Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Raccoon

 I chased a raccoon up a tree last week.  It was hard to get the camera to focus right, at first.
He just sat up there taunting me.  Then Steve came home from work and we fruitlessly threw pine cones at it.  No raccoons were harmed in the process, more's the pity.  We would like it to go away.  Even if it is a little teeny bit cute.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Randomday Book Roundup

It's been awhile.  I blame my Kindle Fire.  Here are some of the books I've been reading:

The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag, by Alan Bradley.  In the second book in the series, the obnoxious but (very) vaguely endearing Flavia de Luce meddles in a grotesque murder involving traveling puppeteers, cannabis consumption, a tragic death of a young child, and friendly ex-Nazi fighter pilots in post-war Britain.  I am enjoying this very well-written series, but as I am around at least one strong-willed 11-year-old constantly, I'm planning on spacing the books out.  Flavia is better in small doses.

Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson.  This stand-alone book by a prolifically imaginative author is intriguing, an exercise in world-building, with some insightful things to say about leadership, and some enjoyable characters.  Even granting its fantasy world setting, though, the human characters are not completely human in some important aspects, and I found it off-putting, perhaps an offshoot of the author's Mormon religion. Daniel and I were able to attend his book-signing a few months ago, and he strikes me as truly talented and happy in his successful writing career, as well he should be.  I look forward to reading more (preferably by audiobook) in the future.

Red Rabbit, by Tom Clancy, is one of the Jack Ryan series I had missed somewhere along the line.  This one is set in the early 80's, and a young Ryan, through a series of completely improbable coincidences, becomes enmeshed with a Soviet defector who has important intelligence about the plot to kill Pope John Paul II.  As always, the plot is a page-turner, the F-bomb shows up on just about every page, and the research is so well done that it's completely possible that large portions of the book are pretty close to the way it happened.

The Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher is the next episode in the Shakespearean rendering of the immortal epic.  There's much to enjoy here: Yoda's haiku, R2D2's soliloquys, the Ugnaught chorus, Chewbacca and Leia's duet. There's an added scene where two random guards discuss the oddity of Imperial architecture that inexplicably requires hazardous, bottomless shafts to be inserted where anyone could stumble into them.  It's a valid point, and even the bit characters get their moment on stage.  I look forward to when the Jedi Doth Return.

Freddy and the Ignormus by Walter Brooks -- If you haven't yet encountered Freddy, one of the great pigs of children's literature, try to find one of the charming audiobooks at your local library.  Full of old-fashioned wit and a cast of humorous animal characters, Freddy and friends are great for the under-10 set, and fun to read aloud, too.

Several other books are in process.  Also making good progress is Italian.  I'm almost to 1500 words in my DuoLingo vocabulary, and I've informed Steve he can take me to Italy any time now.  They recently upgraded the Kindle Fire interface from the DuoLingo app I originally installed and in the process I discovered the online community and a lot more opportunities to enrich my own language study.

I'm not making much progress at all in quilting or knitting.  Getting a little worried about next week's trip to Pennsylvania and the choir songs I'm supposed to have ready.  My voice has not fully recovered from the walking pneumonia and my high notes are not what they should be.  In fact, I have yet to sing more than 2 songs in practice without getting the cough back.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Spring Break Laziness

This is the first Spring Break in years that we haven't made a cross-country road trip, usually to Arizona to visit family.  Steve and Peter are on an in-state road trip to visit colleges, and I'll be doing my flight out to Grove City in a few weeks with Peter as well, to check out the college and sing in the farewell concert for Dr. Browne.  I'm normally a productive and motivated person, but that hasn't really been happening this week.

(A pile of wool noodles, from a chunky-weight sweater I'm unraveling.  It's a metaphor).

The walking pneumnonia a few weeks ago really has been difficult to shake.  The cough is much better but the fatigue is real.  I've been feeling like going to bed around 8:30 most evenings, and so I've mostly been listening to my body on that.  I'm still drinking plenty of fluids, and I still haven't graded all of last Friday's quizzes.  That's probably going to come back to bite me sometime.

Monday there was a fair amount of housework done - vacuuming primarily.  I took the girls to Barnes and Noble and they picked out books (and Quarta picked out a "science" kit to make sour candy).  Then we went to Ikea and toured the floor, which the girls found, as I do, fascinating but exhausting, and a little too overwhelming to buy anything big.  Tuesday we went swimming at the Marshall center, which was exhausting, then a late lunch at the Pita Pit.  The amount of housework has been tapering off since Monday but a little has been done.  More than happens when I'm teaching, that's for sure.  Yesterday I accomplished very little other than beating Heroes of Kalevala and going for a massage and chiropractic adjustment.  Oh yes, and a quick grocery run.  And I dusted the TV.  The girls and I watched Jumanji in the evening, Steve called, and I yawned all my way through the phone conversation.  Yep, really exciting life right now.  If I could just get my girls hooked on a modest amount of organization progress with lots of quiet time, I could live like this indefinitely.

But there wouldn't be much to blog about.  Wait! Book reviews!  I need to do book reviews.   But I'm too tired now, and I've got a plane to meet soon.  Maybe tomorrow.

Saturday, April 5, 2014


Mixed emotions.  Conflicted.  That's how most moms would probably describe seeing their 17-year-old son enlist in the Army National Guard.  Good: he will finish high school and earn money for college.  Bad: he's growing up way too fast.  Well, that was going to happen anyway.
Good: he will be a weekend warrior, so it's not like he's going off to fight in the trenches.  Bad: he'll do basic training in Oklahoma this summer and miss the family reunion we've been planning for awhile now.  And I have no idea how he'll manage to do weekend warrior stuff and be a senior in high school.

Good: he scored in the 89th percentile on his ASVAB test, which means he could make a career out of it and have a lot of flexibility in choosing a job he's suited for.  Bad: of all the jobs, he chose doing things with field artillery, which means he wants to be in action on the front lines.

Good: the officer at his swearing in gave a talk about the honor and pride of serving one's country, mentioning that only a third of all applicants complete the process, and stressed the importance of a college education.  Bad:  I cried all through the swearing in ceremony.  Good: I smiled a bit to myself when I thought how my late mother would have cried through the whole thing, too.  Bad: I cried even more because she's not here to cry with me and laugh about it later.

Good: I guess since he's all grown up now (even though he's not 18 yet) I need to stop using the "Secundus" blogname.  Congratulations, Peter!  We're proud of you and you know we'll worry about you.  A lot.  So be safe.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

April Fools, April Goals, WIPs and Yarn-Alongs

I finished all my March goals... April Fools!
No, really.  The only goal I actually worked on at all was #3, knit the Mint Chocolate sweater to the halfway point.  It might be halfway, but I'm not that confident.  I also worked a tiny bit - microscopic - on the string star quilt.  I didn't expect everything that happened in March... the walking pneumonia, the son enlisting in the National Guard, which looks like it's really going to happen.  The coyote in the back yard -- turns out it was actually a dingo.  The neighbor kids' pet dingo.  Who is supposedly good with cats.  Yeah.  It was that kind of month.  I pretty much gave up on the crafting.

I read a lot of books - most recently The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley, Elantris by Brandon Sanderson, and Keep it Pithy by Bill O'Reilly.  Never say I am not eclectic.  I'm overdue for a book review day sometime soon.

I may not be sewing much, but Quarta whipped this little table-topper scrap quilt up Sunday afternoon while I was napping.  It was from some scraps from that epic estate sale I went to last year, and she just improvised it up.  Pretty cool for an 11-year-old.
She's made three quilts so far.

So, should I even bother to set goals for April?  Let's just modify the March goals:

  1. Knit the body of the sweater.  Sleeves can be another month.
  2. Make small progress on the string star.
  3. Make small progress on the machine quilting of Farmer's Wife.
  4. Do a spring cleaning of the sewing area.
I'm really looking forward to Spring Break next week.  I hope to get rid of the last of the pneumonia cough and have lots of time to read and craft.  I've been too tired to stay up later than 9:30 most nights lately.  Steve will be taking Secundus on college visits and I will try to keep the girls from going stir crazy here while not actually doing much.  It sounds wonderful to me, but I'm afraid the natives will be restless.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Randomday - Walking and Whooping with a little Barking

I'm calling Randomday in the middle of the week.

Last week around this time I came down with the worst cough of my life.  I get hoarse, sore throat frequently during the winter months, aggravated by teaching and allergies, and I'm prone to getting a cold that lingers and turns into an annoying dry cough.  This was different... it came with chest congestion and severe fits of coughing that were only kept barely manageable through parent-teacher conferences by frequent cups of hot tea and nearly constant consumption of cough drops.

Did you know that the newer Halls cough drops have "pep talks" on the wrappers?  "Flex your can-do muscle."  "Impress yourself today."  Mildly amusing.

Anyway, Monday I had next to no sleep and had to excuse myself twice from the classroom to go outside to cough because I was afraid I'd throw up in front of the 8th graders.  And there is no worse nightmare, unless it is ... something else that could happen from coughing too hard in front of the 8th graders.  But anyway, I dragged myself to the doctor afterwards and he prescribed antibiotics.  It should be treated like walking pneumonia or whooping cough, he said.  Personally I'm going with walking pneumonia because it sounds cooler, and I've had my shots for whooping cough.  But I've been doing plenty of whooping too.  Yesterday I stayed home and rested, which I desperately needed, and today I'm feeling almost human again but very tired.  Quarta's got the punies though, so she stayed home today.

I have been drinking so much hot tea with lemon that I'm a little sick of it.  This is a strange thing for me, because I love hot tea.

I'm also supposed to put Vicks on my chest and the soles of my feet.  It brings back mildly unpleasant childhood memories, but putting it on the feet is new and intriguing.  It actually seems to help.  I have no idea why.

Tomorrow is the final exam in all three of my Latin classes.  And then grading.  I did a bit of knitting while lying in bed resting, but things will probably be quiet on the blog front for several days as I cope with catching up and grading.

We had an unidentified dog in our backyard today.  Steve thought it was a German Shepherd but when I saw it it was too small and looked more like... a coyote.  Do coyotes come into backyards during the daytime in the close-in suburbs in the rainy parts of the Northwest?  And this one was barking at me, not howling.  But I googled "Do coyotes bark?" and apparently, their Latin name is "canis latrans", which means, of course, barking dog.  I don't know.  But I just fetched Bilbo back inside for the night, just in case.  Smudge will have to fend for himself, but he's probably safe in his hidey-hole.

A friend of mine posted on Facebook, "If a man speaks in a forest and there is no woman there to hear, is he still wrong?"  So I quipped back... "That depends... if he's in the forest because he was too proud to ask for directions, then yes."

And that is all the brilliance I have to share for the foreseeable future.

Friday, March 21, 2014

3-21 World Down Syndrome Day

It's one of those under-appreciated holidays today: World Down Syndrome day, and I'm posting in honor of my daughter, "Tertia," who is 14 now and never fails to make my day brighter, just by being who she is.  At birth, the nurses said, they could tell she had an extra copy of chromosome #21 just by her "floppiness" and low muscle tone, and a certain slant to her eyes.  It took me a little longer and a lot of research before I could understand and accept that diagnosis, but I can say in all honesty now that the Down Syndrome diagnosis is only a small piece of our daily lives.  However, it's a piece that we can't ignore.  It's always there, and how we respond to the unique challenges the diagnosis brings will have a measurable impact on her life.

Tertia goes to a special education class for 8th grade with a more intensive academic focus than some. She has some classes (choir, dance, art) with the general population of her school and has genuine friends in that group as well as her own special class.  As you can see, she still is in her Disney princess phase, but fills the calendar with notes about concert, plays, and friends' birthdays.  Speaking of birthdays, she has an uncanny ability to remember them.

Things to be grateful for:

  • She was born in the information age.  Answers to questions about medical care, education, social services and support groups are only a few internet searches away.  
  • The Down syndrome community itself is generous and supportive.  While I was still in the hospital, unsure how to process the information I was getting, I received calls from two different moms whose children had the same diagnosis, with lots of realistic encouragement for me.  It was so much better than the printed booklets the hospital handed out that there is simply no comparison.  I've been able to pay that forward a few times for other new moms and there is no better feeling.
  • No routine institutionalization anymore, at least not in America.  I just spoke with a man my age who never met his own sister until he was an adult himself.  I can't even imagine.
  • Modern health care, advances in education, and overall, a more tolerant and accepting attitude toward people who are "different".  
Things to be concerned about:
  • Prenatal testing.  It is possible now to diagnose Down syndrome very early in pregnancy, and frequently those mothers experience subtle or not-so-subtle encouragement to abort such a pregnancy.  I heard that an expert in Denmark proclaims his country will be Down syndrome free in another decade or so.  As if that's a good thing.
  • Newborns with Down syndrome in most modern countries have a very good expectation of a happy, healthy and productive life.  But in some countries, in Eastern Europe particularly, institutionalization at birth is still the norm.  Unless these children are adopted (usually not by someone from their birth country) they face transfer from orphanage to mental asylum sometime before they turn 18, and almost certain decline and death shortly after that.  This is a tragedy that few in America are aware of.  Check out Reece's Rainbow for more information on how anyone can help fund grants to adoptive parents.