Recently, I have become wise and venerable, by virtue of celebrating my 62nd birthday. Now I qualify for some more senior discounts! That's a good thing, because this was a very expensive birthday.
The first gift was a two-week trip to Switzerland, which ought to be enough of a present for anyone. But the trip's primary purpose was to assist Janet and the kids in coming to the U.S. for an extended stay, including a month living with us. On top of that, for eight days of that month Heather and her kids joined us, giving us all children and grandchildren here for a while, including Father's Day. Grateful as I am for Skype and other modern means of communication, there is nothing like physical presence and shared activities for building bonds, and I'm especially happy that the cousins had that time together. Living an ocean apart is tough. Overseas (or cross-country) travel with children drains the spirit, body, and pocketbook—but the rewards are incalulable. Yes, it would be better for all concerned if we lived in the same town and could see each other regularly on a more casual basis, but we make the best of what we have, and the cross-cultural diversity (family, state, country) is an important blessing, too. These visits are the most important to document, but such a post requires much more time—and organization of photos—so it will have to wait. At least now you know why this blog has been so silent recently.
Then there's the gift that deserves a post of its own, but for practical reasons will only get bold lettering here: Thanks to Heather (and Jon), we're expecting a ninth grandchild next Februay! Or maybe early March. For Father's Day I'd given Porter this mug, commemorating the visit of the cousins. Heather made their announcement by telling him it was nice, but out of date. :)
My most expensive birthday present—ever—was the "gift" of a new HVAC system for our house. The old one gave up the ghost in the middle of a Florida summer, and our used-to-colder-Switzerland guests were even more grateful than I was that Porter dove into the project and had us enjoying cool air again in record time. (We had known this was coming eventually; the system was 40 years old.) Let's just say that it's times like this that make me really appreciate having a pool. Kids get a lot less cranky in the heat if you let them swim as much as they want. We won't get to test the heating part of the system for several months.
Skipping the more affordable but none the less valued birthday presents, we come to a life-changing gift: we have finally joined the ranks of the smartphone users. Technically, Porter was one before, having a Blackberry, but that had belonged to IBM, which made the really interesting stuff off limits. I knew we would love smartphones when we finally broke down and got them, but was very reluctant to increase our phone spending by more than an order of magnitude. (Porter's was provided and mine—which works just fine for talk and text—cost $100 per year.)
But change comes to us all, even (especially?) those over 60. Being myself one hundred percent occupied with grandchild-related activities, I left the decision (like that about the HVAC) in Porter's capable hands. After much research, he chose AT&T (we've always had AT&T, except for when IBM forced him to use Verizon with his Blackberry, an unpleasant experience) as the provider, and Samsung/Android for the phones. He has a Note 3 and I a Galaxy s5, and we're both very happy with the choices. I find mine a little too big for comfort, especially in its OtterBox case (which I like a lot), but I do appreciate the screen real estate. I just have to figure out a decent way to carry it.
There's a lot I have to figure out. The phone itself is amazingly intuitive. Say what you like about us old folks, this is certainly no harder to figure out than PDP-12 assembly language and learning to follow a program's progress by turning up the volume on the speaker and listening to the changes in the accumulator register. It's the lifestyle changes that require more careful thought. I am determined to make my new phone a servant, not a master, which I acknowledge is a non-trivial endeavour. I'll probably be blogging more about that for a while than about the good stuff that requires organizing my photos, another non-trivial endeavour. Especially since I now have phone pictures as well as camera pictures.
Speaking of life-changing events, the impetus for our plunge into the smartphone world came when the higher-powers-that-be at IBM decided that Porter could do without his Blackberry—because they could do without his services. I have no doubt he could find another job, but what would be the fun in that? So as of June, Porter is officially retired! He expects to continue to do occasional consulting work; even now, the less-than-higher-powers-that-be at IBM—the ones who really know how good Porter is at what he does—are working hard to get approval to hire him back as a consultant. But for now we are greatly enjoying having him available to the family full time.
Janet was clipping Joseph's fingernails. When one of them suddenly spun into the distance, Joseph burst into song: The burden of my nail flew away ... I am happy all the day!
There are a thousand things I could write about related to my trip to Switzerland, but time is short and people at least want to hear something, so to appease both them and L'il Writer Guy, I'll mention one thing that has struck me while observing Joseph's and Vivienne's speech patterns.
Joseph, who is less now than a month from his fourth birthday, was clearly delayed in his speech when I was last here, nine months ago. Maybe, as I wrote then, "different" is a better descriptor, but in any case he was not as verbal as the majority of children his age.
Today is a different story. Where he is in terms of "average" I don't know, but his speaking ability has clearly exploded, from understanding pronouns (saying "it is mine" rather than "it is Joseph's," for example) to being able to answer questions about the past and the future. It reminds me again of how tricky it is to decide when a problem is best solved by intervention (and the earlier, the better) and when it is best simply to let the child develop in his own way, at his own pace. We'd heard a variety of advice, from simple exercises to a radical diet; no doubt each would be appropriate for some situations, but in this case, trusting and waiting were the best medicine.
There's no doubt that Vivienne is developing differently. At 29 months she is nearly as verbally competent as Joseph. She has a good grasp of pronouns, speaks fluently, and works with determination and persistence to correct her own vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar.
All this is hardly news; even within a single family, children develop differently. What makes it especially fascinating for me is that all this development is taking place in two (or more) different languages, and that, too, differs from one child to another. Joseph was slow to speak each language (though he clearly understood both English and Swiss German extremely well), but now is fluent in both and never mixes them up. He can translate from one to another (a very different skill from just speaking) and to some extent from French and High German as well. Vivienne, on the other hand, mixes the languages freely and with enthusiasm, chattering one moment in Swiss German and the next in English, pulling words from the other language as the spirit moves her, a happy experimenter.
I'm reminded of the two types of computer programmers I've observed: one who meticulously plans every detail, "measures twice, cuts once," and whose programs often work the first time; and the other, who works iteratively, putting forth one version after another and converging on the solution. Both approaches work, though each kind of programmer frustrates the other kind no end. Not that Vivienne and Joseph experience any of that sort of frustration in their speaking. But it's a good analogy of how it seems to be working for them.
Enough. It's past bedtime again—but L'il Writer Guy is happier.
They don't come any more enthusiastic about public transportation than us, so we were thrilled when SunRail brought a commuter train to Central Florida. There were many disappointments, such as learning that the engines are diesel instead of electric, and most especially with the schedule: the trains do not run on the weekend. During the week, the best frequency is every 30 minutes during rush hour, and midday the trains are one, two, or even three hours apart. What's more, the last train leaves downtown Orlando at 9:30 at night, making it completely useless for anyone planning an evening in town. This is not the way to win a very skeptical population to mass transit. But, we figured, it's a start. If SunRail can prove itself useful for commuters, perhaps it can grow into a real train for the rest of us.
On Friday we decided to check it out. I adore train travel. My life is full of positive emotional associations with trains, from commuting to my first job on the Philadelphia Main Line run, to a luxurious ride from Rochester, New York to Springfield, Massachusetts early in our marriage, to my unplanned "rest and recovery" trip from Florida to Connecticut on September 13, 2001, to the easy and relaxing tourist travel in cities at home and abroad. I planned to love the experience, sitting with Porter and a friend at one of the table seats, watching the world pass by out the window. It was a glorious day, too: sunny and dry, with temperatures in the low 70's.
Alas, it was not to be. Porter described our experience in his subsequent e-mail to SunRail: (More)
The Space Shuttle may no longer be flying, but yesterday we saw a perfect Delta IV rocket launch grace the sky to the east. What a lovely sight!
The weather was beautiful, too, with temperatures that kept our doors and windows open all day. I realize that for most of you such a statement means the weather was finally warm enough, but no: we've been enjoying a two-day respite from high humidity and temperatures in the 90's. At this very moment it is 67 degrees on our back porch. Heaven!
At about 4:30 Friday afternoon, I became aware of some rustling in the bushes outside my office window. Normally this is just the grey squirrels, but our resident armadillo occasionally pokes around, so I got up to look. It was neither.
I've said before that I love going to a church that has services every single day between Palm Sunday and Easter, and I love even more living close enough that there's little hindrance to attending them. Beyond ordinary busy-ness, that is, which we're supposed to be giving lower priority during the most momentous week of the Church Year. Writing this up so late, I'll no doubt miss something, but GEIBTP.
Palm Sunday I miss processing with whole palm branches instead of little leaves, but at least they were still cut from the yard instead of purchased. The best part was the music provided by our own little orchestra! It was great being led by trumpets: we stayed together much better than we usually do while trying to sing All Glory, Laud, and Honor spread out all around the church and the parking lot. The orchestra was amazing: these are middle schoolers, some of whom just started playing their instruments this year. Great music? No. Helpful? Very much so. Inspiring? Yes, yes, yes! And I was really impressed by their endurance. Other hymns, songs, and anthems:
Ride On! Ride On! In Majesty! (tune: The King's Majesty); A Simple Word of Grace; It Was Finished on the Cross (solo); At the Name of Jesus (tune: King's Weston); O Sacred Head Sore Wounded (tune: Passion Chorale). Plus an anthem, which I'm pretty sure was the beautiful To Love Our God (Mark Hayes, Hinshaw Music HMC1576).
This past weekend we had a very encouraging shopping trip, and as an inveterate non-shopper, I don't say that often. This time we ventured into a part of town we rarely visit (though after this experience it may happen more often) and most notably went to our IKEA for the first time.
At the risk of exacerbating the Switzerland-Sweden confusion, I'll mention that going to IKEA was like a mini visit to Janet's apartment, though sadly lacking in grandchildren. There are many similarities in the stock between this and the IKEAs I've been in in Switzerland, and I kept exclaiming, "Look, that's their silverware drainer / toy bins / easel!" "That's the exact train piece package I bought over there!"
Although the purpose of the trip was merely exploratory, we did end up buying several items, and what both surprised and thrilled me was where they were made. Yes, there were certainly plenty of items with the "Made in China" label, but we also easily found products from India, Bulgaria, Latvia, and other alternative sources, and even the occasional "Made in USA." Later in the same trip we were happy to buy a teapot made in the Czech Republic from Crate and Barrel.
To judge by what's available in most stores, China has a monopoly on production these days, and their reputation for product safety and factory working conditions is terrible. Even if their record were pristine, I'd still be concerned about their control of the market. (Microsoft, Apple, and Google make me similarly nervous.) I don't boycott Chinese products, but I'm a lot happier to see more variety available. Is India any better? I don't know, but until proven otherwise I'll take the chance, and I'm certainly happy to buy from countries with European Union standards.
Although we missed our own Shrove Tuesday pancake dinner and burning-of-the-palms this year, I love this traditional prelude to Lent. After we left Norwood, Massachusetts, our friend Alan became vicar of a small church there. He has since written a book, and more to the point, produced this homage to Shrove Tuesday pancake dinners, inspired by Robert W. Service's The Shooting of Dan McGrew. As a fan of all three (Service, Alan, and Shrove Tuesday pancakes), I had to reproduce it here (with permission).
The kitchen crew was whippin’ it up
at the Redeemer pancake dinner.
The band that was playin’ the Bluegrass tunes
was pickin’ ‘em out like a winner.
There at the back was a man in black,
who was speakin’ of Israel;
And by his side was the love of his life,
the lady that's known as Gail.
The cause of all of this merriment
was the upcoming purple season;
And so the crowd was chewin’ the fat,
as if they needed a reason.
The following day would bring ashes and grief,
forty days of a somber tone.
But tonight they wore beads and sated their needs
by carvin’ the ham to the bone.
The vicar was telling the lamest of jokes,
as the vicar is wont to do.
They say that the Anglicans know how to drink,
and they surely know how to eat too.
These are the simple facts of the case,
and I guess I ought to know.
There was food and fun, and everyone smiled,
I saw as I watched them go.
There’s a time for Lent and a time to repent,
but the season goes down so much better,
If you start it off by gorging yourself
on homemade pancakes and butter.
When he was young, my father had a two-mile walk to work, and used the time to memorize long poems, including Dan McGrew and another Service work, The Cremation of Sam McGee. Later, upon request, he would recite them to his children and grandchildren. That pleasure cemented my love of the poems, and it came flooding back when I read Alan's verse. Thank you, Alan and Vivien!
My reading for 2013 started off at a great pace: I had read 28, more than half my goal of 52 (one per week), by the end of March. That by the beginning of 2014 I had completed only 57 shows how busy the rest of the year was.
Here's the list, sorted alphabetically. A chronological listing, with rankings, warnings, and review links, is here. I enjoyed most of the books, and regret none. Titles in bold are particular favorites.
- 3 Theories of Everything by Ellis Potter
- Animorphs #1: The Invasion by K. A. Applegate
- Animorphs #2: The Visitor by K. A. Applegate
- Animorphs #3: The Encounter by K. A. Applegate
- Animorphs #4: The Message by K. A. Applegate
- Animorphs #6: The Capture by K. A. Applegate
- Animorphs #7: The Stranger by K. A. Applegate
- Animorphs #8: The Alien by K. A. Applegate
- Better than School by Nancy Wallace
- Child's Work by Nancy Wallace
- Cooked by Michael Pollan
- Deer Hunting with Jesus by Joe Bageant
- Difficult Personalities by Helen McGrath and Hazel Edwards
- Getting Organized in the Google Era by James A. Martin
- God Is Red by Liao Yiwu
- The Gospel of Ruth by Carolyn Custis James
- Guitar Zero by Gary Marcus
- Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry, narrated by Susan Denaker (audio book)
- The History of the Medieval World by Susan Wise Bauer
- The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
- The Hork-Bajir Chronicles by K. A. Applegate
- How to Be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson
- The Idle Parent by Tom Hodgkinson
- Indian Captive by Lois Lenski
- The Keys to the Kingdom #1: Mister Monday by Garth Nix
- The Keys to the Kingdom #2: Grim Tuesday by Garth Nix
- The Keys to the Kingdom #3: Drowned Wednesday by Garth Nix
- The Keys to the Kingdom #4: Sir Thursday by Garth Nix
- The Keys to the Kingdom #5: Lady Friday by Garth Nix
- The Keys to the Kingdom #6: Superior Saturday by Garth Nix
- The Keys to the Kingdom #7: Lord Sunday by Garth Nix
- Kluge by Gary Marcus
- Landmark 2: The Landing of the Pilgrims by James Daugherty
- Landmark 9: The Building of the First Transcontinental Railroad by Adele Nathan
- Life of Fred: Apples by Stanley F. Schmidt (This series is not bolded, because they are math textbooks, but I loved reading them, and they're great math stories.)
- Life of Fred: Butterflies by Stanley F. Schmidt
- Life of Fred: Kidneys by Stanley F. Schmidt
- Life of Fred: Liver by Stanley F. Schmidt
- Life of Fred: Mineshaft by Stanley F. Schmidt
- Lilith by George MacDonald
- Lost Women of the Bible by Carolyn Custis James
- Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese
- The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton
- Meet Christopher Columbus by James T. de Kay
- The Myth of the Garage by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
- The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald
- The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
- Project-Based Homeschooling by Lori Pickert
- The Second Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
- Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne
- The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley
- The Spirit Well by Stephen R. Lawhead
- The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke
- The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
- What I Saw in America by G. K. Chesterton
- When Life and Beliefs Collide by Carolyn Custis James
- A Year with G. K. Chesterton edited by Kevin Belmonte
We're currently undergoing some home phone renovations, so if you need to contact us, please do so via e-mail, cell phone, Facebook, or here. Thanks for your patience.
UPDATE 2/19: The home phone is working now (thanks, Lime Daley!) but we'll be making changes now and then over the next week, so you can still resort to the above contact methods if necessary. (You know I prefer e-mail most of the time, anyway.)
... to point out to our Northern friends that our temperature was a record-breaking 86 degrees today. Last week was winter. I guess the groundhog thing doesn't work south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Nunsense was written in 1985, but neither of us had seen it until Sunday. We went to the performance at Sanford's Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center because our friend Linda was the music director for the show. As it turned out, we knew one of the main cast members, too—a friend of Heather's from high school. She played Sister Hubert and did a fantastic job. Everyone did a great job, actually, though some had better enunciation than others, so we didn't always get the jokes because we didn't catch all the words.
A few of the jokes were less than family-friendy, but they'd probably go over the heads of anyone who shouldn't hear them, and compared with much of what can be seen today, the show is fitting for—well, for a convent!
Afterwards we had a (too) quick bite to eat at the Willow Tree Café. German food is not normally my favorite out-to-eat meal, but this was excellent and I'd love to have an excuse to go back.
We had the Gourmet Potato Pancakes and the Sausage Sliders from this menu. Both were worth repeating, although next time I may want to try the Reisen Bretzen.
Each Christmas we send out a slew of Christmas cards, and receive slew minus epsilon in return.. (By "slew" I mean about 120; and you wonder why we find postage stamps to be a good investment.) The trouble is that these cards arrive in the mail at what is usually the busiest time of the year, where we have little time to appreciate them. If we happen to go away for Christmas, the situation is worse: we return not only to unpacking and laundry and neglected work, but also to a pile of cards and letters. It's so easy to slip into a routine: Slit envelope, check. Open card, check. Skim card, quickly read letter, and glance at photos, check. Enter data (news, change of address, etc.) into our Christmas card database for next year, check. Toss card and envelope into recycling, check. Breathe sigh of relief, check. But that's all wrong. The cards are meant to be appreciated, photos admired, and newsy letters savored.
Last year I read about a family who saves all their Christmas cards until the next year, putting them in a "prayer basket." Each day one of the children pulls a card out of the basket and the family prays for the people who sent it. I found that an admirable idea, but my anti-clutter side couldn't bear the thought of keeping a basketful of cards sitting around all year. I did, however, institute my own version, and I love it:
At the end of the above-mentioned data entry routine, the envelopes get recycled, but the cards go into my Tickler, spread out over the days. Thus, each morning I have one or two cards/letters/photos to enjoy in a relaxed fashion. I pray specifically for the people they represent, illuminated by whatever information I've just read. Then, and only then, do the cards go into the recycle bin.
Win-win-win. I receive much more pleasure out of our Christmas mail, people are prayed for, and I enjoy a small decluttering moment every day.