It's hard sometimes to know what to write in a post like this. Add too much detail and it sounds like oversharing (or worse, whining); not enough and it may come off as maddeningly cryptic and frustrating to those who want answers about what I'm up to. So I'll try to find the middle ground.

Briefly, the situation here is tough and getting tougher. The muscle pain in my shoulder has been going on long enough to puzzle both my physiotherapist and the sports doctor that my GP sent me to last week, and though it changes and moves around it doesn't seem to be getting that much better. I've figured out a way to arrange several pillows around me so that I can sleep at least part of the night in bed, but I still end up migrating to the living room recliner most nights, and I still feel uneasy about going anywhere for more than a couple of hours without ready access to an ice pack.

So that's pretty distracting, as you might imagine, and makes sitting up and typing for a few hours every day not all that comfortable or fun. But even so, I could work around that if it weren't for everything else going on.

I've already mentioned (in a previous, f-locked post) that my father is 92 and increasingly frail, and that I'm having to arrange more in-home care for him. In the last couple of weeks I've managed to get most of his daily needs looked after, but my mom is also feeling the strain and her health is suffering in ways that need extra attention as well. So with trying to do my best by the two of them and also not short-change my own family in the process, I've been pretty busy.

A number of people I care about are also going through difficult times, not least of them the family of a good friend of mine who died last week at the age of 48. I was at her funeral last Friday and it was lovely, just what she would have wanted, but it's going to be a hard adjustment for her husband and four kids -- three of whom are friends with my sons -- and my heart goes out to them. That's just one of several tragic and complicated situations that are going on around me right now, all of which leave me wondering and praying about what more I can do.

Plus I've got a bunch of upcoming school visits and other appearances I signed up for weeks or months ago, before all of this other stuff came to a head. I don't feel I ought to cancel any of them and I don't even want to unless it's an emergency, but it does make it difficult to get back into a regular writing routine even if I had the energy to do so.

I'd hoped to end my planned sabbatical and start writing again in February, and have a viable first draft of a new book by no later than September. But so far everything I've started, no matter how eager or positive I felt to begin with, has fizzled out. Either it wasn't quite ready yet (as with my epic YA fantasy) or I was keen to write but kept getting derailed by circumstances (as with the third Ivy book, which is still very much on my heart, but I haven't touched it in weeks now).

Anyway, I've got enough to deal with at the moment without making more work for myself. So I've come to the conclusion that for the time being, however long it may be until life calms down, I'm not going to worry about writing. If on a good day I find myself with time and energy and desire to write, then I will. But I'm not going to angst over deadlines and word counts, or fret about the prospect of not having a new book in 2018 (or 2019, or even 2020).

Ultimately, what it comes down to for me is that people are more important than things. My parents and family and friends in need are people, and my writing is a thing. It would be different if my family was counting on my income to pay the bills, but we're not. So to me the choice is pretty clear and I feel at peace about it.

I'm still a writer. I always have been and I always will be, published or not. The stories and characters inside me aren't going anywhere, even if I can't put them into words right now. Before too long, I hope, I'll be able to get back to them again... but not at this time.

And that's okay.
[personal profile] speak_candidly commented on my post of yesterday:

I don't know how comfortable you are talking about your life on the internet, but I always wonder what your husband's background is. And, as the only Canadian blogger I follow, what you like about Canada. And what your opinions are on childhood education/schooling/etc.

This sort of falls under the heading of "Seriously?" for me, in that I would never have guessed anybody was interested. But hey, sure, why not?

My husband emigrated to Canada with his family from Germany when he was a child, and grew up on a farm as the youngest of six children. He took his degree in Biology, and now works as an agronomist specializing in soybeans. Although he doesn't read for pleasure he enjoys being read to, so in the early years of our marriage I read him the complete Narnia series, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, among many others. We have a standing joke that the quality of any book can be improved and all problems can be resolved by bringing in an army of dwarves -- so when I'm stuck on one of my own books or stories that's always his first suggestion.

When I was younger and still single I always imagined that I would marry some tweedy English professor-type, probably ten or more years older than myself -- I didn't see much to respect or admire in the boys my own age, or even find most of them attractive, and it seemed inconceivable to me that I could be happy with someone who wasn't as passionate about reading as I was. So it is a great joke to find myself so happily married to a German farmboy three and a half years younger than myself, who did long-haul trucking to put himself through university and would rather do almost anything than sit down and read a book... 

But he has always been intrigued by and supportive of my writing, even back when I was writing practically nothing but Doctor Who fan fiction (and he'd never seen the show). And I am equally admiring of his talents for carpentry and design, and his scientific knowledge -- things I certainly don't possess in any great measure myself! But we are definitely united in our Christian faith and our convictions about the Bible, as well as in a generally laid-back approach to pretty much all the things that can cause conflict in a marriage, and on the whole, I think our differences balance each other very nicely.

...and the stuff about Canada will have to wait until tomorrow, as it's getting late!

Pollywog just asked me to put his favorite video game on the computer for him (due to his aforementioned love of bulls, that would be Extreme Pamplona, naturally). But he wanted to make sure the screen was maximized first: "Full-scream it, Mommy."

That bit of cuteness reminded me of how my kids still refer to "breakfast" as "brekstef" and talk about cutting paper with "snizzors", but it also made me think about the odd bits of vocabulary that have been handed down through my family over the last couple of generations -- words and sayings that we all take for granted, but which cause strangers to go "Huh?"

My maternal grandmother died before I was born, but by all accounts she was an affectionate, good-humored, and unapologetically quirky character. She was a Cornishwoman born and bred, and she passed down to her children and grandchildren not merely a patriotic love of Cornish pasties and Saffron Cake, but also an assortment of strange and wonderful sayings.

In my grandmother's household, minor acts of naughtiness among her children would be rebuked with phrases like, "Oh, you rotten rubber duck!" or if the incident were truly irritating (such as the cat getting into the milk), "You demon blackguard wretch!" On the other hand, someone who suffered a minor mishap or disappointment would be soothed with a pat on the shoulder and a softly intoned, "Nizzles." Or she might even say "Bless your screeds and gizzards." (I know what "gizzards" are, but what on earth are "screeds"?)

My grandmother also had the perfect description for the impulse that leads a finicky mother to clean off some smudge on her child's face by rubbing it with spit: she called it "clane base-tliness" (clean beastliness). And I can only blame my grandmother's influence for the poem I use when trying to remember the months of the year:

Thirty days hath Septober,
April, June, and no wonder.
All the rest have peanut butter,
Except for Grandma, and she rides a tricycle.

What about the rest of you? What unique words, phrases and/or sayings have been passed down in your family?
A few months ago we acquired a lovely five-month-old calico kitten from the local shelter. When they notified us that she was ready to come home, they warned us that she had a slight respiratory infection (which soon cleared up) and also that she would be tender for a few da

Snickers in SinkImage by rj-anderson via Flickr

ys after her spaying operation.

What they did NOT warn us about, however, was that at some point during her stay in the shelter, some crazed scientist operated on her and swapped out her Cat Brain for a Dog Brain.

Seriously, this is the only way I can account for some of her behavior. The way she follows us around the house and lies at our feet wherever we go, for instance. Or how she shows little interest in being stroked, but loves it if you scratch and tousle her ears (after which she shows her gratitude by licking your arm ardently until you push her away). And whenever we go out as a family, she sits in front of the door and waits for us until we come home, so that the first thing we see on returning is a little cat face peering hopefully through the sidelight.

Snickers possesses only the most rudimentary sense of balance: when she jumps up on some narrow surface like the top of a chair, she either misses the mark entirely and tumbles back to the floor in a highly ungraceful sprawl, or she wobbles around for a few seconds and then falls off again.

Snickers - What?Image by rj-anderson via Flickr

She is convinced that the leg of our coffee table is her sworn enemy, and frequently wraps herself around it and kicks at it with all her might. And though she may seem to have some feline grace when you watch her prowling about the house, I have seen her stalk face-first into a doorframe on more than one occasion.

She is, in short, a complete dork.

Her favorite sleeping position is also something I have witnessed dogs do, but never before a cat: lying on her spine, with her front paws folded over her chest and her back legs splayed wide. I have frequently also found her curled up in the sink, or sprawled in the bottom of our bathtub—even when the porcelain was still wet from the last person who washed their hands or took a shower.

I would almost be worried about Snickers, except that she seems to be in perfectly good health, and capable of doing everything she wants to do. She's a beautiful, sweet-tempered creature, loyal and affectionate and amazingly patient with our children. But I can only conclude that she slept through all her classes in Cat School—so it's a good thing we plan to keep her indoors for the rest of her natural life, because I can't imagine she'd last two minutes in the ring with an Actual Cat...
Taking a walk on the first warm day of spring is like listening to God Himself preach a sermon on the Resurrection.

There's a cemetery near my house, and it's beautiful. Paved avenues winding up and down the hillside, shaded by pines that rise tall as cathedral spires. A mausoleum like a Greek temple. Fields of scrupulously trimmed grass, sprinkled with gravestones of every imaginable size and shape. Flowerbeds freshly turned, just waiting for the annuals that will bring them to kaleidoscopic life.

I took a walk through the cemetery and breathed in the fragrance of rain-washed earth and new grass. I listened to liquid silver birdsong, watched squirrels spiral up trees and down again, and walked carefully between the graves to visit a cluster of just-wakened snowdrops. The flat green surface of the river, sluggish after the long winter, was beginning to eddy into life. And down the long paved sweep of the cemetery hill, four teen boys were lugeing on their skateboards, full of youth and strength and the folly of spring. One of them fell off, swearing amiably, and rubbed his sore bottom as he tramped back up to the top of the hill to try it again.

My father is eighty-four years old, stooped and thin-haired and leaning on a walker. His leg bends backward at the knee and he has to wear a brace to support it; he has a tremor in his hands that the doctor says is just old age and nothing to worry about, but he cannot stop them shaking. He is largely deaf, and his hearing aids can only do so much, so he has cultivated the art of sitting quietly and with grace in a room full of conversation he cannot follow. He preaches with all the thoughtful wisdom of a life genuinely lived for God, and spends most of his days studying the Bible and talking about it with others—from the pulpit, on the telephone, in letters and e-mails and magazine articles.

As often as the weather and his own good health allow, my father walks through the same cemetery where I walked today. He has a plot there, unmarked but reserved for him and my mother whenever either of them should need it, and when he passes he hails it silently, like an old friend. And today, when I went to help him with a computer problem he was having, I found that he'd been writing up the wording he'd like to put on his gravestone.

"I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep [in death], lest you sorrow as others who have no hope," wrote the apostle Paul. He also wrote, "Death has been swallowed up in victory."

My father is in the autumn of his life, and he is not afraid of the winter. He is only waiting for the spring.
Highland Bull - Photograph by Brian Forbes My 3-year old son, whom I like to call Pollywog, is obsessed with bulls.

This is not some fleeting fancy, either. He's been completely bull-crazy for over a year now. Pictures of bulls, plastic bull toys, stories about bulls (and aside from the legendary The Story of Ferdinand, there really aren't too many), cartoons involving bulls (he must have watched "Bully for Bugs" and "Mickey's Rival" about a million times each on YouTube). He calls Cars "the movie with the bull combine". And although he seems to have mostly dropped the habit now, he used to crawl around butting people (gently) with his head and snorting whenever he got the chance.

This is not a hyper-aggressive kid we're talking about, either. For the most part he's gentle and sweet-tempered, amazingly empathetic for his age. But he's also the youngest of my three boys, the oldest of whom (at 8-going-on-12) is literally twice his size. Maybe, I think to myself, imagining himself as a big powerful bull makes him feel less small and vulnerable?

In any case, it's a charming little quirk of his and I don't mind indulging him in it, though I have drawn the line at taking him to Pamplona (I don't think he'd enjoy a real-life bull fight anyway, because the bull doesn't exactly win that battle).

So what I'm wondering is, aside from the aforementioned Ferdinand and Bugs Bunny cartoons, can any of you think of other child-friendly media involving bulls?
Bull photo is by Brian Forbes on Flickr and is used in accordance with his Creative Commons license.
First, my brother just sent me a link to this article in the Times Online by an atheist reflecting on the place Christianity has in Africa, and as the daughter of a former missionary to Uganda (and also since I've been researching African missionary work for Wayfarer), I found it very interesting.


Second, and I can't believe I almost forgot to blog this, I discovered something about my oldest son yesterday. He'd been insisting for months that Grade 3 (which he's in right now) wasAn example how a synesthetic person might see ...Image via Wikipedia "a girl's grade". I thought when he first said so that he was trying to disparage it and say that it was too easy, the way that little (and some not-so-little) boys contemptuously dismiss things that aren't interesting to them as "girly". I corrected him and told him that Grade 3 was harder than Grade 2, and he hadn't said that Grade 2 was a girl's grade, so what was he talking about? He looked at me like I was crazy and said, "Of course not. 2 is a boy."

Light began to dawn. I asked him to run through the numbers from 1 to 10 and tell me what gender they were. Without hesitation he told me that 1 and 2 were boys, 3 was a girl, 4 was a boy, and so on. Then I asked him, "What color is 8?" and he promptly replied, "Orange." 7 was blood red, 6 was beige, and 1 was a color he couldn't even describe and called "googleplexia" for lack of any better name.

Ladies and gentlemen, my oldest son is a synaesthete.

Not a very strong one, mind. We did the tests on the Synesthesia Battery and he only has color associations with a very few letters and musical notes (and some people's names). He has no taste associations, and sounds don't make him see shapes. It's mostly just that numbers have color and gender for him. But still, I am delighted.


And finally, my best wishes to all my online friends for a peaceful, happy and successful 2009!
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Originally uploaded by professor evil
A couple days ago I was tweeting about having to make a second batch of Snickerdoodles because my Evil Family had eaten the ENTIRE first batch -- some eight dozen cookies.

Fortunately making more wasn't a big deal: I like baking Snickerdoodles. Still, I was a bit amazed that my husband and three young boys could have been quite that greedy, especially in just a matter of two or three days.

Anyway, I made the second batch. I let it sit overnight for the flavor to develop. Then I took the nice big container of fresh Snickerdoodles and opened the deep freezer to hide them away so that my Evil Family could not NOM them a second time.

And lo, inside the freezer I found...'ve guessed it, haven't you?

Yeah. Well.

The plus side is that we now have lots of Snickerdoodles?

Originally uploaded by synaesthete7
My oldest son, who is 8 years old, has been studying seasonal traditions at school. He became fascinated with Hanukkah, and on his own initiative went back into our shed and built a menorah -- all by himself. All my husband did was the spraypainting afterward.

He took it to school, and his teacher displayed it in the library for the month of December. I'm really proud of N's talent with woodworking.

Bookshelves of Awesome
Originally uploaded by synaesthete7
[ profile] shoebox2 tagged me for this meme, and [ profile] cesario tagged me for a similar one a few days ago, so I guess it's time to pony up... but I'm going to do it with pictures.

Here's #5: the Bookshelves of Awesome.

Basically, I told my husband I would like another bookshelf because the ones we had were overflowing. He took this as a personal challenge to get rid of the old, mismatched bookshelves we'd accumulated since our marriage and make some new ones from scratch.

Next project: a new desk. Because he's just that crazy, yes.

Up next, #4.

ETA: Link to the large version so you can see the spiffy detail work.
In conversation with my seven-year-old tonight:
HIM: It's weird how in all those old TV shows like Knight Rider and Starsky and Hutch and a third one I saw, I can't remember...

ME (guessing): The Six Million Dollar Man?

HIM: No, not that one so much. But the other ones. They always have, like, people lying around drinking apple juice and wearing zucchinis.

ME: O_o

HIM: I don't know why.

ME: ...

I think you mean bikinis.

HIM: Oh!

ME: (falls over laughing)
I don't know about anyone else, but I'm totally going to call them "zucchinis" from now on.
This afternoon I was chatting with the [ profile] debut2009 crowd when I thought I heard my husband calling me, so I got up and went to the kitchen to see what was up.

Husband: What? I was talking to Nicholas. [pretending to be affronted] It's not all about you!

Me: Heh. No, I just thought you were calling me. Never mind.

Him: [loftily] For nigh on ten years now, you have purported the fallacy that I dance around your big toe.

Me: O_o ... *sporfle*

I must say, my husband has a very special relationship with the English language.

* "Impenetrability! That's what I say!"
My husband is a wonderful person and I will love him until the day I die.

Not that I didn't know that already, but when he said to me last night, "Where can I take the kids tomorrow so you can have time to write?" I was reminded all over again why, reader, I married him.

Anyway, it turned out that it was much more practical to let him stay home with the kids (and keep the van) while I went out on the authorial town, so I let him drop me off at a promising-looking café where I hoped I would find sufficient peace (and breakfast, and lunch, and generous amounts of tea in between) to write.

It turned out to be perfect. The café had plenty of room, the chairs were comfortable, the food was excellent, they had a plug-in for my laptop, they let me sit there all day, and by the time I packed up and left at 4 p.m., I'd revised three whole chapters. (Though it helped that I promised myself a slice of Chocolate Mousse Mudslide if I got at least two chapters done.)

I can't wait to go there again!

Seven chapters down, fifteen to go -- though these early chapters are the easy part, there'll be a lot more rewriting later on. But still, I am pleased. It looks as though I've got a good chance (Lord willing) at making that May 1st deadline after all.
We usually end our family meals with a short Bible reading, after which my husband asks our two older sons, aged 7 and 5, a few simple questions about what they heard. We don't expect much from the 2-year-old except to sit in his chair and be quiet -- which is easier said than done, at this stage.

My Husband: "The LORD said to Moses: 'If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the LORD by deceiving his neighbor about something entrusted to him or left in his care or stolen, or if he cheats him, or if he finds lost property and lies about it, or if he swears falsely, or if he commits any such sin that people may do--'"

My Two-Year-Old: [sotto voce] "I like to move it, move it / I like to move it, move it..."

To his credit, my husband managed to keep a straight face while asking the toddler to be quiet -- which the boy did, in his own way, by whispering the words instead of singing them. We finished the reading, and then my husband began to explain to the older kids the Mosaic Law's concept of restitution.

Husband: What this passage is saying is, if one of the Israelites stole from another person, they had to make up for what they took, plus one fifth of the value.

Me: So say you stole ten dollars from someone, you'd have to pay them twelve dollars in return.

My Seven-Year-Old: [brightly] Tax and tip!

Never a dull moment with this lot.
When I saw the birthday cards my sons had made for me this year, I was speechless -- but only because I was laughing so hard.

First, from my seven-year-old:

Bad Momy )

Then from my five-year-old, whose favorite pastime these days is teasing his father:

I do not love thee, Dr. Fell )

Clearly I have passed on some seriously warped genes to my children. I apologize in advance to all the people that will be forced to deal with their bizarre sense of humor.

Family Doctor

Mar. 12th, 2008 12:28 pm
rj_anderson: (Rupert - Thoughtful)
I apologize if you all die of saccharine poisoning after two consecutive posts relating Cute Things My Kids Have Done/Said, but I need to write this one down so I don't forget it.

Cut to spare the uninterested )

I have two older sons, but neither of them developed any sense of empathy or concern for others until they were considerably older. With this one, though... it just seems to come naturally, and it amazes me.
I just had a conversation with my 5-year-old son as I was putting dinner on to cook:

HIM: Where's Daddy?
ME: I don't know. He said he'd be home for dinner...
HIM (gravely): Under mysterious circumstances, Daddy is still not home!

The only way that delivery could have been better was if he'd been imitating Orson Welles.
I was just changing my two-and-a-half year old son's diaper when he looked up at me with his big brown eyes and said:

"You're so lovely, Mommy. When you were a little girl, you were so cute."

I think someone has been hanging around with Grandma, but nevertheless... *melts*
I blame [ profile] cesario entirely for the fact that last night I had a long, romantical (yet curiously plotty and action-packed) Fraser/Thatcher dream, in which neither of the Rays were present and I was the friend trying to get Fraser and Thatcher together -- in spite of the fact that I have only ever seen one complete episode of Due South in my life, and less than three seconds of Thatcher.

And now I have a craving to see a good Fraser/Thatcher vid. Are there any? Though given the omnipresent slashiness of the fandom, I'm sure it's too much to hope.


Since we're talking about random TV shows, here are the ones my seven-year-old son has been enjoying of late:
  • Due South (he's crushed that we can't find any more episodes -- I may have to invest in a DVD)
  • Star Trek: Enterprise (I have no idea why he likes Archer, but he does)
  • MacGyver (my son's ideal action hero -- he builds stuff and then blows stuff up. What's not to love?)
  • Top Gear (I myself am endlessly amused by this show, especially the one where they made amphibious vehicles and then tried to drive them across the English Channel).
Ah, the internets. What would we do without you?


And finally, for those impatiently waiting for the report, I will recap my visit to NYC soon, honest. Maybe even today.


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