Friday, November 30, 2007


Now that NaBloPoMo is over....

For future Anthromama blatherings, go to

Foreign Languages

I love learning languages. Most of them have leaked out of my brain by now through disuse, but I've studied a few. This is what I've accomplished so far:

English: mother tongue, duh.
Spanish: 3 years in high school
Latin: 1 year in high school
French, German: a few weeks here and there
Italian: 3 years in college, just missed minoring in it
Russian: a few phrases that cannot be shared on a family-oriented blog

I'd love to learn German next. Because my grandmother was German, because it's interesting, because I could read Steiner in the original. But then I found this commentary by Mark Twain that gives me pause:

Now here is a sentence from a popular and excellent German novel -- with a slight parenthesis in it. I will make a perfectly literal translation, and throw in the parenthesis-marks and some hyphens for the assistance of the reader -- though in the original there are no parenthesis-marks or hyphens, and the reader is left to flounder through to the remote verb the best way he can:

"But when he, upon the street, the (in-satin-and-silk-covered-now -very-unconstrained-after-the–newest-fashioned-dressed) government counselor's wife met," etc., etc.

Wenn er aber auf der Strasse der in Sammt und Seide gehüllten jetzt sehr ungenirt nach der neusten Mode gekleideten Regierungsräthin begegnet.

That is from The Old Mamselle's Secret, by Mrs. Marlitt. And that sentence is constructed upon the most approved German model. You observe how far that verb is from the reader's base of operations; well, in a German newspaper they put their verb away over on the next page; and I have heard that sometimes after stringing along the exciting preliminaries and parentheses for a column or two, they get in a hurry and have to go to press without getting to the verb at all. Of course, then, the reader is left in a very exhausted and ignorant state.

Of course, I don't think I actually have the time or energy to learn a new language, but a girl can dream, right?

(PS: To Papa Bradstein, who recently tagged me for the Infernal Eight Things Meme...not enough brain cells available for that right now. I'll come back to it. Even though NaBloPoMo is NoMo.)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

One Deep Thought for Today

I'm working on a deadline this morning, on a manuscript about gender politics and the expansion of the EU.

It's actually quite interesting, in a fairly dry way, and something I know nothing about, so it's illuminating. But I'm tired, and my brain is really quite full and wishing for a rest.

One sentence just now stood out for me despite my brain fog:

Both women and racial minorities are framed as “disadvantaged” by their group membership, and as less able to achieve in what is framed as an inherently fair and yet hierarchical system of competitive capitalism.
Amazing, that. The author was talking specifically about the US, and how we define "race," "class," and "difference."

If you say something enough times, it starts to be true. Perhaps we've been told for so long that our capitalistic, hierarchical society is really fair and that women and minorities are less capable, that we think they are inherently less capable, instead of simply being limited by the inequalities of the system itself.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


I just received a call on behalf of The Economist magazine, trying to offer me a subscription deal. We had done one of those "6 free issues" deals a while back, but never subscribed.

It's an amazing magazine: wide in scope (reminding me of the Christian Science Monitor), and with a touch of humor--their headlines and photo choices are often quirky and surprising. Heavy on the financial stuff (hence, the name) but comprehensive in world news.

However, it's a bit expensive and is a weekly, which means lots and lots of reading that piles up. We couldn't even keep up with it over 6 weeks.

I told the young man all of this, and he quite politely said thank you and did not pressure me at all. Unlike most of the other advertising calls I get, where I feel compelled to hang up after saying a very quick No, thank you.

Maybe those other cold callers would get a better reception from me if they had a yummy British accent like this young man did!

(Sorry, I can't identify it any further. Could have been Irish, but I can't tell. I'm hanging my head in shame at my lack of worldliness.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Ham of God

Yesterday afternoon I ran some errands, and when they were done I discovered to my joy that I had another 20 minutes before I had to pick up the kids from daycare.

I'm right around the corner from the library, I thought. Perfect!

I quickly perused the paperback bestseller shelves, where I occasionally find some gold among the straw. This time I found Anne Lamott's Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith.

I scanned the first chapter ("Ham of God") and was caught by this on page 8, where Anne is talking to her friend Father Tom, a Jesuit priest, about her feelings of hopelessness about the Iraq war:

"I want to know what to do. Where we even start."

"We start by being kind to ourselves. We breathe, we eat. We remember that God is present wherever people suffer. God's here with us when we're miserable, and God is there in Iraq. The suffering of innocent people draws God close to them. Kids hit by U.S. bombs are not abandoned by God."

"Well, it sure looks like they were," I said. "It sure looks that way to their parents."

"It also looked like Christ had been abandoned on the cross. It looked like a win for the Romans."

"How do we help? How do we not lose our minds?"

"You take care of the suffering."

"I can't get to Iraq."

"There are folks who are miserable here."
I remembered Charlotte's recent posts about AIDS in South Africa. Whatever your beliefs about Iraq, AIDS, or any kind of human suffering, these are wise words. Do what you can, right at home, one person at a time.

Lamott's chapter goes on to describe how later that day she won a free ham (which she dislikes) at the grocery store, and how she was able to pass it on to a friend she met outside the store who was short on money for food. Instant karma, perhaps?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Monday Moonday

That's what my kids call it. It's also the day that they doing paintings at their daycare.

I assume it's Monday --> Moon --> water --> watercolor painting, if I have my correspondences right.**

I'll share some paintings we did at home the other day. Probably not on a Monday, but I'm sure you'll forgive me.

We use cheapo craft store watercolor paper, which we often cut in half. This time I went whole hog into Waldorf style and rounded off the corners beforehand!

Because I save money on the cheapo paper, we use the expensive Stockmar watercolors. What saves our budget is that it's concentrated stuff, which we dilute way down and store in little glass jars in the refrigerator for many future sessions. (Because they are made with natural pigments and binders, the diluted paint will start to smell very bad -- rotten egg bad! -- if left out at room temperature, especially the blues.)

This is Napoleona's. She usually fills the whole page with swaths of muddy colors (she's not very good at remembering to clean her brush between colors). This time she ended the painting with all the little dots in the bottom right corner. I also notice that she made a "frame" of paint.

This one is SillyBilly's. He often treats painting like drawing, making lines of paint to make shape outlines. You can see that in the blue here. But this time he swirled things around a bit and it came out much softer.

This one is by Anthropapa. I like how he let the wet paint colors bleed into each other a bit.

And here's mine. I was going for a sunset over the Santa Monica Mountains kind of look. (Unfortunately they look like this right now because of more wildfires lighting up the evening sky. I had no idea about that when I did this painting.)

**There is a Waldorf cultural tradition that the days of the week have correspondences.

This is nothing new; alchemists and astrologers assigned planets for each day long ago, hence their names. (It helps to have a few foreign languages to see some of them: Tuesday (Tyr's day from the Norse) is Mars day -- Mardi in French. Wednesday (Woden's day from German) is Mercury day -- Mercoledì in Italian.)

And so there are also the things that go along with the days and their planets: colors (blue for Moon/Monday, red for Mars/Tuesday) and foods (Rice/watery on Monday, Oats/fiery on Tuesday) that Waldorf early childhood teachers work with in particular.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Love List

This time last year and this year Charlotte has mentioned how much she loves and appreciates her husband. I've been thinking along the same lines recently -- about Anthropapa, not Mr. Otter.

What I love about Anthropapa

1) He is very thoughtful and considerate. The other day after I wrote about my little obsession with Iceland, we received our next Netflix movie, which was a travel DVD about...Iceland!

2) He keeps me in chocolate. I never ask for it, but he's always buying me supplies for my secret stash when he goes to the store.

3) He can fix pretty much anything. As I write this, he's right behind me taking apart our cordless phone to see why the display isn't displaying.

4) He can make pretty much anything. Anthropapa has sewn articles of clothing, knitted a hat, built wooden bookshelves, and made animatronic puppets and props for films!

5) He is a wonderful cook. He made our entire Thanksgiving dinner, including a pumpkin pie from scratch. He also widened my food horizons from the start, helping me discover sushi, Indian food, and the wonders of scrapple.

6) He loves our kids, and tries to be the best Papa possible.

7) He has a beautiful voice, knows a lot about music, and has encouraged me to just get over it and sing so that I can improve my ear. Which I have, thanks to him.

8) He has a big soft spot for cats and dogs.

9) He takes his work very seriously, and feels personally responsible for the success of his workplace.

10) He doesn't complain when I write NaBloPoMo posts instead of talking to him!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The River's Little Brother

The other day our landlord's lawn service came by to do their last work of the season in our yard. The kids watched entranced from their bedroom windows as the men used their blowers to clear all the leaves off the lawn.

While the lawn is quite neat now, the leaves all went into the brook, where they clogged up among the rocks.

When we go outside to play, I try to be doing something active, like raking, trimming bushes, or just cleaning up toys. The kids seem to play much better when the adults around them are also engaged in something (though in the warm months I often choose to read a book instead).

It's been quite cold: it's about 35F right now at 2 pm. There's not much for me to do since the leaves are all raked away and nothing needs weeding or trimming, but it's much too cold to sit around reading. So I took a small leaf rake and cleared out some of the leaves from the rocks in the brook, freeing them to go downstream.

After I got tired of doing that and was sufficiently warmed up by my labors (wet leaves are amazingly heavy), I sat beside the brook for a few minutes. I never tire of watching the water, the birds coming to get a drink, or whatever there is to see along the banks that day.

I noticed that because I had freed up a few more places for the water to come through the rocks, the sounds of the brook were much louder. It reminded me of something from the very beginning of The Wind in the Willows, which I had just read to the kids the other day:

He thought his happiness was complete when, as he meandered aimlessly along, suddenly he stood by the edge of a full-fed river. Never in his life had he seen a river before--this sleek, sinuous, full-bodied animal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving them with a laugh, to fling itself on fresh playmates that shook themselves free, and were caught and held again. All was a-shake and a-shiver--glints and gleams and sparkles, rustle and swirl, chatter and bubble.
(Try reading that out loud--the alliteration is wonderful!) Our little brook is not quite full-fed as that, but it certainly makes a lot of music. Recently I figured out its entire route--starting about 2 miles away from us, it finally merges with a small river and then a larger one before the water ends up in Newark Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. If anything, knowing that helps me explain to the kids why we shouldn't throw things into the brook: we wouldn't want to make the ocean dirty, now would we?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Why I Love the Autumn

Anthropapa has been reading A Mantis Carol, by Laurens van der Post, one of his favorite authors. I was idly flipping through it the other day, when I came across an extraordinary passage (not really so extraordinary: his writing is consistently beautiful) that I want to share.

He is talking about how he has a deep love for his native southern Africa, yet the passing of the seasons is much more marked in other climates:

We have nothing so awesome as the fire of autumn sweeping through the great maple forests of America, stripping their leaves from them in tongues of flame until they stand naked and penitent before the reckoning we call winter. It is a moment always full of a profound and natural sanctity for me, when the earth round about me becomes like an antique temple wherein this conflagration, aflame and aflicker among the trees, accomplishes the final metamorphosis that fire did for the dead in those archaic places of the great forgotten mysteries, removing what was provisional, false and perishable from the spent life, so that only what was permanent, true and imperishable could accompany the spirit that once invested it on the journey to whatever lies beyond the here and the now.

It is almost as if in the fall everything around me there suddenly becomes allegorical and each tree represents some prodigal being, its inheritance spent in a summer of celebration, standing bankrupt before the great impartial necessities and recognizing for the first time that where it started from was the home to which it inevitably must return, and the bleak rounding journey about to some unimagined increase in that inexhaustible place of origin comes to us all, always disguised as a fear or retribution.
The image of the leaf color as a fire burning away the inessential, and the bare trees reminding us of what is essential, somehow resonated with me.

I've noticed over the last few years of living in such a maple forest, that in the cold months I experience an opening up -- when all the leaves are gone and there is little but dark trunks and white snow, I feel as if I could see for miles where in the warm season I am constrained by the intense greenery all around. Even the falling of the leaves themselves and the snow floating down evoke a distinct sense of space, an experience of three-dimensional space become visible with each falling particle near and far.

I think it will take a long time for me to really penetrate why I have always loved the autumn. There are easily seen practical reasons -- a love of warm clothing and winter holidays, a love of returning to school -- but those are not the root of the feeling. There is something personally symbolic about it, which van der Post comes close to in this passage.

Probably I'll never come to any permanent conclusion about it. But as it's such a strong feeling that has been with me my whole life, I'll keep trying as an attempt at some sort of self-knowledge.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanks Be

We had a quiet day around here at Lake Wobegon Anthrohaus. Anthropapa made an amazing turkey dinner (complete with dressing, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, and biscuits), I made the gravy, and the kids made...noise.

Really, they were quite good. They helped clean the house, helped take out the garbage and recycling, played nicely outside, helped set the table, and were very good at the meal. SillyBilly even got up at naptime to go poop! (Sorry to insert the scatological here, but it's been a big deal lately, as my devoted 6-7 readers know.)

After we ate, we talked about what we were thankful for. We mentioned our warm clothes, the nice daycare the kids go to, Mama and Papa's jobs that they like, and all of our loving grandparents and friends. The kids mentioned 1) the food and 2) Mama and Papa.

At least we ranked #2.

I must say, as a fairly crafty person, that I'm thankful that my kids are interested and talented at crafting. It's something we can always share. Here is a small selection of their most recent works:

They each made a beautiful leaf banners at daycare. This one is Napoleona's.

SillyBilly and I made this paper plate turkey the other day while we had some one-on-one time. He cut the tail slits and did the coloring; I cut out the head and legs and taped it together. Yay impromptu crafts!

The kids and I made this construction paper Indian corn from directions in the latest Your Big Backyard magazine from the National Wildlife Federation.

Even though a good chunk of my readership does not celebrate Turkey Day, I still wish a happy day to you all and hope that you all have manifold things in your lives to be thankful for!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Will I Convert?

I'm thinking of moving from Blogger to WordPress for a long time. I even set up a blog over there just to play around.

I'm even more convinced now that WP and the New Blogger Formerly Known As Blogger Beta get along much better, to wit: I just transferred over all of my posts (published and drafts) with comments and photos, in about 2 minutes.

I think I'll just get through NaBloPoMo on Blogger, while properly categorizing everything on WP, updating widgets, etc. and then switcheroo!

Unless anyone can think of a reason not to. (Staying all Google all the time doesn't cut it.)

Targeted Marketing Fun

An old friend of mine is involved in software research that involves targeting shopping and dining suggestions to your cell phone, based on data accumulated from your text messages, GPS, coordinates, and so on. I got to thinking about those ubiquitous Google ads in the sidebar of my email screens. This is what came up the other day while I was writing an email to the raw milk group I coordinate:

Meat = Animal Cruelty
Watch the video the meat industry doesn't want you to see.
(Um, we're not eating the cows, just milking them.)

Raw Grass-fed Cheese
Artisan cheese high in CLA from the raw milk of cows on pasture.
(Do they feed grass to the cheese?)

Cattle Grazing Research
Free Video/CD/DVD on grazing research with proven solutions.
(Thanks, but we've got no actual cows.)

Thick Premium Bully Stick
Processed in an Official Certified USDA Facility. 100% all natural.
(This was the weirdest one: I had never heard of these items. Now I wish I never had.)

Cow Sense Software
The premier cattle management information system. Free Trial!
(Personally, I prefer nonsensical cattle.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Old Fogies and Manic Children

Today I went into my bank to deposit some checks, which I normally do in the drive-thru ATM. However I had a couple of questions for a banking professional, so this time I went inside. The teller was quite helpful and answered all of my questions, but he was chewing gum during the entire conversation. I thought that was a bit unprofessional. And then when I was trying to add up my deposits at his window, I couldn't dredge up what 9 plus 6 is. As I walked out of the bank, I had to laugh at myself for losing my mental capacity at the same time I was judging that young whippersnapper. Is 37 now the onset of old age?

* * *

SillyBilly had two enormous tantrums today. The first one happened when I went to pick the kids up from daycare: they were both still napping when I got there, and when I told him we would go home for snack he completely wigged out. It took about 15 minutes to get him dressed and get out the door, with Napoleona standing there covering her ears the whole time. I think he was just sleepy and hungry, but it was waaaay out of proportion.

Once I got them home and gave them a snack, he had calmed down. I then entertained them with making butter with my churn (I meant to take pictures but the camera batteries were dead!) SillyBilly really had fun turning the churn handle, and they both loved eating soft whipped cream, stiff whipped cream, butter mush, and then real butter and buttermilk!

But afterwards he flipped out again when I said that he couldn't have a knife and cutting board to chop up a fragment of acorn meat he brought home. By this time it was almost 5:30 and almost all of the dished in the house were still dirty, no less that no dinner was prepared or even thought of yet. I couldn't take the time to supervise him with a knife, and offered that maybe he could do something after dinner, but that was evidently insufficient.

Luckily Anthropapa arrived a few minutes later, made dinner, and SillyBilly calmed down again.

Which then brought us to our next parenting dilemma: how to get SillyBilly to quit pooping in his pullup every night. He says he doesn't like to poop because it's boring to just sit there -- a while ago we started saying that he couldn't read on the toilet because he just ended up sitting there for 30 minutes without actually accomplishing anything! We thought that the yuck factor of cleaning himself up each morning would be a deterrent, but evidently it's not. He just says he doesn't have to go before bed, and then sometime in the night he lets it fly.

It seems like a control issue, but I'm just getting tired of the whole poop thing. Napoleona is completely potty trained except for peeing at night, and she's 3. I know I'm not supposed to compare the kids with each other, but SillyBilly's 5! He should be on the road to not even peeing at night any more (which he still does in bucket loads)!


The one good thing is that for the most part we kept our cool about it all. In fact, at one point in the first tantrum, SillyBilly actually yelled at me "I don't want you to be calm!!" I almost laughed at that one.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Perhaps this bodes well...

For a decent snowy winter this year:

Evidently it normally doesn't snow around here until Christmas, so we were quite surprised to see this when we awoke this morning! The kids got to make one quite meager snowball each before going off to daycare. It's supposed to turn to rain later, so I warned them not to get too excited.

Last year's winter was mostly just cold and muddy: not much fun and hard to find ways to get the kids outside. We're praying for a nice cold, snowy winter (in moderation, of course, knock wood!)

Maybe it's just the California girl coming out in me, but I can't imagine becoming tired of snow. I know certain grandparents of ours have fled the cold winters, and maybe if I'd lived here for most of my life I'd feel the same. But right now I simply marvel at my luck to live somewhere with such beauty.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Chorus of Couches

Charlotte's couch envy in the comments in yesterday's post reminded me that I have a plethora of groovy 1970s couches in my family photo collection. Feast your eyes on these:

Here I am gazing lovingly at my cousin who is showing me some sort of small animal pet. I should be gazing wonderingly at that fabric -- mustard yellow never goes out of fashion, right?

Another shot of the black and white couch. Please note the mustard yellow carpet (See? Always popular!), and the eye-watering combination of patterns on everyone's clothes. I think my grandparents had just come back from Hawaii, which might explain part of it.

A lovely brown plaid. I think That '70s Show came by the house to pick this up for a prop.

This one's not quite so unlovely, thought I'm sure it's 100% pure restaurant Naugahyde. Again, please note the incredible patterns. Grandma was pretty groovy, eh?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Then Again, Apparently I'm Clueless

Did I say yesterday that warm milk was the key to calm children?


Even with a splash of eggnog and extra cinnamon in her milk, Napoleona was a pill today. She seems to be going through a particularly bratty stage, and I haven't yet found the key to helping her through it.

The worst part is that we've often done a divide-and-conquer manoeuver on the weekends, where Anthropapa will go run errands with SillyBilly, while Napoleona and I have a quiet morning at home. She'll play nicely while I putter around the house.

To be fair, she did play nicely for about a half hour while I cleaned off my desk. Then after snacktime she just seemed to go off the deep end a bit. Using rude words, saying No! to everything, being extremely silly and not attending to anything I'm saying, and so on. I couldn't even get her to settle down to put on her shoes to play outside!

Personally, I think the idea of "terrible twos" is completely off base. Both of my kids have been much worse behaved at three than at two. Even their daycare provider told me that Napoleona's been having trouble sharing and playing nicely, in contrast to earlier in the year when she was the inspiration for lots of nice creative play.

In the Waldorf world, we talk about how a child under three years is still closely bound to the mother, not just emotionally but on the etheric level. At three the child begins to have awareness of being a separate person, and indeed the child's etheric body begins to separate from the mother's and becomes more focused on the child alone.

In theory, this would explain some of the behavioral issues of this age, and why many people consider four-year-olds to be wonderful!

But enough of my parenting woes. Instead, I'll (hopefully) amuse you with a picture of Anthromama in the early years. Please note that the pudding smears would explain the root of my inordinate love of chocolate, and my subsequent, shall we say, zaftigness.

Thank you Grandma Mimi for your old printer/scanner!
If this turns into a blog of old baby photos, it's all your fault.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Mellow Me Out

Sometimes miracles happen.

After a few rough days of conflict, things are a bit calmer today. In fact, when I picked the kids up from daycare, Napoleona was quiet enough that I started to worry she was sick. Turns out she just had a really good nap and was still sleepy.

I thought I'd continue that trend by feeding them some crackers and warmed milk when we got home. I know, sounds like a bedtime snack. But it was very cold and windy today, and it just sounded so yummy. I even put a dash of cream and egg nog in the milk!

They just spent over an hour sitting at the table playing with play dough.

Warm milk may just become a regular part of our diets.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Pirate Queen

My latest library find was The Pirate Queen by Barbara Sjoholm. I found it in the paperback section, amongst the Shopaholics and The Latest Diet Craze Promoted by Celebrities That Involves Bizarre Food Combinations and No Exercise At All.

There is a certain kind of travel book that appeals to me. Not too pedantic, not too witty either, with enough facts and good imagery to give me a sense of place alongside a sense of the author. Sjoholm gave me all that, plus a fair bit of culture and history of the North Atlantic.

Sjoholm is Irish and Swedish by birth, and has been fascinated by the sea since childhood. In her twenties she even washed dishes on a steam ship up and down the Norwegian coast. She's also a successful writer of mysteries and travel books, publisher, editor, and translator.

She undertook a long voyage, primarily by sea, from Ireland to Scotland, the Orkneys, Shetlands, and Faroes, then to Iceland, and finally Norway, to seek out stories and records of women who "rowed and sailed, commanded and fished, built boats and owned fleets."

While full of her own thoughts and feelings -- at one point she steeled herself not to become too crabby like Paul Theroux -- the book brings these seafaring women alive, even though some were fairly shadowy figures from a thousand years ago:

Grace O'Malley, the Pirate Queen herself, who commanded a fleet of ships along the western Irish coast, was known as such a scourge that Queen Elizabeth I put a bounty of 500 pounds on her head.

In the early 1800s, Christian Robertson owned a successful shipping company and recruited for the Hudson Bay Company in Stromness, Orkney, at a time when women just did not own their own businesses.

On the island of Yell in the Shetlands, Sjoholm meets a woman who worked on a passenger ship in the late 1960's -- one of only 15 women out of a crew of 500, as the "children's hostess" who amused the 200 or so children emigrating from the UK to New Zealand with their parents.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, independent "herring lassies" worked long hours gutting and packing fish on the docks, some in the Shetlands and Orkneys and some following the herring migration from Scotland down the coast of England.

Aud the Deep-minded, a Norwegian noblewoman, sailed from Scotland to Iceland around AD 900 after her husband (the Norse-Irish king Olaf the White) died, bringing with her vast wealth and a large retinue to settle there and prosper.
Sjoholm interprets these women's stories through the lens of modern feminism, pointing out how many of these women braved the ire of society to secure their financial and physical independence. She points out that all of the "fisherman's wife" statues, supposedly erected in honor of women's hard work and contributions to fishing culture, all depict women passively looking out to sea -- either waving goodbye to or waiting for a glimpse of their fisherman husbands -- rather than engaged in their true work.

Sjoholm also goes on a personal journey within the sea journey. She gives us peeks into her personality and life story throughout, but the main "subplot" is her search for a new last name. Her father was adopted, and Sjoholm doesn't feel any connection to being a Wilson. The moments where she muses on what is important to her and how that can be reflected in her name are fascinating reading.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Brief Paleontology Lesson

I just spent the last two hours doing a fact-checking test, so I'm not going to stun you with anything original tonight. Instead I'm going to stun you with a more or less verbatim transcription of what SillyBilly told me tonight about dinosaur bones, one of his favorite topics:

Land dinosaurs were thirsty so they went to a pool to drink, but they went in too far and drowned. Their bones were so heavy that they sank into the sand. Over the years the sand turned into dirt, and the dirt into rock, and so did the bones. That's why dinosaur bones are very valuable if they're on the surface of the ground, because it's very rare to see them up there.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Message from the Bard

I promised Anthropapa that in the interest of familial harmony, I would not use the computer tonight. Not, as you might think, in order to have a nice chat, some nice smooching, or anything like that. No, it's so I can hem some of his pants.

So, instead of finishing up the long post I wrote last night, I thought I'd share what my iGoogle "Shakespearean Insult" generator gave me this morning:

[Thou] hath more hair than wit, and more faults than hairs, and more wealth than faults.
-Taken from: The Two Gentlemen of Verona
It's eerie how well that describes me today, except for that wealth bit. More hair than wit...was that the world's first blonde joke?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Feeling a Bit Like a Fraud

Seems like I usually talk about all the good things on this crafts, beautiful trips, good parenting, funny things the kids say, and so on.

Today I just had an icky day with the kids. Their daycare was closed for Veteran's Day, so they were with me the whole day. Evidently I have lost the ability to entertain/wrangle/stand to be with my kids for that long. That's really embarrassing to admit.

We only got about 1/2 hour of playing outside, they were seemingly especially active/wrestling/jumping off furniture/not listening/screamy/weepy, and except for a few golden moments (we played an impromptu game of Go Naked Fish -- Go Fish, but everybody gets to see the cards because 3 year olds can't hold them up properly! -- a little craft project, and building a gnome village/castle/museum complex out of blocks) the rest of the day was filled with tears, yelling, and overall unhappiness.

I also spent about an hour in their room trying to get them to take a nap, only to find them "waking up" a half hour later. That's the worst for me, getting no down time when we've had a bad day, and them already tired from a very minimal nap yesterday.

And somehow their daycare provider gets them to take naps simply by having them lie down! Grrrr.

So there won't be any pearls of Waldorf wisdom today, nor any NVC methods-in-action. Though I am reminded by something funny I heard said by a presenter at a Waldorf homeschooling conference:

Some days, the best you can say is nobody got hurt!

I guess I can be satisfied with that.

**Edit: After musing on the day a bit, I can see that it wasn't really that bad. True, I didn't model the behavior I'd like for my children, and my needs weren't especially met. But everyone got fed delicious, nutritious meals, I ran a load through the laundry, and I did have some nice play time with the kids. Napoleona even celebrated my birthday by singing and giving me a cloth-wrapped "present." (She does this at least once a week. Today's birthday presents were two sand dollars, some postcards, and a picture drawn on their big DoodlePro.) We also had a silly hairdo moment in the morning, with all three of us adorned with tiny hair clips and pony tails or braids. Sorry, no photos.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Autumn Walk Haiku

Cool, crisp autumn air--
ate lunch sitting on a log,
fed some sweet horses.

My feet are aching
as they crunch through the dead leaves.
It's time for a nap.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Saturday Surprises

Today's been a pretty good day, so far. After a wonderful pancake breakfast, the kids and I went out in the backyard for the first time in many days. It's just been too cold, and often rainy, to play out there. (OK, the kids could probably have played out there just fine. I just don't usually have the energy to do much outside stuff after picking them up from daycare at 3 pm.)

While they played (SillyBilly got out some of his tools to hammer on something or other, Napoleona made leaf/dirt stew at the play kitchen. I don't know where they get this gender-specific stuff from!) I decided to try to tackle the leaf situation.

Our yard is ringed with maple trees. They are quite beautiful, but it is truly shocking and amazing how many damn leaves there are. And how heavy a leaf pile is after it has sat out in the rain for several days. After trying to budge the medium-sized leaf pile I had made before Halloween, which needed to merge with the main large leaf/brush pile in the corner of the yard, I decided to give my arms a break and sweep off the steps leading to the basement.

As I was sweeping off the sidewalk at the bottom of the steps, I had my first surprise of the day when I saw this wildly trying to get away from me and my evil broom:

I think I was more excited than the kids were, especially after I told them they couldn't touch it! After looking at far too many herpetology websites, I think I've narrowed it down to an Ambystoma jeffersonianum (Jefferson salamander). It was probably enjoying living under all the leaves piled up next to the house, where the hose occasionally leaks and keeps things nice and moist. I deposited him (her? It's hard to tell with salamanders.) in the thick leaves at the edge of the brook, where I figured it was most salamandery.

After SillyBilly and Anthropapa went to run errands, Napoleona and I went inside because the leaf pile had turned my arms to jelly. I decided to make cookies, from the wonderful Waldorf Kindergarten Snack Book. Wonderful, except some of the recipes clearly assume you already know how to bake. I decided to make the ginger snap recipe as a test run for possible Christmas cookies, and (second surprise) it simply stated to mix all the flour, spices, molasses, and butter in the bowl to make dough.

Now, I didn't think that somehow mixing a stick of cold butter into flour and molasses would work! I knew I shouldn't cut the butter into the flour, because ginger snaps aren't flaky. I clearly had to cream the butter and molasses together.

Then I realized the error of my decision to make cookies -- whenever I try to cream butter with an electric mixer, the butter just either flies all over the place or clumps up annoyingly, so I like to cream the butter the old-fashioned way, with a wooden spoon. With my leaf-defeated arms.

It all worked out fine, and here's a nice picture of Napoleona, rolling up cookies all by herself, thank you very much. I tried to help her with some, and she complained LOUDLY. So, she made a whole sheet of cookies all by herself.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Study group

I've become involved with a new online community, called The Waldorf Board. It's a threaded discussion board for people interested in Rudolf Steiner, anthroposophy, and Waldorf education.

Somehow, I've gotten myself into an online study group on Steiner's lecture titled "Facing Karma." So far it's been a very interesting discussion, and has made me realize that I'm woefully forgetful of some of the basics of anthroposophy.

It's really easy to develop what I call a "cloud of information" around a topic. Kind of like if you're asked to define a word, and instead of a dictionary-style definition, you provide a bunch of images, words, experiences, and concepts that all hover around the word in your mind.

The down side to this is that while this cloud makes it easy for you to skim along and feel like you're understanding a text, when you're called on to really explain it to someone else you find that you're unable to be specific without admitting it's all your subjective opinion. Maybe I just grok I can't externalize enough to explain it in words.

As I explained this cloud idea to Anthropapa, he pointed out that the way that I'm observing my own thinking process is just what Steiner talked about in Philosophy of Freedom. Wow, I'm good.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

A meme for NaBloPoMo

I got this one from Charlotte, who says the rules are:

List one fact, word or tidbit that is somehow relevant to your life for each letter of your first or middle name. You can theme it to your blog or make it general. Then tag one person for each letter of your name.

I chose my middle name. To be honest, it's the shortest of all that I had to choose from...I'm trying to cut my computer time short tonight! I won't tag anyone, play along if you like.

is my current vocation. I've been doing it part-time for about 6 years. I love it! It's nice to be doing something that actually relates to my BA in English Literature. It is also a place where my inner Virgo can roam free.

Liverwurst is one of my favorite foods! (Sorry, Charlotte.) I could eat it almost every day. My little German Grandma used to feed me slices of Brauschweiger for snacks.

Auto accidents have been a big part of my life. The biggest one was when I was 7 -- a hit and run where I fractured my wrist and got a little cut under my eyebrow. I've been in 6 of them, but I may be forgetting a few.

Iceland has always fascinated me, despite its lack of things I usually love, like trees. Björk, elves, volcanoes, glaciers, geysers, the world's oldest parliament, what's not to love? Maybe it's some old Viking blood coming out.

Needlework has been my hobby since I was a girl. I've done cross-stitch, needlepoint, embroidery, sewing, knitting, crocheting, latch-hooking, and blackwork. I've sewn theater costumes and Medieval clothing, dolls and toys, and modern clothing. I've knitted and crocheted sweaters, hats, gnomes and blankets. I made a cross-stitch sampler that still hangs up in my dad's house.

Anthroposophy has informed my life and thinking for over 10 years. It continues to amaze and confound me every day. It has brought me wonderful friends, new skills and thoughts, and a name for my blog.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

What's up with all those gnomes and fairies?

[Fairies and gnomes] actually come from people's experiences of elemental forces that help the plants to grow or the minerals to form. These "sightings" or "sensings" occur cross culturally, although we are pretty steeped in the European tradition of how these "elemental beings" are talked about and represented in visual form. There is a kind of "truth" in how they are represented in paintings or knitted figures, because the person rendering them is trying to convey certain archetypal truths.
-- Rahima Baldwin Dancy, Waldorf in the Home

One thing that many people notice about Waldorf early childhood classrooms are the gnomes and fairies. Little knitted or felt gnomes might live in a basket ready for children to play with, or silk fairies might hang from golden threads above a springtime nature table.

Kindergarten teachers might lead their children in a circle game about gnomes marching through the forest with heavy sacks of jewels, or sing songs about fairies helping the bees to find nectar in summer blooms.

So, what's going on with this? Why all the emphasis on mythical beings?

Waldorf early childhood methods emphasize imaginative play. We also try to foster the child's natural sense of being "one" with the world and with nature. Children love to be outside, playing with water, mud, sticks, rocks, and flowers.

Children also have a natural feeling that everything around them is "alive." Rocks can talk, trees have feelings, and certainly there are invisible beings all around us helping with natural processes. Fairies and gnomes are a physical manifestation of this feeling of the aliveness of nature.

On another level, fairies and gnomes could be seen as representations of the opposing forces that human beings must try to balance: Fairies are pure spirit, hardly touching the Earth, and working with the forces of life and growth. Gnomes are pure matter, living and working under the earth in the mineral realm, and working with the forces of death and hardening.

Here in our house we have lots of gnomes and fairies around. We've got one in the fridge, for example, who lets us know he's happy with the food selection by making loud knocking sounds occasionally. The kids have numerous little gnomes made of felt, wood, and that dashing knitted fellow you see above. I feel that bringing in a bit of this archetypal, elemental world is one way to work imaginatively with forces and processes that are otherwise invisible, and it encourages the kids to use their imaginations.

I'll give one last personal example of why I like to incorporate the "little people" in my little people's lives:

At night we can see some lights in the distance out of a window in the kids' room. One night I told them that perhaps those were the lights of a far-off fairy castle. I wove a story about how the fairies were so busy all day helping the plants to grow, flowers to bloom, etc. that it wasn't until nighttime that they could rest in their castle. We talked about how they have grand processions (are those lights over there flaming torches lighting their way?) and how they love to dance after they've eaten their feast (are those lights the glow of the stoves in their huge kitchens?). The kids were full of wonder and their eyes shone.

The kids often refer to the fairy castle lights, even though I told that story long ago and haven't mentioned it to them since. They really took in those images and can work with them in an imaginative way. They have never once made the connection between the fairy castle's lights and the building that sits there in the daytime!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Two Little Reviews

Sammar is a young Sudanese widow living in Aberdeen, Scotland working as an Arabic translator at a university. She is depressed and grieving over her husband who was killed in a traffic accident, and has left her young son to live with relatives in Khartoum. Sammar lives alone in a small apartment with little personal effects, and has few personal interactions other than with her co-workers. Her daily prayers give her something to hold onto, something that sustains her in her grief. Sammar is an observant Muslim: she wears a headscarf and only eats halal food, fasts for Ramadan, and she cannot marry the man she comes to love until he becomes Muslim.

Ria is a young Hindu woman hoping to study in America to advance her writing career. She is part of a large, well-to-do Delhi family that would love nothing more than to see her marry. However, Ria seems unable to form intimate relationships with men, and only after confronting and exposing her childhood abuser is she freed from her fears. Ria feels pressured by her family to conform: they believe she will be a successful writer, but the cultural expectations of marriage predominate. She also feels this pressure more acutely as her cousin's wedding approaches, engulfing the family in money worries, adulterous liasons, and chaos of all sorts.

The Translator and Monsoon Wedding work together as amazing portraits of women and family -- the former of a woman isolated and adrift until she can reunite with her far-off family and culture, the latter of a woman who learns to fight for her independence and selfhood within an almost suffocatingly close family and culture.

Monday, November 05, 2007

A Letter to You, Sandra B.

Dear Sandra,

Shortly after we moved to our current house, we started to get telephone calls for you. Because we get quite a few wrong numbers here, we thought nothing of it.

Then we started to get several calls a day. And when they left messages, it was evident that these callers were trying to collect debts from you. Some of the calls were automated or pre-recorded, while others were from actual human beings.

I think you gave out our number, fraudulently, to your creditors, to avoid being contacted.

Now, I've done something like this myself. Years ago, I would change one digit of my phone number when required to give it. However, my intention was not to avoid paying my bills. I simply did not want to be harassed by sales calls. This was before our wonderful Do Not Call legislation.

So, in a sense I can sympathize with you. However, I dislike having the phone ring so much. It disturbs my peace. And collectors do tend to call at unusual hours, like meal times. Or when I'm trying to pee, or cook dinner.

Luckily, when I've been able to speak with an actual human at these collection agencies, they have been courteous and it's been no trouble to explain:

1) Yes, they reached the phone number they were trying to reach.
2) No, Sandra B. does not live here.
3) Sandra B. probably never lived here because the woman who lived here before us had been here for many years, and her name is not Sandra B.
4) No, the address they have on file for Sandra B. is not this address. It seems to be an apartment about a mile away, in the same telephone prefix and area code.

After the first round of calls and my attempts to explain the above points each time, these collection calls ceased. Recently I've had to field a few more, which tells me that either they simply are trying again, they sold your debt accounts to new collection agencies, or you've racked up new debt that you do not intend to pay.

Could you figure out some other way to handle your finances?


Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Spiritual Influence of American Culture

Indeed, Anglo-Americanism is a modern cultural narcotic to anesthetize our urge to find the spirit within us. It is the task of Anglo-American culture to organize the material realm and spread it over the whole globe, but due to an inherent idiosyncrasy, it also numbs and distracts people in their search for the spirit with its Americanisms.

--Rudolf Steiner, Lecture in Ulm, 30 April 1918.

Amazing, that Steiner thought this way before the advent of television, computers, Britney Spears, or any other thing the US has foisted on the world. Of course, I say foisted knowing that most of the world has in general opened up and said aaahh to all we have to offer.

The other thing to realize about this quote is that Steiner wasn't trying to say that the material realm is an inherently bad thing. On the contrary, he believed that we need to be here on the Earth, materially corporeal, in order to work through our karma and advance spiritually. And in using the word "task," he is pointing out the fact that (in his cosmology) each major world culture has had/will have something to contribute to human development, despite its respective shadow side.

I'll never forget something one of my teachers said to me during my Foundation Year at Rudolf Steiner College: we should in some sense feel pity for the angels and the other hierarchies above ours, because in many ways they have no freedom.

That's right, we're lucky to be here, surrounded and benumbed by all this materialistic Western culture. Well, that's a slight exaggeration. There's nothing about being benumbed that helps us advance. But without our material existence we would never be able to choose our "cultural narcotic" du jour, or choose to strengthen our powers of perception or thinking.

Fighting against this numbness is something that Anthropapa and I have been struggling with for a long time. Back in the late 90's, we realized that TV was sucking away not only hours of each day, but our brain cells as well. And we didn't talk to each other enough. So, we ditched the TV completely for several years.

We don't watch TV any more, but now we have a wireless internet connection. Today, it's NaBloPoMo. Tomorrow morning, a little Facebook. Tomorrow night, perhaps something from Netflix.

I often seem to be trying to become comfortably numb. It's a lot easier than working on my karma.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Why I'm a Big Editing Geek...

Because I laugh my tuchus off sometimes while reading the Q&A entries on the online Chicago Manual of Style:

Q. Is it ever possible to put a period after other punctuation as in: He had asked, “Will she go?.”

A. It’s definitely possible, but it would be wrong.

Q. For those who make a hobby of cruising garage sales, are they going “garage sale-ing,” “garage saling,” or “garage saleing?” Or are they not permitted this usage?

A. Oh, my. Is garage saleing anything like parasailing? The mind boggles. As you suspected, this phrase would not survive the red pencil at Chicago. (Why can’t you just go to garage sales?) I can tell you that suffixes like “ing” don’t normally take a hyphen. After that, you’re on your own.

Q. If Susan has a master’s degree in publishing, does Betty have master's degrees in publishing and literature?

A. I have no idea, but I can tell you that the question is styled correctly.

Q. At the annual meeting of our local PBK chapter, dispute on the pronunciation of “archival” arose: whether the stress falls on the first or the second syllable. Give us your wisdom. I will pass it on in the column I write weekly in a local paper about any subject that pops into my head.

A. As a style guide for writers, CMOS must resist the temptation to weigh in on an issue of pronunciation. We are editors, absorbed in our manuscripts. We can go for days without even speaking. I suggest you consult the linguists who write dictionaries for this purpose. (I’m sorry this won’t give you anything to put in your column, but thanks for your help with mine.)

And thank you to you witty CMOS editors for helping with mine!

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Allure of Fire

“At least one study suggests that if you take a population of boys between kindergarten and fourth grade, 60 percent of them have committed unsupervised fireplay, which is to say that fireplay is a common and absolutely normal part of human development.”
--"10-Year-Old With Matches Started a California Wildfire," NY Times, 11/1/07.
Our kids have never lived in a house with a fireplace, but they have experienced a gas stove, candles, an old-fashioned oil lamp, and a fire in the fire ring in our backyard. They get their turn to snuff the candle after story time at daycare.

And of course, this year's Lantern Walk included 6 fires, many luminaria and tiki torches, jack-o'lanterns, and candles in our house during the hours we had to have the lights off.

The morning after, we found evidence we hadn't noticed before that one of the kids (I'm guessing SillyBilly) played with the candle we had lit that night in the bathroom. He would have been unattended for only a few moments, but Papa found a scorch mark on the toilet seat lid, and I found a tiny piece of what looked like burned paper in the sink.

It may be a "normal part of development," but I wonder how do I impress on such a small person the possible repercussions? I'm not opposed to age-appropriate exploration that might result in a small, lesson-giving injury -- as in how toddlers quickly learn that the stove is hot when they touch the oven door, or a child swallowing some water while learning to swim. But actually playing with fire is so much more...serious.

We certainly keep matches away from the kids, and I don't think they have any overly intense interest in fire since they see it fairly often. And I think it should be regarded the same way we do guns: fire is a useful tool that needs to be respected, and certainly is not a toy.

Now all I need is a way to explain this so that the little ones can understand...

Thursday, November 01, 2007

What's on My Desktop?

Aside from a lot of other random stuff, this image:

I found this on the wonderful blog Habetrot (home of all things woolly). This is the oldest known image of someone knitting! It was created by Meister Bertram von Minden in the 14th century.

I've cropped it a bit here (Will I go to Hell for cropping out Baby Jesus? Only time will tell.), but it's Mary knitting a little shirt for Jesus. Knitting in the round, I might add, which my internet sources tell me was the original method -- straight needles came later.

I found that this image really spoke to two major areas of my life: parenting and crafting. Mary is obviously one of the most archetypal mother images we have in the Western world. And to find her knitting, one of my beloved hobbies, was a revelation.

We tend to have either very prosaic images of Mary: the humble girl shocked by Gabriel's message, the tired, gravid wife riding that bony donkey 90 miles to pay her taxes -- or transcendent images: the Mother of God crowned as the Queen of Heaven. I love how this image incorporates both -- in her sumptuous halo and red and gold gown, and her skillful ability to create something quite mundane.

I find that this image helps remind me of the nobility of handwork. One way that I can show my love for others is by creating things with my own hands. I care for my family by making clothing that keeps them warm, and by making toys for the children to play with. I help my children learn the value of the unique, imperfect item filled with care and love, versus the mass-produced, unnaturally pristine and soulless item.

And, it's beautiful, no?