having two separate washers fail on me, I set to washing clothes in the tub.  Because whatcha gonna do.

Luckily I had read a handwashing hack a few years back that has revolutionized washing clothes without a washer.  You put the clothes and water and soap into a big, tall bucket (we have all these cat litter pails that we save; they are the best) and agitate it with a toilet plunger.  (A clean one, yes, though I don't believe this nonsense that you have to use a never-before-used plunger.  Rubber is cleanable.  I poured some boiling water on ours and called it good.  Anyway I was washing diapers, so ....)

You plunge up and down and change the water when it looks really dirty, and after a few rounds of that, the stuff is pretty clean.  I miss the spin cycle more than anything, because handwringing is tiresome.  But the kids helped a lot, especially with the plunging part.  I told them only big strong people could do it, so of course they were fighting over it.  Of course the novelty has somewhat worn off by now.

Of all life's modern conveniences, the only one I really feel I need is the fridge.  but second place surely goes to the washing machine.  Laundry is the work of maybe ten minutes a day with it, and close on an hour without it.

This weekend we're going to open it up, with the help of our handiest friend, and see if there's anything to be done.  I sure hope so, new washers are expensive.


Somewhere in there, I'm losing track now, was the morning I woke up and thought, "Gosh, I'm freezing!"  Sure enough, the oil was out.  If you've been following our oil tank woes, you may remember that we had a plumber out recently to take apart our oil line because the kids had shoved something down there.  He found a bunch of sand and leaves and said it was clear now.  Well, we called the oil guy out, he tried to fill the tank, but no dice -- it all sprayed out again.  Got the plumber back out there, he went further down the pipe, and guess what he found?

No, seriously, guess.


These guys:

Oh, how I love my children.  So much that I didn't even kill them for this.

That was last week, and we hadn't yet had time to get the oil guy back out here, and so our tank ran dry.  It was very cold.

Luckily, or rather because of very good advance planning, we have a kerosene space heater, meant for power outages, and so we did not actually freeze or anything.  Still, you try keeping a toddler and a preschooler from touching something that interesting and also on fire.  And from running headlong around it, wrestling right next to it, etc.

Took about three days, but we have a full tank now, and boy does it ever feel nice to have heat throughout the house.


The other day, I had a friend over who has two kids and is pregnant with the third.  I badly wanted to tell her that having three kids is not so bad, but you all know that this past year has been one of the roughest ever, so what could I say?  Then I thought about it, and thought about it, and realized .... this week I have had all this crap happen to me, and I actually have handled it fine!  I'm not screaming at everybody like I was when I was pregnant.  I'm not constantly tied to the baby like I was when she was a newborn.  She's almost five months and not really that hard to deal with.  The boys are getting over their cranky week and aren't fighting more often than once an hour or two.  I'm able to do the wash by hand and it hasn't stopped me from doing the dishes or tidying up the living room in the evening.  Yesterday I even baked bread.  If we can get our washer fixed, maybe I'll even be able to fold that massive basket of clean stuff in my room!  Or clean the kids' room!

I am actually handling things.  I'm handling them somewhat gracefully.  And I mean that in the strictest sense -- it is clearly a grace, a gift, that I am handling them.

Having a baby means, for me, a year of barely staying afloat -- nine months of pregnancy and three months of having a newborn.  And that year . . . is over.

I foresee better times ahead.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

7qt: involving some sociology


Sigh ... Miriam was doing so well.  Even throughout our trip she was sleeping almost the whole way through the night in her own little basket.  But when she got this stuffy nose, the game was up.  For a week she's been waking up right about when we go to bed and it isn't possible to get her back into her crib.  It might be uncrunchy, but I don't actually like sleeping with a baby.  I put up with it because it's a way to actually get some sleep, but sometimes I can't fall asleep and the rest of the time I'm sore.

Now the stuffy nose is almost gone and she's still doing it.  Also very distractible when she nurses during the day.  In short, exactly what Marko did at this age -- he transferred the bulk of his nursing to nighttime and wasn't interested in nursing in the day.  So the cure may be difficult -- first trying to get her to nurse more in the day, even though she doesn't want to, so that then she won't be hungry at night, and after that I can work on getting her to change her sleep pattern.

Or, you know, I can just put up with it.  Because she's a third child and the answer to everything with the third child is "put up with it."  Who's got the time and energy to force a change?

Anyway perhaps all this night nursing is actually good, from a child spacing perspective?


So I've been reading, thinking, and talking (mostly virtually) a lot about politics and culture lately.  Perhaps the right word is sociology?  I've been considering questions like, "What role does culture play in human well-being, and what sort of actions are appropriate to preserve an existing culture?" and "What do liberal and conservative mean, and which one is more right?" and "If I give a fair trial to ideas I disagree with, what will I learn?"

The first really enlightening article was this one: A Thrive/Survive Theory of the Political Spectrum.  The author's theory is that "conservative" values are the ones which, in general, are the ones which would be helpful in a zombie apocalypse.  When resources are few and danger is high, it makes sense to uphold tradition, have a strong defense, and in general to adopt many of the viewpoints conservatives of any time period have held.  "Liberal" values, on the other hand, are those which are about optimizing happiness, after safety and survival are taken care of.  I more or less agreed with this, with some caveats -- for instance, I think marriage and family would still be of value even in a perfect utopia.  But it pushes back the question to, "What sort of environment do we have now?"  Conservatives are more likely to see danger at every side, while liberals say, "We're perfectly safe as a society, now it's time to consider equality and individualism and all kinds of other values that will make us happy."  In some sense, both are true -- we are in some danger, but much less than we used to be.

Whether or not you agree with this assessment, it got me thinking about the possibility that cultural tendencies and memes aren't always "good" or "bad" -- they exist along with a certain outward situation, for which they are more or less well-suited.  For instance, I think that violence is bad, but in a case of extreme danger, violence is necessary.  I raise my kids to be as non-violent as possible, because the odds of them ever running into a situation where throwing punches is a good idea is very slim.  But I can imagine the ancient Celts didn't really fuss too much if the kids were whamming each other upside the head -- aggressiveness was likely to be useful in life, so why discourage it in kids?

Now one of the circumstances we're working with is human nature itself.  Human nature is highly adaptable, but not infinitely so.  I don't see us moving away from wanting family relationships, because I think our brains really are hard-wired for that.  But humans certainly have adapted to a wide variety of circumstances and built cultures appropriate to them, and they are likely to continue to do so.


That post led me to this post, Reactionary philosophy in an enormous, planet-sized nutshell, in which he describes a series of ideas which seem to be taking conservatism to its logical conclusion and attempting to "turn back the clock" to the Middle Ages or whenever.  Time was when I would have been totally on board with this -- there's a lot I love about the Middle Ages!  In fact his arguments in favor of these ideas are so strong that I went looking for his refutation of the same and found it here: The Anti-Reactionary FAQ.  If you're going to read the first one (in which he argues in favor of his opponents' ideas) please read this one too, which is the rebuttal.

Neither argument was entirely convincing to me, but I do think this: trying to reconstruct medieval Europe (or any time in the past 2000 years) without Christianity sounds like the premise of a horror story to me.  You can't be reactionary about culture and not about religion, because the religion is part of the culture -- perhaps the most essential part.  In my poking around on reactionary blogs, I ran into a guy complaining that virginal women are just not to be found anymore . . . except, of course, in hyper-religious circles.

Well, YEAH.  That's kind of the nice thing about religious subcultures!  You can meet people who share your values and participate in all the handy cultural things that help support those values.  But if you invented your reactionary values, then you're probably the only one who holds them.  Good luck finding someone who shares them!  Culture can't be invented by individuals.  If what you want are the benefits of a traditional culture, you have to adopt one wholesale.  Pulling out the parts you like and trying to adopt those is, well, a progressive thing to do.  Tradition requires humility and a sacrifice of personal freedom.  Trying to make up a traditional culture that goes the way you want destroys the entire point.

In short, "let's create a fake traditional society based on utilitarian values" is more likely to wind up like Nazi Germany than like anyplace in medieval Europe.


Recently I've been really dwelling on the moral message of Christianity, which is the one part of my religion I haven't the slightest atom of a problem with.  Stuff like "do good to those who curse you" and "love your enemies."  It's amazing and so utterly new.  Everyone got the concept of "love your tribe and hate outsiders" -- that's easy, and evolutionarily correct.  But treat outsiders the way you treat your tribe?  Madness.  And yet, it is arguable that this concept is what allowed the level of cooperation that makes modern society tick ... which is why Western civilization hasn't abandoned it, even when people are abandoning Christianity.

Likewise, forgiving wrongs instead of avenging them is very counterintuitive.  I know it's counterintuitive because it sometimes seems utterly impossible to teach it to my kids.  Eye for an eye seems to be "natural," and yet it's utterly destructive.  Violence begets more violence, and some of the most effective social changes in history have been nonviolent.

Take, for instance, the whole cops-vs.-black-people story.  (As a libertarian, I could point out that it isn't always black people and perhaps the problem is that there are too dang many laws and the cops have too much power, but it's all beside the point in this discussion.)  The "cop" side says: the ghettos are all full of thugs.  We have to be armed and be able to use lethal force, because some of them might kill us.  Then a very violent person on the other side said: You killed some of ours, now we will kill some of yours.  And they did.  Naturally the response of cops to this was, SEE!  How can you blame us if we shoot first and ask questions later, considering that we might get killed?

The only cure to escalating violence is for some people to take the wrongs upon themselves, to let themselves be hurt and not respond with violence.  And this is very, very hard to do.


But it occurs to me that maybe the reason we are drawn to avenge wrongs is because we are afraid.  (See pt. 2 above.)  Maybe having harm done to us convinces us that we are in danger, and thus violence is necessary.  That helps explain why Marko usually avenges wrongs before they happen.  He's not being a bully -- he genuinely thinks Michael is going to hurt him, so he figures the best defense is a good offense.  I originally let him play with a toy gun because it seemed to let him cope with his crippling anxiety.  Now I'm beginning to think fear is the only reason anyone carries a gun.  Why else would they?

But as we all know, that's the way of the Dark Side.  Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.

Which sort of explains why Marko stops being so aggressive when I lavish affection on him.  It helps him feel safe, and counteracts that feeling he has that there won't be enough for Michael and for him, too.  At the moment he's having a kind of rough time . . . I call it the downward spiral, when he stops sleeping and eating and becomes increasingly crabby and difficult.  Love is the best way to melt his defensiveness.

The only trouble is, we are in a real scarcity situation . . . in one day, with nothing else to do, I could pull Marko out of his spiral, but of course there is always another kid needing me.  Marko gets the short end of the stick all too often, because he can do so many things himself.


Speaking of Marko, his speech is getting me a little worried.  He stammers a lot.  To the point that he can flounder around for five minutes and still not finish his sentence.

But the most frustrating part of it is that even when he does finish his sentence, it still makes no sense.  He speaks in riddles.

Example: "I -- I -- I don't li -- I don't like -- I don't liiii.... I ALWAYS don't like the ... I always don't .... I always don't like things that, that, I always don't like things that go under beds, and, and NEVER come out!"

It kind of takes being his mother for me to be able to tell you that what he wanted in this case was for me to go into his room and get a lego out from under the bed.  Why won't he say that?

Or if he wants a certain toy at bedtime, he will NOT say the name of the toy.  It's, "I want something that's small .... and blue ... and squishy ... and it's holding a heart ...." and you have to keep guessing till you figure out it's his bear.  I don't know if he can't think of the name, or if he's just messing with us.

The stammer probably shouldn't worry me.  I do it under stress and even my mom does sometimes.  As a toddler apparently I drove everyone crazy with it.  It's not a motor problem -- it's not on a single letter or anything.  It's that we get distracted midsentence and have to start over or just get stuck.

But OH BOY is it frustrating to listen to!  I've got a baby crying in one ear, a toddler whining in the other, and there's Marko getting in my face and saying, "I want ... I want a ... I want ... I want something .... I want something that, that, that is red ....."


Of course it is very terrible and the worst thing you could possibly do to yell at a kid for not being able to finish his sentence, but let me tell you, I sweat bullets trying not to scream at him.  And yeah, I finish a lot of his sentences for him and that's probably hindering him from ever getting over this, but I just don't always have the time to wait.

Anyone know what the appropriate treatment for this is?  Speech therapy?  Growing out of it?  Homeopathics?  Witchcraft?  I'm pretty desperate.


Have you heard that Cardinal Burke said the trouble with the Church nowadays is that it is too effeminate?  You can kind of imagine my response.  In general I agree with Simcha Fisher -- I'm tired of hearing that everything crappy is feminized.  In what way is the liturgy "feminine"?  If it's "effeminate," that means it's supposed to be masculine and isn't -- who says the liturgy is supposed to be masculine?  It's not human; it has no gender.  If you think it's insipid, banal, or modernized, say so.  Why use a gendered metaphor?

But if what you mean is that women's involvement is to blame for the banality of the liturgy -- and I think Cardinal Burke absolutely does mean that -- well, that has yet to be proven.

For instance, the statement that altar girls are destroying priestly vocations.  Altar girls were allowed in 1994.  From 1995 to 2013, the number of seminarians increased 16% in America and 86% worldwide.  So far the data doesn't seem to support that conclusion.  Likewise, I heard that women are to blame for crummy liturgical music like Marty Haugen's stuff.  Last I checked, Marty Haugen was male!  How can you blame women for his music?

This is a really good response to the interview.

I agree, male Mass attendance lags behind that of women.  However, women are consistently more religious than men across different religions and denominations, so that comes as no real surprise.  Christianity in particular was called a religion for women and slaves by the ancient Romans.  So if the Church is too feminine for some of the men out there, I think that's a feature that's been there from the beginning and isn't likely to change.

That said, it's possible that some of Burke's ideas -- men-only groups where they talk a lot about St. Joseph, for instance -- might be good.  Who knows.  Meanwhile we need to worry about women too -- their church involvement is dropping now as well, at least among millennial and Gen-X women.

It's been a rather intellectual week for me, hasn't it?  How's yours been?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Word for 2015

Last year it was "wait."  The year before it was "seek."  And before that, "understanding."  It's never hard to think of a word.  I think it's because constantly throughout the year I'm always sizing up how things are going, recalibrating my steering just a touch, watching as new challenges arise.

Anyway, for weeks I've been saying "oh, I don't know, I'll have to give it some thought," and so it was about two days short of the new year when I actually tried to come up with a word.  I closed my eyes and asked myself, "What is the word?"

It popped right in.  "Act."  Of course!

Last year was ROUGH.  The first three months of my journal are completely blank because I was so miserable I didn't even want to talk about it.  I was just so terrified to be pregnant.  I didn't say at the time, but the main meaning of "wait" was "don't panic till the baby actually appears, it might not be as bad as you think!"  As well as "wait" in the sense of, "Looks like this isn't going to be the year for you to make any progress on anything or accomplish a single one of your dreams."

It was a very passive year; it had to be.  But I hated that.  I hated that pregnancy is just something that happens to you.  Labor, too -- some people see it as something they do, but it's something that happens to me.  I felt very powerless, like changes were just thrust on me without my consent.  Good morning, you're too sick to eat breakfast!  Good evening, now your pants don't fit!  It felt unfair.  And I have never felt less happy to be a woman, because being a woman means having stuff happen to you, while the men are out there doing things.

Wait was a good word for it.  I think I learned a bit about passivity and how it's not always something to be ashamed of.  The ability to suffer a lot isn't necessarily less important than the ability to do a lot.  And my generally responsive stance toward the kids is generally a good thing -- I let them come to me, and they set the tone as to what sort of day they're having and so forth.

However, Miriam is four months old and I think I'm ready to start doing things again.  It was smart to ride the storm out while it was going by, but now that there's a little calm, it's time to pick up the oars and row.

First thing: I've been whining for months about how being highly sensitive is so awful and how overstimulating my life is.  One of the factors that is overstimulating to me right now is my hair.  It's all over my neck and that drives me nuts.  A ponytail bugs me too.  I prefer short hair, but I am always conflicted about it because my husband does like long hair and I feel like I'm supposed to prioritize being pretty for him.  Really, if it actually mattered to him, I would.  But he doesn't care much one way or the other, and it occurred to me he'd probably much rather see me with a smile than with long hair.  So it's time to ACT -- I'm getting a haircut again.

Another thing: sometimes when the kids are very crabby, I've discovered that it helps to just step in and take the lead, organize a game for them.  It goes against my nature -- I really prefer just letting them entertain themselves -- but I think sometimes they need it.  And if the kids need me to ACT, I will.

Another: I have resolved in past years not to hold in my opinions and issues in my marriage but instead address them, because my tendency is to repress things that could be emotionally dangerous.  (I can't say if I got that from my upbringing, or if that's cult trauma talking, but it's NOT GOOD.)  So again, if I have a problem, stop feeling sorry for myself and just ACT -- by forcing myself to communicate, even when I don't want to.  (Do I hear Salix Babylonica cheering me on?  Never say I don't listen to your lectures!)

Another: I have been a seeker, in terms of religion, for years.  On and on, it's a battle and I'm not really getting the answers the way I would like.  Every answer that works for me for awhile ends up getting shredded, and there are more questions.  I know those questions also (probably) have answers, but I'm exhausted.  It's so tempting to just give up.  But what has come very clear to me lately is that often theology is just a distraction from practice.  That is, regardless of what the answers to my questions are, I don't really have any doubts about what I'm supposed to be doing.  To act as a good Catholic acts is a pretty straightforward proposition, and it is also something I can clearly see as a good.  We've finally got a priest whose homilies don't make me want to storm out of the church -- he talks about what you can do practically in your life to put into practice the gospel reading for the day.  I like that.  There is always something I can be doing better.

There's not a lot I can do as far as the outside world goes -- I am not going to be running for office this year or getting a job.  "Act" doesn't mean anything that drastic for me.  But I would very much like to finish another book this year.  I'd like to spend more of my free time spinning and less vegging out.  I'm not going to resolve to do better with the housework, because let's be honest: it's not going to happen.  I will do what I can.  Anyway I'm lightyears ahead, housework-wise, from where I was when I first got married.

I'm looking forward to 2015 -- there's no reason it shouldn't be a good year.  Miriam will get bigger and eventually be playing with her brothers.  Spring is going to come, I'll get to go outside again, and I'll feel alive the way I only do outside.  Just not being pregnant makes me feel alive -- it is kinda great to be the only person living in your body.  I never appreciated that before!  I'll be writing, spinning, maybe hanging out with friends once in awhile.  I'll be paying down debt -- we hope to pay off one of our loans this year, which is wonderfully encouraging.  My "reward" for this is that some of the budget room that's freed up is going to go for spending money for me, which I've never actually had before.  I think maybe it's time for me to learn how to spend money on myself!  Not a lot, because frugality will probably be important for me till the day I die, even if I had a million dollars, but a little "fun money" nonetheless.  Hope I don't blow it all on cheese.

This is the last full year of my twenties; I can hardly believe it.  But there it is.  It'll be a good year, I'm deciding now.  And I will ACT to make it happen!

What are your resolutions?  Do you have a word?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

7qt, holiday edition


You know how I asked a few weeks ago if it was crazy to consider driving halfway across the country with three kids under five?

Yes.  Yes it is.

We just got back from Wisconsin the other day and are just beat.  We broke up the trip in more days than usual.  The way there was one day to Sandusky, one day from there to Chicago, and one day from Chicago to Wausau -- between four and six hours drive time each day.  The way back we did faster (skipped visiting John's grandma) and did Wausau to near Toledo and then from Toledo to home, seven to eight hours a day.  Of course each trip involved lots of time at grody rest stops.  Also there was a little detour in Gary, Indiana, looking for a place to use the bathroom.  It was one of the more depressing places I've ever been, and also somewhat short of bathrooms.

Keeping the kids happy in the back was exhausting.  We had a whole bag of tricks, which they went through much faster than expected.  Food, books, markers (which they used to decorate themselves and the interior of the car), stuffed animals, cars, audio books.  Marko was good except for when he was picking on Michael for entertainment.  Michael was not very good; he whined a lot and sometimes made loud noises when the baby was sleeping.  And Miriam gave a good deal of trouble.  We put her in the way back so I could sit by her, but really, if she wasn't sleeping, she was mostly crying.  She did sleep a lot, luckily, but when she didn't she just sucked my finger for awhile and then got bored and cried.  We could stop and take her out for awhile, but as soon as she was buckled back in it was straight back to crying.  I guess Marko was an extra special baby -- we used to do twelve hours of driving a day and he pretty much only cried if he was hungry.

Along with all this was having to sleep in a hotel -- five in one room, with the boys not able to sleep with each other because they kicked each other.  We made one very smart choice, to bring the old Moses basket from when Marko was a newborn.  It made a nice portable bed for Miriam, who is still just barely small enough to fit.  She slept about as well on the road as at home, without taking any notice of the variety of places we stayed because her bed was always the same.  But Michael ... well, he's been a horrid sleeper from day one and this trip just accentuated that.  And gave him the opportunity to wake up the whole family at 4:30 in the morning.  Thank goodness for 24-hour cartoon channels.


But aside from the misery of getting there, it was a good trip.  I like my in-laws, and they LOVE the kids.  One aunt per kid means everyone's happy and I'm free!  Well, okay, Michael wasn't so agreeable to this.  Last trip he slept on Auntie Brigid the whole time, but this time he was suspicious of everyone and wanted only me.  It's weird because I don't remember him being shy when we visited my family last year -- but then, two and a half seems to be the shyest age.  When I traveled with Marko at two and a half, he seemed to think my family was a tribe of ax murderers.  Whereas this time, Marko was the one most obsessed with being with everyone.  And when we went home, he cried and cried and said he didn't ever want to be home ever again, he wanted to live with Grandma.


Miriam, though, was the World's Friendliest Baby and was all smiles, all the time, allowing herself to be handed around freely.  She is like a human antidepressant.  You just can't be sad around this kid.  And her only fault -- not going down for naps -- isn't really a fault when people are clamoring for a chance to hold her sleepy self.

John taught some of his siblings to play Dungeons and Dragons, which was fun.  (This is one of those "unexpected things" people are surprised to find out about me, that I love this game -- well, why wouldn't I?  Elves and dragons and such, of COURSE I like it!)  His brother came from out of town for a couple of the days, and I got to meet my new sister-in-law.  Didn't get much of a read on her in so short a time, except that apparently she's a goddess in the kitchen -- those brownie balls dipped in white chocolate were THE BEST.  As in, I ate about a million of them and made myself sick.


We're all feeling a bit of guilt for living where we do.  We don't want to live in Wisconsin, we like Virginia, but we do like being with our families.  And it's been coming clear to me in a lot of ways lately that community requires sacrifice.  Maybe the main reason community is so fragmented these days is because no one wants to sacrifice.  We all want what we want, to live where we choose, and most of all not to have to adapt to people who aren't perfectly sympatico.  Do we imagine that people in past generations who lived with their ageing parents actually got along all the time?  Probably not, but the benefits outweighed the disadvantages.  They knew they couldn't have the joys of a close family without putting up with some sacrifice.

Nothing to be done about it right now, not with John finally having a good job and of course in town council, and anyway I am still very set on the idea of putting down roots where we are.  But it does make us wonder, both of us.  Most of all, listening to Marko sob and sob the night we got home.  I pointed out he could call Grandma, but he doesn't think that's the same, and I don't blame him.


It was a bit of a struggle for my sensitive brain.  That is, there was a lot of chaos and noise and adjustment, and I felt very overstimulated the first few days especially.  I wish there were something I could do about this.  I don't like sleeping in strange places, I don't like people talking over each other, and I don't like my clothes not smelling like my clothes.  (Am I the only one addicted to a single brand of laundry soap?  No?)  The first day was the worst.  I felt kind of like an idiot, arriving there almost incapable of speech.  After three days of travel, I was so tired and discombobulated I couldn't form sentences.  "Are you hungry?"  "Um.  Am I.  Maybe . . . sandwich?  Don't, um, know.  Tea.  Please tea thank you."

After tea and snacks I was able to remember my kids' names again, what a relief.

The other tough point was Christmas itself, when the noise of present unwrapping and kids running around got to be too much and I snuck upstairs for a nap.  And actually took one!  *angels sing*  Yeah, every single kid was happy with somebody else.  That never happens at home.

I wish I could tell you my secret tips for surviving travel as a highly sensitive person, but sadly my only secrets are to make travel as unstressful and low-key as possible (which, when you have kids, is not very) and, when that fails, try to make your inevitable meltdown of the harmless variety.  My main tactic is to put John in charge of everything, because I can't think or communicate well when I'm very stressed, while he is GREAT at decisionmaking under pressure.  (He is terrible at empathy under pressure, which is why he's driving and I'm in the backseat comforting weepy kiddos.)  And, of course, when the traveling is done, I've learned to rest up as thoroughly as possible so I'm not carrying general crabbiness through the whole visit.


Marko's favorite part of the trip was when he was exploring Grandma's model village and found the miniature TARDIS.  My in-laws are the ones I picked up Whovianism from, so everyone was pretty thrilled at Marko zooming the TARDIS around.  He basically held onto that thing for about three days without playing with anything else.  Grandma even let us take it home.

Michael's favorite thing was the puppies.  The dog had had puppies about a week before, so they were all cute and snuggly and had their eyes and ears still shut.  Michael had to be closely supervised with them, but he did fine.  Sometimes as well one of his aunties (generally Mary) managed to lure him into playing instead of giving her the constant side-eye.

Miriam loved getting held nonstop.  Anytime someone caught her eye, she giggled at them.  That's a quick way to become everyone's favorite person.

My favorite part was probably the Doctor Who marathon we did after the kids were in bed.  They had bought all of season eight on Amazon, Christmas special included, and we managed to jam it all in.  So now I am Officially Caught Up.  Not super keen on the Twelfth Doctor still.  He's not bad, just ... well, one gets attached to previous incarnations.  Also, one never buttons a shirt all the way to the top unless one has a tie.  Bugs me.


Right after Christmas we all started getting sick, one after another.  We dropped like flies.  There was a sore throat and a fever and quite a lot of snot -- each of us getting our own version of it.  John and I each spent about half a day in bed (hooray for enough help that each of us could AFFORD to!).  Marko spent about two and a half days feverish, sitting on the couch watching movies.  (He got a good dose of some of the best kids' movies out there, so at least he won't grow up uncultured like me.)  Michael was a whiny, clingy crab for days and days.  And Miriam was horribly snotty, ran a fever for a day, and wasn't better when we had to drive home .... which was awful for everyone in the car.

On the one hand, I'm very sorry to the family that we had to waste half of our precious time with them on being sick.  But on the other, I am so glad that I didn't have to deal with all that alone.  Normally a sick baby consumes everything, but this time she just slept on various relatives while I dealt with Mr. Must-Be-On-Mama-At-All-Times, aka Michael.  The nights were still bad, though.  Michael was up pretty much all night for several nights, meaning John was too.


Grandma got better fast, luckily, and I take all the credit because I made her soup.  Sure, she was also taking Airborne and naps, but I think it was the soup.  Here is my recipe:

1 qt chicken stock, the real kind not cubes
1 chopped onion
vegetables, as available (this time, carrots, celery, parsnip, green beans, and corn)
lots of garlic -- ideally several fresh cloves, or the jarred or dry equivalent
about a tablespoon of ginger
salt and pepper to taste

Then if you like you do an egg drop: two eggs, two Tbs of lemon juice, beaten together.  Mix in some hot broth to warm up the egg, and then slowly pour the whole mess into the pot, stirring so you don't just get a poached egg.  If you don't like eggs in your soup (though it's barely noticeable) just do the lemon juice.

Well, that's how it went.  Do I feel like ever doing this again?  No.  Am I almost certainly going to do it again?  Yep.  We love our family, even when it's one of the labors of Hercules to get us out there and back.

Maybe we should start saving money for plane tickets, though.  'Cause this. was. rough.
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