Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Measured Response

Earlier today, as I was cleaning out a cupboard, making yet another pile for Goodwill, Adelaide looked around and dropped this bomb:  "You know, what we need to get rid of are a whole bunch of these books."

I don't really recall what my response to this was, exactly.  There was definitely sputtering.  Indignation in spades.  My arms may have cartwheeled around my body as my psyche received this unexpected blow.

I eventually collected and calmed myself enough to bellow, "WHAT DO YOU MEAN, 'WE NEED TO GET RID OF THESE BOOKS?'  I realize that parenting styles are more difficult to categorize than most self-help books would have you believe, but I'm quite sure my own could easily be defined as "Grace under pressure."  Obviously.

After that I yelled a few more things, Adelaide rolled her eyes, I gesticulated wildly at a Jane Austen here, a Jane Austen there, Daughter asked, "Is that the monkey lady?"  I snaked my fingers into my hair and tugged, hard, and through my teeth informed her that "You're thinking of Jane Goodall, DARLING."  Then I got a grip and plucked a book off the shelf, placing it in her heathen hands.

By pure happenstance the title I had handed her was Etiquette Every Child Should Know.  I've talked about it before, but this was Adelaide's first foray into the world of 1930's expected manners, and she proceeded to spend the following hour reading me the parts she found most entertaining:

"'There's the napkin, which has definite rules for furling and unfurling, and which is a necessity, not a stumbling block.'"

"'In using the napkin, do not scrub your lips with it but touch it lightly to your lips.  Always use the napkin in this way before taking a drink from a glass.'"  

"'Sad experience on trains makes one realize that the great mass of American travelers are constitutionally opposed to fresh air.'"

She derived such enjoyment from this random book I assumed she had realized the error of her ways and repented, but when I asked, "So, Adelaide:  Did Etiquette Every Child Should Know change your mind?  Do you see now why we have all these books, do you see that each one contains something useful and interesting?" her sad reply was "Not really," at which point I attempted to wrestle her into the Goodwill pile, because priorities:  I have them.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Bison bison, Broken broken

In addition to friendly, our local auto repair place is speedy, and got the van back to us with a new hood and new windshield on Friday, a mere four days post-trauma.  Somehow they managed to find a used hood that was the same color as the rest of our van, which was super helpful, as we requested they just get the thing drive-able, not necessarily pretty or perfect which was probably a relief to the mechanics as they are not miracle workers.

When I picked it up one of the mechanics assured me that the van will probably continue to run for quite some time, as "the engines on those things generally run forever; people just stop driving them because everything else falls apart."

What's that, Sir Mechanic?  "Everything else falls apart"?  You don't mean things like:

  • The driver's side door handle half broken, thisclose to coming completely off,
  • One of the outer sliding door handles coming off in the hand of a passenger who dared to attempt opening the door,
  • The power doors being inoperable,
  • The manual button you use to open the inside of one of the sliding doors sticking nearly every time you use it, often having to be pried out with a key,
  • The volume knob slicing itself cleanly in two and half of it falling off,
  • The handle of the back hatch no longer working, making it so we can't open the back door,
  • A hole in the exhaust system making the van so loud our neighbors must surely think Sturgis has relocated to our town when we're still a block away,
  • The two back automatic windows that are supposed to open a bit for ventilation no longer working, 
  • The heat no longer working in the middle or back rows,
  • The two black pieces of rubber on either side of the windshield coming loose and flapping like the wings of an irate goose anytime we're on the highway,
  • The turn signals and hazards abruptly going on strike- they did fix those at the shop, as they're the tiniest bit important.

I'd say the maniacal laughter that threatened to erupt from me at his words was entirely warranted.  

A Weekend List

  • I ran in my first 5k on Saturday.  I'm beginning to see why everyone was all, "Um, you might want to try a shorter race first," when I was training for the Des Moines Half Marathon last year, because being done by 8:30 a.m. was pretty dang awesome.  I also appreciated the lack of crazy nerves- hey, I can do anything for three miles, right?- and the fact that the shorter distance and less stress meant less asthma anxiety.  Plus I got second in the Female 30-39 category, which in my world means all the chocolate milk I want.


  • Derek and I were reunited with the children Saturday morning after they spent most of the week at the grandparents.  I spent the time they were gone doing exciting things like shampooing the carpets and cleaning out filters (washing machine, vacuum, etc- I find cleaning filters to be strangely satisfying) and attacking the bathroom with six consecutive magic erasers.  I'm expecting a certificate in the mail any day now that will state something like "ACHIEVEMENT LEVEL UNLOCKED:  ADULTHOOD."  The rest of the time I was reading and running and gardening because I think we all know what happens if you're all work and no play.  

Let's say you're a professor of Shakespeare at an Indiana university.  You have a busy workload on campus and the pressure of achieving tenure is constantly at the back of your mind.

Do you:

A) Work feverishly to publish something, anything, achieving that tenure and finally finding job security

B)  Make sure to cultivate your interests outside of work so that your brain doesn't melt in your skull and ooze out your ears

C)  Drive many miles each way to volunteer at a prison, offering to teach inmates, many of whom couldn't care less, many of whom are dangerous, all about a guy who wrote a bunch of plays 400 years ago.

If you chose A or B, then congratulations!  I hereby offer you this Certificate of Sanity, to be shown to your spouse/friends/coworkers at appropriate times.  (Oh, you'll know when.)

If you chose C, you can only be Dr. Laura Bates, and I don't understand you.

Now, don't get me wrong:  I enjoyed this book very much- three cheers for librarians who recommend books you wouldn't otherwise even touch!- and I admire the work Dr. Bates has done immensely- but I can't imagine turning to Derek one Friday evening and saying, "You know what?  Let's forget Midsomer Murders tonight and drive to our local friendly SuperMax prison and hang out with convicts.  It'll be SuperFun!"  

Then again, if God sent me a vision that said, "Hey, you!  I know this whole visiting-a-prison thing seems crazy, but not only will you find a group of men there that connect to the works of Shakespeare in a meaningful way, I made this one guy who will provide more insight into Shakespeare's stories than most scholars relying on previously published studies and critiques, and who will use the intensive, multi-year study of Shakespeare to intensely reflect on his own mistakes and decision-making process, and will in turn pour into the lives of the prison population around him, asking them hard questions begging careful introspection that could certainly change lives, the way it changed his.  Oh, and remember that one guy?  Jesus?  [Proof God is smarter than me:  He only had one son, and therefore cannot constantly mix up their names the way I do.  Plus every single other thing He does.]  This is exactly the kind of thing Jesus would do.  GET OFF THE COUCH."  If He did that?  Then I would first:  Examine my own Certificate of Sanity, and second:  Get off the couch, the way Laura Bates did.

All that to say:  You should really read this book.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Two Books

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

Remember how I was recently whining about how I just couldn't find any good books, the kind of good that makes you stay up too late and turn your to-do list over so it's not staring you in the face as you ignore it in favor of obsessive reading?
This book is that kind of good.
Alif is a gifted computer hacker living in a rigidly controlled state in the middle east that looks down on things like computer hacking.  His character starts the story as naive and a bit shallow but still likable, then evolves throughout the book into someone who knows what he believes and why and that there are things worth fighting for.  All he has to do to achieve this depth is flee from government agents, suffer betrayal, face the supernatural, and re-evaluate everything and everyone he holds dear, among many other things.
I loved the setting, so foreign and relatively unknown to me; the characters, imperfect but trying so hard to do The Right Thing, whatever that is; the plot, perfectly paced and thrilling, and that Ms. Wilson somehow made the unbelievable believable.  Un-put-downable, indeed.

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

I passed this book up a number of times because I thought and still think that cover is ugly as homemade sin.  When Shonya recommended it as something light but fun, however, I decided I could do with something light and checked it out.
I think this is one of those books you could solidly put on a "Beach Reads" list:  It's entertaining; you come to really love the characters enough that not finishing the story isn't an option, not at all; there's nothing in this book that's going to cause any unnecessary brain straining, but it's also not one of those where you have to take a deep breath and say to yourself, "I'm just going to pretend I don't need my storylines or characters or their dialogue to be remotely believable."  (I'm looking at you, 90% of Christian fiction.)  I especially appreciated the many quirks of Moyes's cast of characters, and the way she used an underdog/romance/ family comedy to illustrate the reality of surviving on little money in a middle class world.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Also, I Didn't Die

Well.  I had a breezy, chatty, listy post half-written this morning about seed libraries and a terrific book I just finished, but then I made the mistake of gathering up the sacks of donations for Goodwill and actually trying to get something done today.  Our death-trap of a van had other plans.

Five minutes from our house, on the little two-lane country highway, I was tooling along, deedle-dee, the children are at grandma's for the day so I shall go to Goodwill and maybe T.J. Maxx, when hello, Mister Hood, I do not believe you are supposed to be straight up in the air and in my face whilst I am driving, plus you make it awfully hard to see where I'm going- impossible, in fact- and I do not appreciate all this glass that is now all over my person from the windshield you just shattered with a dramatic BAM while I was driving 60 miles per hour and minding my own business.

I have mentally referred to this vehicle by the affectionate name Bison bison for some time now, being that the van is big and hulking and loud and more endangered than the actual bison, plus it travels the plains of the midwest.  I'd also hoped that a title like that would inspire it to be as majestic as its namesake, though the genus-species reference was sheer flattery, I admit.

After today, however, I think Death Trap is a little more fitting.

The bright side:

  • I had a couple inches of sight below the hood when it was up, just enough to allow me to maneuver to the narrow shoulder and out of harm's way.

  • I hadn't made it to the interstate yet, which would have made the whole thing more treacherous.

  • The children weren't with me.

  • Everyone I interacted with, from the lady on the phone at dispatch to the policeman to the tow truck driver to the mechanic, was incredibly kind to me.  The tow truck driver was so nice ("Man, you're having a bad day,"  "Don't worry, we'll get you taken care of,"  "You're handling this all really well!") I was tempted to ask him to scale it back a bit; I need brisk kindness in these situations; if you're too nice tears threaten, and no one wants to see that, least of all me, and because he got there pretty quickly I was still relatively shaken from the whole thing.

And see?  I got to make a list after all.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Father's Day Questionnaire 2015

Today I did my yearly interrogation of our offspring in the name of a cutesy Father's Day questionnaire.  Really, the children don't mind, probably because any time you're talking about Dad is happy time.  And here are the questionnaires from 2014, 2013, and 2012 for your viewing pleasure.  I print them out each year, stick them in those clear page protectors, and put them in a binder that I keep on a shelf with my cookbooks, because leaving these memories in the hands of the internet is just asking for the A.I. coup I know is inevitable.  No need to provoke the robots.

All About My Daddy

By Adelaide, Age 9

My Daddy’s name is Derek.

He is 6 feet 5 inches tall.

He weighs 240 pounds.

His hair color is what you call blonde; that is, brown.

His favorite tv show is golf- wait… football.

He likes to go to Cheddar’s.

His favorite food is buffalo chicken wrap at Cheddar’s.

His favorite drink is iced tea.

For fun my Daddy likes to golf.

I love it when Daddy picks me up- wait, snuggles.

My favorite thing about my Daddy is he’s the best daddy.

One funny thing about my Daddy is he would like a Vikings washcloth.

If I could give my Daddy anything in the world, it would be 50 real Garfields and Vikings football mascots.


All About My Daddy

By Atticus Crisler, Age 6

My Daddy’s name is Derek.

He is humongous.

He weighs 14 pounds.

His hair color is brown, same as me.

His favorite tv show is Captain America.

He likes to go to movie theaters.

His favorite food is chocolate chip cookies and brownies.

His favorite drink is It used to be Mountain Dew.  Now it’s iced tea.

For fun my Daddy plays with me.

I love it when Daddy makes funny jokes.

My favorite thing about my Daddy is he might be as strong as the Hulk.

My favorite thing to do with Daddy is golf.


All About My Daddy

By Caedmon Crisler, Age 4

My Daddy’s name is Derek.

He is super tall.

He weighs 100 pounds.

His hair color is gray.

His favorite tv show is golf.

He likes to go to work.

His favorite food is I don’t know- oh no, cookies!.

His favorite drink is tea.

For fun my Daddy likes to play superheroes with me.  It is awesome and cool and very fun to play that.

I love it when Daddy plays with me.

My favorite thing about my Daddy is to play.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Three Books

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

After perusing several "Un-Put-Downable Books!" and "Books You Must Read Now!" lists, I became a little discouraged at the repetition of titles I kept seeing.  Look, I liked The Help and pretty much anything by Liane Moriarty as much as the next reader, but can we take even a half step off the beaten path and stop recommending the same books over and over?
Enter A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
Recommending a classic- even one as modern as this- is always a little dicey, because so many people are still scarred from being forced to read The Grapes of Wrath in high school.  ("Dirt and Okies and hey let's talk about dirt some more.")  So when I saw it on a list surrounded by Diana Gabaldon and John Green, I was impressed and thankful.
This classic is not dry in the least.  It introduces characters you grow to care about and sympathize with and who will make you clutch at your hair when they take risks.  Set in Brooklyn, beginning in the year 1912, you get to follow along as Francie grows up and lives a life that somehow feels both close to the one many of us live today yet also impossibly distant.  Hailed as being autobiographical at least in part, it's also fascinating to read about many of the long-forgotten customs of turn-of-the-century Brooklynites; Betty Smith was born and raised in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, just as Francie was.  Her love of her home shines through the novel in the incredible detail given to the setting, but make no mistake- this is not a view burnished with nostalgia, but rather a realistic portrayal, a story written by someone who loves Brooklyn despite its flaws.  Engrossing and lovely, I couldn't stop talking about this for weeks after I read it.

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

I've been in a bit of dry spell, book-wise.  It is summer, and I always spend significantly less time buried in stories when there's gardening to be done, but I've also had trouble finding a really good book, the kind you love and lose sleep over and want to preach to everyone about.
The one oasis has been To Say Nothing of the Dog, which is the story for you if you like humor and time travel and historical fiction and irony and love stories that don't trigger your sensitive gag reflex.  It's smart and sharp and sweet, and if you read it we can make jokes about cats and perfect our Victorian screamlets.  If ever there were a crossroads where Historical Fiction, Humor, Mystery, Romance, and Science Fiction met, this book would be waiting for you there.  The perfect light romp of a tale that won't leave you feeling as if IQ points were subtracted for having read it.  I loved it.

Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas by Ace Collins

For someone who loves Christmas music as much as I do, you'd think I'd know more about the history behind the carols.  I start playing them in November- although I hold off as far into the month as my self control will allow- then continue to inflict them upon my family until the end of December.
I'd like to think that even those who aren't as, ahem, dedicated to Christmas songs as I am would find this book interesting and so delightful.  I had no idea the story behind Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was so heartwarming, how many Advent hymns affected the church music of the day, not to mention how relieving it was to finally understand just what "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman" actually means.  I kept reading parts aloud to Derek, to which he responded with polite grunts of interest.  What more of a recommendation do you need than that?

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Going, Going, Gone

Yesterday, we spent a few hours helping Derek's sister and her family move.

Here's the great thing about helping other people move:  You get to do the easy part, the carting boxes from house to truck or truck to house, and then you leave.  You get thanks and appreciation without even having to do the sucky parts, like pack every last one of your possessions into cardboard boxes or staring wonderingly at all your stuff, trying to figure out where all this crap came from.  And don't even get me started on unpacking.  You're already tired from packing and driving and cleaning out the new space so it can be all spick and span and ready for your own family to spread its own unique brand of filth around- now you get to unpack and try to find a place for all this junk.  And by "junk," I mean the stuff belonging to every other member of your family.  Their stuff is crap.  Yours is treasure.

The other marvelous effect helping others move has on me is that when I get home, I am in hardcore purge mode.  What if we have to move soon?  Do I like all these things enough that I'd be willing to ask friends and family to move it from here to there?  Is this Thing so important to me that I want to wrap it in newspaper, put it in a box, put that box in a truck, send it on a long voyage, take the box off the truck, take the Thing out of the box, unwrap the newspaper, and find a place to store it yet again?  I mean, criminy, our children are barely worth all that work, let alone my second-best medium-sized saucepan.

That is why, last night, I could be found rummaging through our kitchen cabinets and DVDs and bathroom cupboard, looking for things to be rid of and muttering vague nothings to myself about minimalism and possibly something about the Swedish.  Are they the minimalist ones?  I can never remember.  One of those cold places with ugly modern architecture.  (I can almost promise you Derek is either wincing or pursing his lips or both right now.)

The thing is, we don't have that much excess stuff to get rid of.  I did a major, whole-house, several-month-long purge a year or two ago, the first time I read the book 7:  An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.  (Hey, guys, remember when I wouldn't stop talking about that book and peer pressured/coerced/forced all my friends to read it?  Man, that was fun.  For me.)  Loads of stuff went out our front door, and it felt incredible.  I highly recommend getting rid of your stuff.

As I went around the house last night and today, however, I realized the value in making a second pass over all your precious possessions and your family's junk:  You may be less attached to it now, you may not use it anymore, or you may pull that cast iron snowflake mini cake pan out of your kitchen cabinet and say to yourself, "Hey, Self, remember when you refused to get rid of this a year ago because you swore that this was going to be the winter you made darling little snowflake-shaped cakes dusted with powdered sugar?  This makes... what, six years in a row that that didn't happen, right?  Make your peace with a future devoid of little cakes, because this sucker is gone.  Farewell, miniature snowflake cake pan!"

Then you'll put it in the Adieu pile, and it will be like a spell breaking.  Why on earth were you so attached to that thing?  You hardly ever make cakes, anyway!  You're more of a cookie or pie kind of woman, and if you do make cakes, you use your humble 8-inch round pans like God and your Better Homes and Gardens cookbook intended!  BEGONE, SNOWFLAKE CAKE PAN.  YOUR POWER NO LONGER HOLDS SWAY HERE.

Banishment forthcoming

I'm going through the kids' toys tomorrow.  Please ignore any wailing or tearful pleading you hear issuing from our house.

Friday, June 12, 2015


Last Saturday Derek and I announced that we had a special treat for the children:  We were heading to the golf course after church the next day for an afternoon of family togetherness and fun and bonding and stuff.

The boys cheered.  Adelaide did not.

Sunday morning I packed a mess of food in a cooler, forced our children to look more or less presentable, then headed to church, where Derek had already been for several hours pushing buttons and working with cameras and telling people how to push the buttons and work the cameras.

We did our church thing, I passed out food, everybody ate, and we arrived at the golf course.  The boys were squirmy and excited as we slathered them with sunscreen, Adelaide looked like a character from Dickens, right up until she realized what was happening.

Derek, Atticus, and Caedmon were heading out into the heat and humidity to golf.  Adelaide and I were not.

Not golfing.
The two of us were staying on the cool, shaded veranda to read and watch the swallows and sit in the comfy Adirondack chairs and, most importantly, not golf.

Before we discovered the Adirondack chairs could be dragged into the shade.  And not golfing.
The swallows were particularly fun to watch, as the male and female took turns sitting in the nest, one swooping out to stretch their wings and grab a bite to eat when the other flew in to relieve the first.

Each really seemed to relish flight and freedom after a long spell of sitting and parenting.  I can relate.

Derek didn't really get to golf, as having both boys golfing at the same time doesn't really allow for things like concentrating on your own game.  He can relate to the swallows, too.

Adelaide and I did abandon our respective leisure pursuits to join the boys on their final hole.

Afterward Daughter and I agreed that we enjoyed ourselves more than we ever expected to on a golf course.

Not golfing.

Then we all went and got ice cream.

The end.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Ice Cream as Motivational Tool

At the beginning of the soccer season, Coach Jeff (the other half of the undefeated coaching team that is Jeff and Derek, the latter of which Caedmon refers to as "Coach Daddy") told the players that anyone who was able to beat him in a race around the field would get ice cream.

Every week at practice the kids tried and failed to beat Jeff, possibly because he has the tiniest height and age advantage.  At the final practice, however, they managed to secure a head start on that week's attempt by working hard on their drills, and Jeff just happened to have enough ice cream for everybody in a cooler he just happened to have with him.  None of the children questioned this.

Informing his players of the astounding coincidence that is a cooler-full of ice cream + a head start orchestrated by the coach.  All they had to do was run their legs off around the field one last time.

The only rules were that they had to stay outside the white lines, and they had to run the whole way.  I'm actually a little amazed that they managed to follow these rules, as they all became a little squirrelly when they realized their relative proximity to ice cream.

There they are on the other side of the field.  This was by far the fastest I ever saw a couple of those kids move.

Atticus and friends closing in the finish line, safely ahead of the coach:

Wonder of wonders, every last kid beat the coach, who then cruelly brought them in for a congratulatory huddle before unleashing the team.

There's always a kid who just can't wait.

Then, because our other two kids were sitting there wearing the most pathetic faces in their considerable arsenal, Jeff told them that if they ran around the field, they, too, could have ice cream.  Atticus claimed this wasn't fair, as they didn't have to beat the coach.  Adelaide and Caedmon cared not one whit what Atticus thought.

Also not outside the white lines, which Atticus, of course, pointed out.
And that is how you brainwash young children into thinking running is fun.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Same, Yet Different

Derek and our third wonder, Caedmon, at four years, nine months of age- three days ago:

Derek and Caedmon at six months of age- four years ago:

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Good Stuff: A List

  • The sign outside the Methodist church in my grandparents' town:  "Church Parking Only- All Others Will Be Baptized."

  • The two fat ripe strawberries I found in my vegetable/weed garden yesterday:

I ate them both standing over the kitchen sink, strawberry juice running down my hands, the way God intended.  Absolutely delicious.  

  • The new pillow Derek's mom gave me a month ago.  I'd been waking up with neck pain every morning for weeks, and although I could more or less take care of it with some yoga, I'd rather just not have any pain to begin with, because I'm needy like that.  Becky offered me the special pillow, I said "Yes, please" and tried not to get too grabby, and from the next morning on, I was hooked.  Haven't had a painful morning since.  
Profile shot of Magic the Puffy Dragon Pillow

I figured, given the shape, that I'd have to sleep on my back to get any relief, which is a problem because I am not a freak who can stay in one position all night.  Also I might snore/ breathe a little bit heavily on my back.  Quote from my friend Kim when we were teenagers, after thousands of sleepovers over the course of a decade:  "Sometimes it's so hard not to smother you in your sleep because you breathe SO LOUDLY."  

  • Caedmon keeps offering me a single piece of Kix cereal, which he calls a "kick."  "Do you want two Kix, or one Kick?"  I refuse to correct him, and even went so far as to physically cover Adelaide's mouth when she tried to, because our kids say fewer and fewer of these cute little people things.