Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Way We Live Now

We've been writing this blog for twelve years (the first post was June 8th, but I'm lousy at remembering any anniversaries other than our wedding, so I might as well that that in now.) I've never been a good diarist. There are a half dozen books or computer files in which I managed to keep up a journal for a few months. I think the reason I always failed at such endeavors is that I could never find it interesting for long to write about myself for an audience of just myself. Writing is a form of communication, and if it's not being shared with others, who are you communicating with?

I think that's why the blog has generally been a fruitful endeavor for me. There is some sense of writing to communicate with others, but none of the restrictions of writing for a specific market. It's allowed the topics to meander over the years to whatever interests us at the moment, and it's allowed the blog to survive times when we've very little time to write.

It does also provide a window on my own past, though. Twelve years ago when I wrote that first post we had only two children, and I'd only recently secured what I thought of as my first "real job" because it was salaried (rather than hourly) and actually paid enough for us to live on (a virtue with which my jobs back in California had only flirted.) I recall we thought of ourselves as very busy back in those days, and I did indeed work some very long hours as well as still doing some web programming work on the side for extra money. Yet to judge by the number of posts back in 2005 and 2006, we must have had more time than we thought, as we put up more posts back then than at any time since.

I've been feeling old (or more properly: middle-aged) lately, and it's a feeling that I mostly enjoy, though it seems to leave me writing less. Our oldest daughter is fifteen. She'll be starting to learn to drive come the new year. Girl number two is thirteen and the third is a tall and leggy eleven. (Sometimes I think she'll be the most conventionally beautiful of the older set -- other times I think that our current conventions of beauty are based on eleven-year-olds.)

We don't do sports in our family (dance, drama and cub scouts provide enough activities to dodge around between) but the girls agreed to a regime of running this summer, working up to a 5k or something longer. So this morning I roused them out of bed at a quarter to seven and we jogged a mile and three quarters. They were good sports about it, and a week into the regime are starting to build a little stamina, but the early mornings come hard to teens and near teens who don't normally have to get up and catch a school bus. We're a family of night owls, and one of the reasons why I chronically feel that I have no time is that with the long summer daylight it's often nine o'clock before we get the little ones in the from the yard and ten before they're in bed. Then it's eleven or later before the older ones settle down. If I'm to have some quiet time to write and such after the rest of the family are down, that time now starts about 11:30pm. Perhaps it's no wonder that this novel is progressing more slowly than the last one.

Last weekend we watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade with the older kids. It's a fun movie, though not greater than the sum of its parts. One moment that's always really stuck with me is where Indiana Jones and his father are talking and the senior Jones says, "You left just as you were getting interesting." That's one of the things that makes this time so satisfying even if it is very time consuming. The older children are starting to relate not just as kids doing kid things which we need to keep an eye on, but as other people with their own interests and abilities. It's not all even sailing. They're still inexperienced people with strong moods that they don't always know how to keep under control. Still, dealing with one of them having a bad day is a lot more like trying to talk sense into someone at work having a bad day than it is dealing with a toddler having a bad day. And it's genuinely fascinating (if occasionally frustrating) to see these people emerge with their own interests and talents, not necessarily similar to our own. For all my regrets at not having time (or only getting time by cutting my sleeping hours down to six or less) it's a good stage of life.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017


No, we have not dropped off the face of the earth. But we've mostly finished with schoolwork, and we had a long weekend, and... oh, just have some clickage.

1. First up, a clip from that classic crime drama, Bohemian Rhapsody.


2. The kids are all signed up for the summer reading program at the library, the sort of thing where you track your reading in fifteen-minute implements, and at six hours and twelve hours you get prizes. This is the sort of thing that makes me realize: I would not have been a good scientist. I don't mind doing stuff, even stuff that takes a lot of time or repetitive work, but I'm terrible at keeping records. I don't want to track how many hours I read. I just want to read.

The smaller kids and I were going to do a science project where we planted seeds in cups, and then put them in windows on different sides of the house, and kept track of what days we watered and rotated them to see which area was the most beneficial. Well, we did water our plants, and rotate them, and all the good stuff you need to do -- but after the first day we didn't write anything down or mark our charts.

People themselves are motivated to keep their reading logs, because prizes, but the ones who are going to have a harder time are the ones for whom I have to help keep time.


3. Speaking of reading, we just finished our readaloud: Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog). This is one of my favorites, but I'm sad that I've reached a point where I can read about the can of pineapple without dissolving into choking tears of hysteria.

Now taking recommendations for a good summer readaloud.


4. Time to go to the beach. Anne Kennedy has you covered:
So, helpfully, right there on the main page, were 12 things you need, NEED for your summer trip away. I’m just going to list them real quick and then offer my own alternative list. The twelve things you need, NEED for this summer are, in order 
A Brightly Colored Bikini (Hahahahahahaha) 
The Perfect One Piece (obviously, because you can definitely get the perfect one piece. It is possible to do that. You just need to go to like a store or like the internet and just pick anything out because it will fit, it will, and when you’re wearing it, its perfection will keep you from wanting to die. It’s going to be great. Just go out and get it, that perfect one piece, go on. Why are you crying?)

5. Speaking of things that make you want to die, which Shakespearean corpses spend the longest time languishing on stage? Here's a handy chart.


6. Speaking of things worth dying for, yesterday I actually got up and made a dessert: a chocolate semifreddo. It's lot easier than making homemade ice cream, and very very tasty.

I don't know if the WSJ article will unlock for you all, so here's the recipe.

Dark Chocolate and Toasted Almond Semifreddo
Note: The eggs in this recipe are not fully cooked.

Active Time: 15 minutes Total Time: 4¼ hours (includes freezing) Serves: 8

½ cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
Sea salt
2 cups heavy cream
8 ounces semisweet chocolate (63% cacao or higher), melted, warm but not hot
¾ cup toasted, coarsely chopped almonds

1. Line a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap. Set a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. In bowl, whisk together sugar, whole eggs, egg yolks and a pinch of salt until very pale and thick, 4-6 minutes. Remove from heat.

2. Use an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment to beat cream to soft peaks. Set aside ⅔ cup of whipped cream for serving and chill, covered, in the refrigerator until needed.

3. Use a rubber spatula to fold chocolate into egg mixture and then quickly but gently fold in whipped cream, stopping when cream is about three-quarters of the way mixed in.

4. Add almonds to chocolate mixture and quickly but gently fold in until completely incorporated. Transfer mixture to prepared pan, cover and freeze for at least 4 hours.

5. To slice the semifreddo, turn it out onto a serving platter and peel off plastic wrap. (You can do this step ahead of time and store, covered, in the freezer until ready to serve.) Slice and serve with a dollop of the reserved chilled whipped cream.


7. If you're looking for some summer enrichment for your teens, Brandon Watson is running an Introduction to Modal Logic series which we've been working through with the 15yo.

For more philosophy:


8. The older girls are going out tonight for auditions for the community theater production of Godspell. I'd be right up there with them if I weren't a) 8 years past the age cut-off for this particular show, and, more crucially b) going into labor the week of the performances. This is how you can tell what's important to me. If it were sports or dogwalking or a summer job, I'd be all, "Kids, we just can't do that this year. I'm going to have a baby, after all." With theater, I'm all, "Sure, I may be having contractions, but the show must go on! You'll get there somehow!"

I'm very sad, though, to have missed another opportunity to fulfill my lifelong dream of belting out this number, originally sung by Sonia Manzano, who later went on to find fame as Maria on Sesame Street.

Break a leg, girls!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Tragedy, Comedy, Guardians of the Galaxy

MrsDarwin and I got a chance to go see Guardians of the Galaxy on Mothers Day afternoon. In what increasingly seems our standard model for blockbusters, the eldest three kids had already seen it, and we were getting the second shift a week later.

I enjoyed the movie. It had a lot of the elements I enjoyed from the original, and Baby Groot is as cute as promised. In some ways, the story was tighter and more compelling than in the original. And yet, with the writing success, there was something a little darker to it as well that I've been trying to think through. Joseph Moore had a interesting take that I'm mostly in agreement with (contains spoilers) over at Yard Sale of the Mind.

Here's what I've come to in a spoiler-free take. There was a lot that was enjoyable about the original Guardians of the Galaxy movie. It grabbed me right from the first scene, where Chris Pratt's Peter Quill puts on his headphones and dances his way across an alien cave (at point point picking up a reptilian rat-like creature and singing into it as a microphone) on his way to steal a mysterious ancient alien artifact from a ruined city. It was a great scene, and it followed by a confrontation with some minor bad guys who have never heard of Quill's self-assigned galactic criminal nickname "Star Lord" give us a feel for the great music, the fantastic settings, and the likable loser of the main character who we follow through the rest of the movie.

While the plot eventually brings us a pair of bloodthirsty warlords as villains and an ancient relic powerful enough to maintain or destroy the universe, the characters we follow are mostly comic and have a certain kind of small scale which often goes with a comic character. In the action scene which introduces us to Gamora, Rocket Raccoon, and Groot, we have a comic fight scene masterpiece in which despite the variety of swords and ray guns being used, no one ends up much hurt. None of the characters have a principled aversion to violence. Gamora's rap sheet includes working as an assassin, and Rocket Raccoon is a thief with a fondness for huge energy weapons. But rather than epic heroes fighting massive battles, our characters are small time criminals who stumble into a situation where they end up saving the galaxy.

Odysseus takes revenge on the suitors

Rocket Raccoon and Baby Groot

In this sense, they're well suited to a comedy in the classical sense. The ancient Greeks (and to a fair extent the Romans who followed their example) wrote tragedies and epics about great warriors and rulers, and comedies about ordinary small scale people. While Greek Old Comedy (typified by Aristophanes) focused on cultural and political satire, though still dealing mostly with people of small scale rather than great figures, Greek New Comedy (and the Roman Comedy written in its image) focuses on the quibbles of ordinary people: jealous wives, philandering husbands, lovesick youths, wily slaves, etc. make up the stock characters of the New Comedy world. By contrast, tragedies (like the epics whose mythological characters they use) focused on the doings of the great, and their deeds which at times were terrible. So, for instance, we have Oedipus, the son of a king and queen who on hearing a prophesy that he would kill his father and marry his mother, have baby Oedipus's ankles pierced and tied together (so he can't crawl) and the baby exposed on the hillside to die. Oedipus is, however, rescued and eventually raised by another king and queen, before hearing as an adult the same prophesy. In an attempt to run away from the prophesy, he ends up killing his real father, marrying his real mother, and when all this comes out his mother hangs herself and he gouges out his eyes. So we see the elements: Oedipus is of noble birth. Terrible deeds are done.

While it's not the same, epic in some ways shares these elements. The heroes of the Iliad rack up massive body counts which struggling with powerful emotions (jealousy, revenge, love) and they are all royal or noble. The Odyssey spends much of its time on recounting a journey, but the action set piece is when Odysseus returns home and exacts revenge against the suitors of his wife and the maids in the household who have consorted with them, revenge so bloody that Athena herself has to intervene at the end to keep Ithaca from spiraling down into total war as the victims' families seek revenge against Odysseus. There are humorous bits in the Odyssey -- such as Odysseus blinding the cyclopes and telling him that his name is "Nemo" (no one) with the result that the wounded cyclopes runs about telling everyone "No one is attacking me!" but it's still kind of dark and violent humor.

This is part of what strikes me about Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2, and it's why even though I enjoyed it I found myself wondering if it's heading in directions I'm not going to like in the end. Rather than being comic criminals, the Guardians are now, well, 'The Guardians of the Galaxy'. They have a stature. And even though they're still the wise cracking characters we like, they're no going around hiring themselves out to do big galaxy saving work. As heroes go, these aren't people with quiet ordinary lives who are sometimes pulled aside to do big things, like the hobbits of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. They're more like a comic, for-hire version of Homer's epic warriors: larger than life, skilled in battle, and possibly descended in part from gods.

There's a scene, a really well filmed scene with great music, in which characters who have been wronged (and wronged badly) go on a revenge spree which is close to being a space fantasy version of Odysseus's clean up in the banquet hall. It's a satisfying scene. It's an epic scene. It's a scene in which scores of people are killed because they had it coming. But it's not exactly light hearted.

This familiarity with violence is part of what gives this movie a less light tone. In the original movie, as the Guardians are escaping from a prison space station, Quill is tasked to take the prosthetic leg of another inmate as part of the materials needed for the escape. Even as a big fight with guard robots is going on, he ends up transferring a large sum to the inmate to buy the leg from him, rather than simply taking it from him. Repeatedly in that movie Quill tries to talk, bargain, dance, or pay his way out of dangerous situations -- it's part of the small time crook charm about him that he's always looking for ways to wiggle out of situations short of pulling out a laser gun and blasting away. This is part of what makes him seem more a comic character (one engaged in the small time finagling of life) rather than an epic hero bent on making hundreds die in Homeric fashion with the taste of cold bronze between their teeth. And that's what has changed in the second movie. Now are characters are all Homeric scale killing machines. They still have wise cracks, and they actually have a deeper and more compelling set of human attachments than they did in the first movie. But they are no longer the small characters of comedy but the big characters of epic. And in so they fight big battles, exact terrible revenge, and deal with dark fatherhood issues.

I still enjoyed the movie. It's a well made and fun movie, and it has more of a heart in many ways than the original. But it seems to me that it's also edging away from comedy and towards being the same kind of big epic full of world bestriding heroes that we see in the other Marvel franchises. And even though I enjoyed the movie, I'm a bit sorry to see that happen.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

What We Talk About When We Talk About Others

Ian McEwan's celebrated novel Atonement tells the story of a young girl named Briony Tallis who, fancying herself a writer and jumping to create narratives in her head, miscontrues a series of events between her sister and the young man who becomes her lover. Based on the story she's created in her head, she later concludes that she's witnessed the young man raping her cousin, despite being unable to see the perpetrator, and her false testimony sends the man to prison. Later in the novel, a repentant Briony encounters her sister and the man, and humbly accepts an oddly theatrical comeuppance and shaming. And still later, at the end of the book we discover that Briony has grown up to be a respected novelist, and has written the earlier section to atone for her deeds and to create a new, happier ending for the wronged pair.

A fascinating literary experiment, and McEwan is a skilled enough writer to make it almost plausible, but the problem is that now the reader doubts everything in the book. What is true? What is false? Is the whole novel a construct of Briony's imagination? Which pivotal details really did happen as presented? Does McEwan even know which parts of his story are real, and which are imagined?

And this is only fiction we're examining.

There's been a lot of discussion of Alex Tizon's April cover article in the Atlantic about Lola, the woman who lived with his family and raised him, and whom he came to realize was not simply a live-in helper and maid, but a slave. The article is well worth reading: beautifully written, soul-searching, and all the more poignant for the fact that Tizon died suddenly in March.
Her name was Eudocia Tomas Pulido. We called her Lola. She was 4 foot 11, with mocha-brown skin and almond eyes that I can still see looking into mine—my first memory. She was 18 years old when my grandfather gave her to my mother as a gift, and when my family moved to the United States, we brought her with us. No other word but slave encompassed the life she lived. Her days began before everyone else woke and ended after we went to bed. She prepared three meals a day, cleaned the house, waited on my parents, and took care of my four siblings and me. My parents never paid her, and they scolded her constantly. She wasn’t kept in leg irons, but she might as well have been. So many nights, on my way to the bathroom, I’d spot her sleeping in a corner, slumped against a mound of laundry, her fingers clutching a garment she was in the middle of folding. 
To our American neighbors, we were model immigrants, a poster family. They told us so. My father had a law degree, my mother was on her way to becoming a doctor, and my siblings and I got good grades and always said “please” and “thank you.” We never talked about Lola. Our secret went to the core of who we were and, at least for us kids, who we wanted to be. 
After my mother died of leukemia, in 1999, Lola came to live with me in a small town north of Seattle. I had a family, a career, a house in the suburbs—the American dream. And then I had a slave.
Tizon passed away in March, just as the Atlantic had decided to run Lola's story. We can't turn to him for more details of Lola's life, or why, even acknowledging the complex web of obligations to his mother and the cultural differences between the Philippines and America, he didn't do more to emancipate Lola from a life of abuse and humiliations. (His parents maltreated her emotionally and physically, in front of the children. The family didn't even give her a place to sleep.) We hear very little about his four siblings, despite his account that his brother, eight years older, was outraged at Lola's treatment. In this article, Tizon seems to be trying to atone for his family's moral culpability for Lola's slavery, and to give an honorable, fair account of both this meek, gracious woman and of his complex, contradictory mother.

It turns out that this was not Tizon's first eulogy for Lola. In 2011, the year of Lola's death, he contacted the Seattle Times, his employer, about running an obituary for Lola. Susan Kelleher, the reporter assigned to the piece, spoke with Tizon and, based on his account of her life and his anecdotes, wrote a moving account of Lola's life and devotion to the Tizon family. This week, Kelleher wrote a horrified correction and apology after reading Tizon's Atlantic article with the salient details he didn't choose to reveal to her in 2011.

Tizon was a career journalist, so writing was hardly foreign to him. It sounds as if he wrestled for years with how to tell Lola's story, how to do justice to her and grapple with his own complicity and responsibilities to her and to his family and to the truth. And yet in the end, each attempt to acknowledge Lola ended up revealing more about Tizon himself than about a woman who, ultimately, never was given the opportunity to tell her own story. His atonement is as layered and convoluted as Briony Tallis's attempts to reconstruct her own complicity in a crime she didn't commit, and as contradictory as her literary versions of atonement.

But this isn't fiction.

It is a rare person, a rare writer, who, in trying to recount or account for another person, can truly tell that person's story. Often when we speak of other people, we are speaking of ourselves, viewing that person's life through the lens of our own experience and emotions, baggage and convictions. Tizon's Atlantic article suggests an honest grappling with his family's history and legacy, but read in the light of the initial obituary for Lola (for which he alone contributed all the biographical information), it seems like another draft of Atonement. In the obituary, Lola's many virtues and beautiful devotion are made much of -- even the time that Lola took a beating from the mother's father for the mother's misdeed! -- without the critical information about the slavery that formed her character and compelled that devotion under threat of punishment. Tizon's guilt impels him to mold and remold the clay of Lola's life, but the stories are ultimately constructed in his own image. He writes of his surprise at reading his mother's journals:
Before she died, she gave me her journals, two steamer trunks’ full. Leafing through them as she slept a few feet away, I glimpsed slices of her life that I’d refused to see for years. She’d gone to medical school when not many women did. She’d come to America and fought for respect as both a woman and an immigrant physician. She’d worked for two decades at Fairview Training Center, in Salem, a state institution for the developmentally disabled. The irony: She tended to underdogs most of her professional life. They worshipped her. Female colleagues became close friends. They did silly, girly things together—shoe shopping, throwing dress-up parties at one another’s homes, exchanging gag gifts like penis-shaped soaps and calendars of half-naked men, all while laughing hysterically. Looking through their party pictures reminded me that Mom had a life and an identity apart from the family and Lola. Of course.
Lola leaves no personal account of her life, being unable to read and write until the last years of her life. All we know is what Tizon tells us. And Tizon himself wrote movingly about the underdog, as the Atlantic note about his death tells us:
The Pulitzer prize–winning reporter Alex Tizon built an exemplary career by listening to certain types of people—forgotten people, people on the margins, people who had never before been asked for their stories. Alex’s wife, Melissa Tizon, told me recently that her husband was always impatient with small talk, because he believed that all people had within them an epic story, and he wanted to hear those epic stories—and then help tell them to the world. “Somewhere in the tangle of the subject’s burden and the subject’s desire is your story,” he liked to say. 
But in trying to tell the truth of Lola's story, he reveals more about himself than her -- not just because their lives are intertwined, but because he is both grappling with and trying to excuse his own part in it.

"Blessed are the pure of heart," Jesus says in the Beatitudes, "for they shall see God."  The pure of heart, who see Truth, are perhaps the only people who can speak the truth of other people. Everyone else sees facets of that truth through the lens of their own biases. In The Horse and His Boy, Aslan tells Shasta, "I tell no one any story but his own.” It seems that we can tell no story other than our own, no matter how hard we try.

If you know someone in similar circumstances to Lola, or suspect that someone may be living in forced servitude, please contact the National Human Trafficking Referral Directory, or call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Poison Ivy, Again

Looking back through the blog archives, I see that I chronicled the 2011 bout of poison ivy, and the 2012 one, but not the 2015 round that left my daughter and me with faces and eyes so puffy we eventually had to go to the doctor and get a prescription for steroids. We walked around with our faces blotched pink with calamine, and people shrank from us in horror in the grocery store. Here, a memory:

This looks a lot more photogenic than it actually was.
2017 brings its own case, though again with the same two protagonists. My 11yo and I were out trimming weedy branches off of the trees along the side of the driveway to make the property line look neater. The neighbors recently suffered a death in the family, and we wanted to clean up and do a bit of the yardwork they might not feel up to in the days of grief. And in the course of this good deed, as we were cutting down the brush and shoving it into big brown bags, I came across a dead vine with sprigs of three shriveled leaves. Immediately we backed away from the project, cast the vine (held by the shears) into a distant corner of the lawn where some hidden poison ivy still lurks, went inside, lathered up, and scrubbed hands, faces, shears, everything.

Too late. 

My poor 11yo has it on her face, though not as badly as in 2015. She had to powder over it for her dance recital on Saturday, a tender procedure as one of the properties of the poison ivy rash is to be very sensitive to even the slightest touch. My face is untouched, but I have a large patch of coarse, densely packed blisters on my left forearm, which puff and ooze and look generally scabrous. Poison ivy developing as it does, slighter patches are still erupting. I have a single large blister on my left palm which is almost pretty in its bubble-like perfection. Also, I have it on the backs of my ears. Why? How? Who knows?

The other day some child and I were watching an icky video featuring makeup jobs that approximated the great sicknesses of yesteryear: smallpox, bubonic plague, tuberculous, and something else that looked disgusting. We don't see many buboes or smallpox blisters these days, and cosmetics have gone a long way toward evening out the effects of various kinds of ugly scars. However, sometimes there's nothing for it but to go out of the house with a suppurating wound, and endure the looks. In the grand scheme of things, we have it pretty well. Our poison ivy will clear up and leave no trace, and the pain is not too bad. And now we have something minor but substantial to offer for our neighbors' true agony.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

An Illustrated Guide to Getting Off the Couch

Sure, you could go see Guardians of the Galaxy this week if you need laughs and drama, but it's going to be a lot cheaper to come to my house and watch me try to get off the couch from a supine position.

Someone who never has any trouble getting up off the couch.

First, I have to get close enough to the edge to get my legs over it. This might mean rolling over, a stop-motion form of animation in which I maneuver by degrees to my side. Bystanders start to titter nervously, and someone asks if I need a hand.

"No, I'm good," I say as I grab the edge of the couch and jerk myself over.

Once I can get a leg over, I need to get vertical. Sometimes this is accomplished by utilizing the aforementioned hand, but sometimes I like to do things the hard way, or there's no one around to haul me up. Then I tip myself slowly off the couch until the force of gravity acts on my belly and pulls my feet to the ground. Once feet are on the floor, I can continue rolling and slowly, slo-o-o-wly straighten up. If I go too fast... haha, just kidding! I don't go fast anymore.

When I'm vertical, I need to reset my pelvis before I can walk. This process can be compared to bellydancing, minus the seductive allure.

Not this.

You see, in this stage of pregnancy one's joints loosen up. Not loosen up as in "limber, like a Russian gymnast". No, the sensation is more like, "I'm not sure if my leg is still attached, except that it hurts to move." (Come to that, it probably hurts to move if your leg is not still attached.) Once the pelvis is shaken about and quasi-realigned, I can stagger around, gradually working up to an agile shuffle.You can't really blame me. Baby does weigh almost four pounds.

What a 32-week baby looks like

What a 32-week baby feels like

Friday, May 12, 2017

Some Number of Takes

Tossed off in the moments before we have to leave for the dance recital rehearsal.

1. Need to feel good about your weight? Find out how many cheetahs you weigh! Or what percentage of an elephant you are, or how many raccoons with bowling balls in a trench coat it would take to equal you. My Animal Weight gives you all this pressing information, and many more options.

2. If you follow the new genre of live musicals on TV, you'll be interested to learn that NBC's next production will be Jesus Christ Superstar, airing on Easter Sunday 2018. Now, I confess that I listened to JCS plenty in my teens because I loved Judas's opener, but the theology of it is sketchy enough that I think it's a rather questionable homage to the holy day. Not that I think the finer points of theology really concern the bigwigs at NBC, of course.

3. If you had told me thirty years ago, back when I was, oh, eight, that one day I would just order pizza for dinner because I didn't feel like cooking, I would have been flabbergasted. Those were the days when, if you wanted pizza, it was an occasion. You got your shoes on, and you drove down to Pizza Hut, and you sat at a table under a pseudo-Tiffany fixture hanging on a chain, and drank soda out of tall red plastic cups. Pizza was delivered to your table in a metal pan. You ate pizza maybe once a year, maybe more often if you finished your Book-It program at school.

Now, I look at the empty fridge and think about sitting for two hours in a high school auditorium watching the dances I'm just going to watch again tomorrow, and I think, "Yeah, Dominos." Served from the box onto paper plates, and maybe I'll break down and order a two-liter too, all off the Dominos app on my phone. Truly, I have come up in the world. When I was a kid, we just would have eaten box mac 'n cheese with hotdogs cut up into it, and we would have liked it, gosh darn it.

4. Speaking of things that happened a long time ago, my oldest turned 15 on Wednesday.

We got married seven weeks after graduating from college, and got pregnant a month later. Most of my friends my age have oldest kids several years younger, due to marrying later or waiting to have kids or whatnot, a fact my oldest children always reflect on when we go to visit people and there are no kids their age. I guess I'm a fairly young mom of a 15-year-old, but I don't really feel it these days with the aches of being 32 weeks pregnant. Perhaps when I'm 40 with a 17-year-old and a 2-year-old, I'll be positively spry.

5. Someone made the tactical error of putting stage makeup on the 6-year-old before brushing her hair. Now the eyeliner is all over the place, and we'll have to start again.

6. We have to walk out the door right now.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Great War, Vol 2, Chapter 3-1

We return to Natalie in a field hospital on the Eastern Front. The installment is a bit longer than usual (which in part explains why it took a while to get done) but I hope people will find it worth the wait.

Near Tarnow, Galicia. March 26th, 1915. For most of the Russian Third Army, the fourth week of March, 1915 was remembered because on the twenty-second the Austro-Hungarian fortress of Przemyśl finally surrendered. Situated in the Habsburg half of Poland, the stronghold on the River San had been completely surrounded by Russian forces since October, yet its garrison of a hundred and twenty-five thousand men had held out all through the winter. A symbol of the tenacity and disfunction of the empire it defended, the garrison had withstood artillery bombardment and increasing starvation while issuing its daily orders in fifteen different languages: Poles, Austrians, Ukrainians, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Slavs, and Jews united only in their willingness to resist the Tsar’s army. And yet at last, supplies had run out and the hundred thousand surviving defenders had been led into captivity. Before the Russian army, the way was open to march south across the Carpathian Mountains into Hungary, or West into the heart of German Silesia towards Breslau and Dresden.

At the seventh field hospital’s first unit, however, that week was recalled as the week during which Doctor Sokoloff collapsed with pneumonia and after several days of feverous delirium was sent home on the next hospital train to recover his health. This left the field hospital to be run by four certified nurses, including Natalie as the newcomer; the staff of orderlies, nurses’ aides, and housekeeping sisters who did much of the work but provided little of the medical expertise in the hospital; and one surgeon: Doctor Sergeyev.

Sokoloff had always been the more reclusive of the two doctors, deferring to the eminence of Sergeyev’s Moscow training and retreating to his room with one of his small collection of books whenever he was not on duty. And yet the mere fact of the second surgeon had been enough to provide balance.

“I’ve done with him,” announced Sister Travkin. She poured herself a cup of tea from the samovar. The field hospital had remained in the same place for more than five months now -- a result of the winter weather and the lack of success achieved by either side’s winter offensives -- and during that time all that could be made comfortable had been. The nobleman’s hunting lodge which had been requisitioned for their use had been well furnished, yet there was no place for upholstered chairs and Persian rugs in operating theaters and ward rooms that must be scrubbed clean with carbolic solution every day.

The women’s dormitory had originally been a stable for the owner’s thoroughbreds. Its floor planks were now scoured as clean as any kitchen floor, and the common sitting area was made comfortable with rugs, chairs, and tables taken from the house.

“What’s wrong?” asked Natalie.

“He must go to bed. There’s nothing more to be done about the wards. We are quite capable of seeing to the patients for the rest of the night and there are no more expected. But he’s prowling around like an angry cat finding fault with everything, and I’ve simply done with him. He’s had more than enough out of that medicine flask of his and it’s making him more surly by the hour.”

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Monday, May 08, 2017

Darwiniana, Big and Small and Big

We had a lovely day for a lovely girl's confirmation.

Julia Thérèse Josephine Bakhita

Three lovely big girls.

Julia and her aged parents
The oldest of the three big girls is turning 15 on Wednesday. The youngest Darwin is also pictured, although like the Holy Spirit, you know him not through seeing him, but by his effects: the bulging maternal midsection, the softening of face and swelling of hips and veins in the wrist.

I will say, in honesty, that for all the ills of pregnancy, there are some compensations. I'm at that stage one hits in late second/early third trimester where my hair is happy every day and my skin glows. And baby kicks with great vigor and regularity, which is lots of fun except when he decides to rotate a shoulder right above my pelvis, or brace his feet and stretch himself out, or tickle.

I am starting to have weird dreams. The other night I dreamed I had to drive myself to the hospital in labor, during rush hour, in my big van, and that I had to give birth in the van with my kids delivering the baby. I woke up wondering why I just didn't plan to have a homebirth again. I don't actually think that's likely to happen. Still, this is why I've stopped reading stories now about how other women give birth. If I start to think about labor and delivery, I have a stress reaction, kind of like how the guy in the dungeon doesn't think much about his coping strategy for the next time the guards drag him off to be racked. Just get through it when it happens, and at least there's a baby at the end.

I want to write more. I want to read more. I want to be more creative. But I keep falling asleep, because all my energy is going to growing this pup, who will one day be as tall as his big sisters and engage in his own creative endeavors (hopefully after potty training, of course). Meanwhile, I expand in every direction but intellectually. My outlook for the future centers on delivering the live weight before I can drop the dead weight.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Be Sealed With The Holy Spirit

Today Julia, age 13, will be confirmed. She's taking Josephine Bakhita for her confirmation saint. 

Julia first heard about St. Josephine last year at our parish's Vacation Bible School, when I had to write up a small bio of her as our Saint of the Day:

I was born in the Sudan, in Africa, around the year 1869. I had a happy childhood, but when I was nine I was kidnapped and forced into slavery. This was a terrible time for me. I was treated so badly by my captors that I forgot my own name. I was given the nickname “Bakhita”, which means “lucky”. I didn’t feel lucky! I was beaten daily and treated so cruelly that I wanted to die. 
When I was fourteen, I was sold to an Italian man in Africa, who treated me kindly. He gave me as a gift to a family who took me to Italy and made me the nanny to their daughter. The little girl and I went to stay for a time at the convent of the Canossian Sisters in Venice. For the first time, I learned about the love of God. I loved the life of the sisters, and I wanted to learn more about Jesus, who died the death of a slave. When my owners tried to take me from the convent, I said no! The sisters helped me take my case to an Italian court. The judges ruled that since slavery was illegal in Italy, I was free!
How did I use my freedom? I wanted to become Catholic and join the sisters. In 1890 I was baptized with the name Josephine, and I received communion and confirmation from Archbishop Sarto, who later became Pope Pius X. 
I was a sister for 42 years. During that time, I was known for my gentleness, my cheerfulness, and my strength in suffering. During World War II, the people of my Italian town counted on my prayers and courage to help them when bombs fell. Not one person died. 
I died on February 8, 1947. On October 1, 2000, Pope John Paul II declared me a saint. I’m the patron saint of my homeland, the Sudan, and of all people suffering in slavery.
For a more detailed account, including how she got the terrible scars of her slavery, you can read more here.

Please pray for Julia on her Confirmation, and pray for me as well, because God keeps putting it on my heart (a cliché, but accurate) that I should teach Confirmation class next year.