Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bucking the Trend

I was talking to one of my younger sisters about the research that shows that the more education a woman has, the fewer children she is likely to have.

"Well, Mom sure bucked THAT trend, didn't she?"

"Yes."

Six children. One PhD in math. An intact marriage. All I can say is, my parents are amazing.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

It's back

That feeling of peace, love, happiness, contentment, joy, and being loved-- all rolled together, in such strength as to be undeniable-- have, as of this morning, entered into my heart again.

I find this event to be unexplicable and the feeling to be unexpressible, despite the attempt I have made just now to do so. I feel that it must be a gift of the spirit, because 1) I am completely certain that it is not of my own good works that I have received it ("not the labors of my hands/ can fill all the law's demands," as the song says); and, 2) I feel that it helps me to accomplish the Lord's work.

I feel like shouting for joy and crying for gratitude.

Thank you to everyone who has worked so hard to help me feel loved, along with all those other things that I mentioned above. I can only respond by praying that you are blessed in gabillion measure for your good works.

I'm off for Maryland today, and then to Germany on the 31st. I feel excited, and less frightened than I have in some time.

Just so you know, I also started a separate "religious stuff" blog. It's called Gideon Aquinas, and here is the link: http://gideonaquinas.blogspot.com/ . It should work just to click on it, but if it doesn't, the highlighted text is also the web address. I don't expect the writing on that blog to be very good yet, but I'm certain that it will improve with time.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

From driveway to driveway

I visited my aunt and uncle this last weekend. They live in Arizona, a place where-- as various people said over the weekend-- the sun always shines, and it never snows. They said this because my uncle's family lives in a town on a mountaintop, so that when towns even a few miles away have gotten a normal amount (for northern Arizona) of precipitation, they have gotten enough snow in their town so far this year that their schools have already used up all of their "snow days".

Yesterday morning it began to snow. Early. As in, ahead of schedule.

[This next part is later-- I don't know how to edit the posting dates on these things.]

Joyce blogged the whole thing (check out Now We Are 2 and 2, over on the side there). She even put up pictures! It's hard to beat that. Be sure to read my comment.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Vampire Story I promised

I told Sroon on Saturday night that I would write up a vampire story. I'll get around to writing the back story eventually, but for now I'm just writing the new one.

Once upon a time, after Rupert and Griselda got married, they had four children. I think that I might have already named the children, but I've forgotten what I named them, so I'm just going to rename them and you guys can remind me of what the real names are when I get back (or in a comment on this posting). The little boy vampire that I am going to tell this story about was named Alexander.

Alexander was seven years old, and he loved to help his mother. One day, his mother, Griselda, decided to send him on an errand to her mother, whose name was Hildegaard. Hildegaard was an avid gardener (that means that she liked to garden a lot), and Alexander's mom was trying to grow a very particular kind of plant, called Dragon's Tongue, but her plant was turning brown on the edges and purple in the middle of the leaves. She asked Alexander if he could take a leaf to his Grandma Hildegaard so that she could tell them what was wrong with it, and Alexander immediately said yes. Not only was he a helpful boy, he also liked to visit his grandmother.

His mother packed a lunch for him, gave him a couple of levitation spells and invisibility spells and things like that in case he ran in to any trouble, and sent him on his way. He walked past the castle where Robert the vampire and Tatyana the ice skater lived with their children, past the lake where Tatyana and the children ice skated in the winter, and in to the deep, dark woods.

Almost as soon as he stepped on the path, he heard someone crying. It was another little vampire boy; in fact, it was his friend Robbie, who was Robert and Tatyana's son.

"Why are you crying?" he asked. Robert said that he had some magic locusts that his mother had packed for him as a treat in his lunch, but he had lost them in the woods and he was sad that he wasn't going to get to eat them. Alexander knew that his own mother had packed some magic locusts in his lunch, so he offered Robbie a few. Robbie smiled and said yes, and they decided to eat them together. There was one left over after they had both eaten what they wanted, so Alexander decided to save it for later.

After they ate, Alexander went on his way. As he was walking, he saw a Big Bad Wolf coming towards him on the path! Big Bad Wolves think that vampires are some of the yummiest things they can eat, but they don't get to eat them very often. They only eat little vampires, when they can catch them alone.

Alexander didn't want to be seen or caught or eaten, so he quickly took out some vanishing powder and sprinkled it over his head and the leaf he was carrying. Alexander tiptoed a little to the side of the path as he walked past. The wolf put up his head and sniffed. "Mmm, that's a good smell!" he said. "That smells like a little vampire to me!" and he started sniffing closer and closer to Alexander. Alexander knew that any second now, the wolf would sniff him out, so he wasted no time in pulling out a speedy-spell miniature broom from his pocket. It was one of the things his mother had sent with him in case he got in to trouble.

"Speedy spell, speedy spell, make me go fast!" he said, and held on tight to the little whisk broom. The broom would have jumped out of his hands, because it went so fast, but he held on tight and it did make him go fast. The wolf was also going fast, and almost caught him, but then he came to a fork in the path and went to the right (which was towards his grandmother's house), and luckily the wolf went left. Unfortunately, as he was rushing down the path to get away from the wolf, he accidentally ran into a gorgon!

"What is that?! Watch where you're going!" said the gorgon. Alexander didn't turn to stone when he looked at her because he was invisible, and that is one of the effects of invisibility. However, he didn't want to be rude, so he pulled out some visibility powder and sprinkled it on himself (but he put on some sunglasses first, so that he wouldn't be turned to stone after he became visible).

"I'm so very sorry, Miss Gorgon. I wasn't watching where I was going. I was running from a Big Bad Wolf."

"Harrumph. That's no good reason to be running into delicate old ladies!"

"I'm very sorry," he said, even though he wasn't sure if he really could have avoided it. As I mentioned, he was trying to be polite, and he knew that sometimes being polite means listening to someone say something that you don't think is true, without correcting the person. Besides which, it was true that he was sorry to have run into her, whether or not it could have been avoided.

"Could I do anything to help you feel better?" he asked.

"Not really," she said. She really was very grumpy. "Not unless you can make my lunch of sour slug soup reappear. It spilled all over the ground when you bumped in to me." He looked down and saw that this was true; a little kettle of soup was tipped over on its side on the ground. Only about a tablespoon of soup was left in it.

"Oh! I would feel sad if my soup spilled, too. You know, I still have one magic locust left from my lunch," he said. "Would you like to eat it?" He had kind of wanted to eat that locust, but he felt that it was better to not offend the gorgon than to eat the locust.

"Hmm... maybe," she said. She took the locust from his hand and sniffed it. Her eyes grew big as she noticed how tasty it smelled, and then she popped it into her mouth and swallowed it in one gulp. "Do you have any more?" she asked, because she was not polite.

"Um, no, I'm very sorry, I don't," said Alexander.

"OK. Well, I guess that I'll be on my way then," said the Gorgon, and then she whistled, and that big bad wolf came right to her side! But she didn't let the wolf eat Alexander, so he was especially glad that he had been polite to her.

A little further down the path was his grandmother's house, and he stepped inside and gave her a hug. "Grandmother! You wouldn't believe what happened! I met a Big Bad Wolf, and then I met a Gorgon, and I gave her my last magic locust, but she didn't even say thank you, and the wolf was her pet, and it was scary!"

His grandmother smiled at him. "It's sometimes hard when other people aren't polite even when you are. I am proud of you. Now, did I hear you say that you gave my friend the Gorgon your last magic locust? I saved some from the last batch I caught, especially for you. Would you like to eat them now?"

"Yes."

And so Alexander sat down at his grandmother's kitchen table, and ate the magic locust she had saved for him and watched her perform tests on the leaf he had brought, and wondered why his grandmother was friends with a rude Gorgon. I know the answers to these questions, but that is a story that I will tell another day.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Sunday Story, while I am away

For Sroon (and his siblings, but Sroon was the one I promised the story to).

Once upon a time, when Grandmother Starflower's mother, Grandma Tommy, was a little girl, she was a picky eater. That means that she didn't like to eat very many kinds of foods. Her mother, Granny, kept a boarding house at that time, which means that they had people at their house who stayed in the extra bedrooms and paid Granny money for rent, and they also ate with Granny and Grandma Tommy's family.

One Thanksgiving, there were several people staying at Granny's boarding house who were very good cooks, and they prepared a Thanksgiving feast which was better than anyone there had ever seen! Unfortunately, when Grandma Tommy sat down at the table, she saw that there was not a single thing that she liked to eat at that table. Right then and there, Grandma Tommy decided that she was going to learn to like some things, so that she could enjoy eating Thanksgiving dinner along with everything else. I don't know all of the things she picked, but they included turkey and cranberry sauce.

That is all of that story, except for the fact that Grandma Tommy still likes to eat those things, and has learned to like other things, too.

I was talking to Morrow about this the other day, and I told her that I think that the food in this story is a little bit like people, sometimes. When I was little, I didn't like people very much because most people scared me; almost everyone scared me except people in my family and old people and babies. Then I decided that I wanted to learn to like some people, and now I have practiced a lot, and I have found that there are a lot of people that I like. The wonderful thing about people, instead of food, is that people like it when you like them. I think that food doesn't care very much if you like it.

You don't have to like everyone. Sometimes you feel like you don't trust someone, and sometimes that is the Holy Ghost telling you, so you should trust that feeling. On the other hand, sometimes the Holy Ghost tells you to start learning to like someone, because maybe that person needs a friend, or maybe you need that person as a friend. You never know, so it is important to practice and learn what the Holy Ghost feels like.

I love you! I think that I will be back on Wednesday.

Love,

Auntie Cornelia

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Maybe it shouldn't be funny...

but it is.


I bought a plane ticket a week ago today. I meant to buy one for Freiburg, Germany. Instead, I accidentally bought one for Frankfurt. Because it is expensive to change plane tickets, and because I didn't have any specific plans for particular cities, I've decided that I'm just going to go to Frankfurt.


The other day in the car, my nephews were buckling themselves in to their car seats, pretending that the Big Bad Wolf was coming and that they had to attach themselves to their ziplines so that they could get away. Then their mother got in the car.

"Is that the Big Bad Wolf?" one asked the other.

"No, that's the Big, Good Pig" was the reply.

I had to wait a minute to start the car, because we were both laughing so hard.


A couple of weeks ago, I looked up to see a stark-naked nephew standing in the doorway of my room. "Look!" he said. "The mailman just gave me the mail!" And indeed he had.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Vampire Jellyfish

I have WAY not been keeping up with the stories I've been making up for the neeflings of late; there's a whole spate of witch-princess stories, and then there are the vampire jellyfish that I'm just going to give you the highlights of now.

Oh. The vampire jellyfish were, as usual, not my idea. They are the idea of the resident six-year-old--the one who, with his sister, also has a mania for princess-witches. I have, so far, gotten away with telling about the vampire part of vampire jellyfish only once in the several stories I've told. I would be pleased to keep it that way, so if you see said six-year-old, please don't point it out to him. The stories themselves have been, in my opinion, lacking in plot, so I'm just going to give you the most interesting bits in this post.

Such as: vampire jellyfish have cell phones, though they are an unusual kind of cell phone. Vampire jellyfish are actually quite good at drawing, so they just draw extremely accurate portraits of each other, and the vampire jellyfish cellphone telephone operator looks at the picture and then connects you with the person (/jellyfish) you want to talk to. (Later in the story, the operators have been replaced by computers.) This can lead to problems from time to time; for instance, when you are very tired and hungry and trembling, you might accidentally call the meanest jellyfish in the world instead of calling your grandmother. Or, if your cell phone screen is busted so that it only shows half of the picture you draw, you might not be able to call anyone unless it is the magical good old lady jellyfish that you were kind to earlier, who can help you get away from a predator (yet to be determined; I'm really not sure what things eat jellyfish, though I've promised to look it up).

This morning's monologue.

Let's see if this is as funny on paper (er, as it were) as it was coming out of my mouth. I thought about turning it into a monologue from an unwritten play, but I'm blogging it instead.

This morning I was talking to my sister about the fact that while it is better to be married than to be single, there is not something inherently wrong with me for being single. She said that when you are single, you don't get as many opportunities for growth, and that she was sure that when Heavenly Father wanted to give me that opportunity, he would.

So. Imagine me saying this with my eyes very bright, and my voice very, very sweet.

Yes. I will marry a widower with seven children, who has just been called to be the stake president. And he will be the CEO of a struggling corporation with a thousand employees to feed, and he won't lay any of them off because we are in the middle of The Second Great Depression. But we will have a big garden, and much love [cute, invisible hearts come out of the word "love" as I say it].

Criticism is like Chlorine

or lye.

Used well, you can fix a problem. Use a little too much or use it a little too long, and you wear a hole through the thing you are trying to fix.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Procrastination

And again, I didn't want to do my family home evening (it is evening, but I'm in my office; I do what I can) on procrastination, but I felt like I should-- NOT that I ever engage in such an activity, but maybe I could study procrastination for academic purposes, you know. I kind of didn't want to because I was afraid that reading about procrastination might just be too depressing.

However, (speaking of Marvin J. Ashton, of not-being-afraid-of-budgeting fame-- look at my last posting), I found a conference talk by Elder Ashton called "Straightway" which was really uplifting, and here are the things I copied in to my to-do list to help me along:

Do not doubt your abilities. Do not delay your worthy impressions.

We need to develop the courage to straightway take the first step. We need to remember that children learn to walk only because someone encourages them to take the first step.

May we launch straightway toward setting goals that are gospel oriented, knowing that if we use the talents that are ours—that if we help others, strive for peace, avoid being overly sensitive or overly critical—strength upon strength will be added unto our own abilities and we will move straightway toward greater growth, happiness, and eternal joys.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Budget

So, I am not really an organized person. In many respects. As evidence of this, I put forth that for the last five years running, every single January I have resolved to keep a budget. I wasn't really keeping track, but this last January it hit me: this resolution sounds familiar. I still need to learn how to keep a budget. And I am still afraid of them (budgets).

But

the prophet says the we should be financially prudent, and be frugal and so on, and Marvin J. Ashton gave this lovely talk called One For The Money when I was too small to pay attention to General Conference (and, interestingly enough, in the printed version which they have made into a booklet, they have inside-cover art by Richard G. Scott which is really quite beautiful) and I believe with my heart and soul in following the prophet, so with a sigh, I resolved AGAIN in 2008 to try to keep a budget.

Two days ago I settled in again to do that awful task again. I tend to dread it because I usually don't think I am going to find it emotionally rewarding. The truth is that in the end, I always do feel happy that I have done it, but getting myself to start is very difficult. I do love saving for things, and I've been saving for a camera for I think about six months now, but there have been problems, and I was afraid that I wouldn't make it

but

I just made my savings goal!

And I just realized that the reason I was afraid of budgets is because I was afraid that if I kept them, then I would never get anything I really, really wanted, which would be true if I didn't save for things I wanted. But I do save for things, and budgets DO work, and that makes me really, really happy.

(Hopefully this means that as soon as finals week is over, and I get around to actually buying said camera, you will be getting lots more pictures on this blog than you have in the past (even one is lots more than none);)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Three Delicious (or at least highly edible) things to do with frozen Spinach

You know how whenever there's a new report about whatever essential nutrient you really, really need, they always say it's found in "blah, blah, blah, and leafy greens like broccoli and spinach"?

I really don't like spinach, but in the name of trying to get myself to eat healthier, I keep experimenting, trying to find ways to get myself to eat more. Spinach salad is pretty good, but I will save writing about that for later. For now, I will focus on Our Friend the Package of Frozen Spinach, which avoids some of the problems associated with fresh spinach and is highly store-able, to boot (as long as your freezer is working).

Spinach and Cheese
If your frozen spinach is loose, in a plastic package (this is slightly more expensive but easier to work with, especially if you need to use only some of the spinach at a time), then just dump it into a baking pan which is big enough for it to spread out a little. Something smaller than 9x13 works well for the size of package I usually get.

If you get the cheaper, more compact, more recycle-able cardboard box of spinach, defrost it first, so that you can spread it out without having to use an ice pick to pry the pieces apart. I normally do this in the microwave, but if I have enough forethought, I will move the spinach from the freezer to the fridge the night before. Once it is defrosted, then spread it all over a pan.

Slice some cheese. Now that I think about it, you could also grate it, if you wanted. I have never tried this, but have no reason to believe that it would not turn out well. You could use mozzerella, cheddar, colby jack, gouda, brie, or anything else your heart desires. If you use American Processed Cheese (how the name of my beloved country got permanently associated with that product is something I would like to make someone answer for) then do not tell me.

How much cheese? As much as you want. I would probably use a third of a half-pound brick of cheese to cover one pan of spinach, but it's up to you.

Cook the dish. You can cook it in the microwave, but then the cheese wouldn't brown; you can also cook it in the oven (my preferred method; this also decreases sogginess) for maybe five minutes. At 350 or 400 degrees. I just go until the cheese is melted.

pizza
Take an unbaked pizza crust. Add tomato sauce and whatever spices you want (or, use store-bought pizza sauce). Put on some (defrosted, if it came in a box) spinach. Add whatever other toppings you want (I particularly love artichoke hearts, which are dreadfully expensive but go far when chopped small.) Cover the whole thing with (grated) cheese. Bake it according to the directions which came with the pizza crust, or, if you are using bread dough, bake it at 350 C for ten to fifteen minutes (more for a bigger pizza, less for smaller).

Incidentally, I like to use Semolina, Farina, Germade, Cream-of-Wheat, or whatever you want to call it, to dust the bottom of my pizza crust. The traditional stuff for the bottoms of crusts is cornmeal, but I don't keep cornmeal around my house because for some reason it's prohibitively expensive around here. The wheat-based uncooked hot cereal product works fine for me.

Spaghetti Sauce
I was skeptical when my sister first told me that this tasted good. I mean, Papa Murphy's puts spinach on their super-delicious Vegetarian Deluxe Pizzas, so that makes sense, but putting spinach in spaghetti sauce just seems like it is one of those "hiding" jobs, where if you put in too much of the "secret" ingredient, everyone will take one bite and then refuse to touch the food in question.

I was wrong.

In the case of spaghetti sauce, spinach is the ingredient which insures that there are no leftovers. I am serious. Even just plain frozen spinach in canned tomato sauce makes a darn good red sauce, and if you add just a couple of spices (I usually use basil and nothing else, but you can look up other stuff in a real recipe book) and some fried onions and mushrooms, and a can of drained olive pieces, it becomes so good that people start asking you for the recipe.

A couple of notes on spaghetti sauce:
  • I really do think that the organic canned tomatoes really do taste better. They are more expensive, so it's your call to make, but in this case I feel that you receive value for your money, and where I live, they are only twenty cents a can or so more expensive.
  • Also, wateriness is death to a good sauce, so either drain your spinach and your olives, or else give yourself some time for the sauce to simmer (just start dinner earlier, if it is humanly possible, and read a novel while the "low" setting on the stove does the hard work for you-- umm, but be sure to stir it occasionally).

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Look!

I have long felt-- strongly-- that, notwithstanding my firm and steady belief that my particular faith has both necessary and sufficient truth to lead me where I need to go, there is much, much to be learned from other people in other places. Look!


Islamic finance is catching on in London. (You know, following Sharia law: no interest, all parties share equally in risk, you aren't allowed to take on too much risk, you can't invest in something that isn't actually a thing-- evidently, this makes for a pretty stable fincancial sector. Check it out.)

http://www.csmonitor.com/2008/1128/p06s02-wogn.html


Dunno what to take this at other than face value, but there is evidently a Russian Republic where Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity, and Islam all coexist peacefully:

http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/11/28/europe/kazan.php


I particularly appreciated the comments by the pro-Prop-8 folks quoted in this:

http://www.newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/news-releases-
stories/measured-voices-provide-reason-support-amidst-
proposition-8-reaction

Friday, November 28, 2008

Peculiarities of Provo

(Also, Salt Lake and BYU):


Before we begin, I have to direct you to my friend KE's posting about being from Provo, which expresses my own feelings about being from this city pretty exactly:

http://winterberrybook.blogspot.com/2008/09/provo-is-where-i-live.html

  1. It's really quite beautiful here. The mountain turns gorgeous colors in the spring, when it is green; in the winter, the few times when it is white; and in the fall, when becomes a gorgeous blanket of oranges and reds and yellows. In the mornings, especially winter mornings, the frosty whiteness of the world is breathtaking (along with the cold). And you can still see some stars here, and stars are beautiful no matter where you are.

  2. We have world-class dancing. Which is to say, we have the world's two top ballroom dance teams within about ten miles of each other (one at BYU, the other at UVU). Some people would say: not many people really care about ballroom dance, let alone team ballroom dance-- but I personally find it impressive. I have heard thirdhand that BYU goes to the dance championships in Blackpool, England (you know, the city featured in both the American and the Japanese Shall We Dance movies) every third year, and that the UVU team goes the years that BYU doesn't go because "we might as well not travel thousands of miles to have them beat us."

  3. We also have language. The department chair of my current department (Linguistics and English Language) told a story about how he was at Macey's (local, heavily-Mormon-supported grocery store) and there came an announcement over the PA system asking if anyone in the store spoke Russian. When he wandered by the service desk a few minutes later, there were two young men chatting away with an older couple-- in Russian. This same department chair, William Eggington, is very proud of himself for being the guy who came up with the idea for the "I speak (name of a language)" buttons that they used in the 2002 Winter Olympics. I could go on, this being one of my favorite subjects, but I will press forward with...

  4. We have Polynesians. Salt Lake City has the largest population of Maoris (natives of New Zeland) in the world outside of New Zeland itself, which is why when Whale Rider came out, our own SLC was one of the premier cities. What, you haven't seen Whale Rider? Go watch it. Now.

  5. Orem City Library
  6. More orchestras and choirs than you can shake a stick at
  7. I think that's enough, for now

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Three Billy Goat Gruff Marine Biologists

I told this story for the first time about a year ago, I think, as I was sitting in a grocery store parking lot with my nephew, waiting for my sister to come back to the car. I was pretty bored of the usual way of telling this, and he asked for the story to be underwater, so this is what I came up with.

Once upon a time, there were three billy-goat-gruff-marine-biologists who were studying the habitat of the coelecanth. (Do you know what a coelecanth is? It's a kind of fish that scientists used to think was extinct, but then they found out that there really were some still alive. The billy-goat-gruff marine biologists were studying this amazing fish.) Unfortunately, there was a giant clam who lived at the mouth of the canyon that the billy-goat-gruff-marine-biologists had to swim up, and this giant clam was very grumpy because his water was so polluted. (Have you heard of giant clams? They are very big-- a meter across-- longer than the arm of a grown man. And if they are grumpy, they can trap your foot and keep you under the water until you drown.)

So, as the littlest billy-goat-gruff-marine-biologist went to swim past the grumpy giant clam, the clam said [in a burbly voice-- this is very important for this story to be told properly], "Who's trying to swim up my canyon?"

"'Tis I, little billy-goat-gruff-marine-biologist."

"Well, I'm going to trap your foot."

"Oh no, please don't trap me, get my bigger brother, big billy-goat-gruff-marine-biologist."

"Well, be on your way then."

And he went as fast as he could, in a swirl of bubbles.

Next along came big billy-goat-gruff-marine-biologist. "Who's trying to swim up my canyon!?" asked the giant clam.

"'Tis I, big billy-goat-gruff-marine-biologist."

"Well, I'm going to trap your foot."

"Oh no, please don't trap me, get my bigger brother, great-big-billy-goat-gruff-marine-biologist."

"Well, be on your way then."

And he went as fast as he could, in a swirl of bubbles.

Next along came great-big-billy-goat-gruff-marine-biologist. "Who's trying to swim up my canyon!?" asked the giant clam.

"'Tis I, great-big-billy-goat-gruff-marine-biologist."

"Well, I'm going to trap your foot."

"Well, you just try it!"

And as great-big-billy-goat-gruff-marine-biologist swam past, the giant clam did indeed trap his foot, but not really; great-big-billy-goat-gruff-marine-biologist had attached a rope to his foot, and once the clam had clamped down on it, he pulled, and the other two pushed from behind, and they moved the giant clam to a place where the water was much less polluted, and it became much less grumpy, and they swam up the canyon every day after that, and were able to learn many useful and interesting things about the coelecanth's habitat and were able to help coelecanths very much.

Author's note: I just looked it up, and found out that people USED to think that giant clams were dangerous, but now they realize that clams probably close so slowly that they aren't really dangerous. OK, so that's what it says on wikipedia, but as far as I know, no one has a reason to lie about this, so I'm believing it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

How To Get Children To Go To Bed on Time

I am, if I do say so myself, very good at getting children to go bed on time and have been for some time now. Snub my chutzpah if you like, but for what it's worth, I'm recording what I know.

Overall goal: help children grow up into basically happy, physically and emotionally healthy human beings, who can deal well with problems.

Intermediate goal: help children get to bed in an ever-more-self-sufficient manner, without unduly straining the caregiver's relationship to them or facing bedtime meltdown on any kind of a regular basis.

Time is of the essence. Meaning:
  1. Figure out what time you want/need to get the kids to go to bed. Start the process at least half an hour or an hour before bedtime, depending on how trenchant/ bratty/ afraid of the dark, etc., the children involved are. DO NOT PANIC. Whoever panics, looses, and you loose if the kids loose.
  2. Because you have left yourself lead time, you can give the kids (almost) as much time as they want to do what they need to. Half an hour for the three-year-old to change in to pajamas by himself? Sure. Fifteen minutes to finish the Uno game? I'm not worried. Forty-five minutes to find the red rubber elephant or other essential inanimate sleeping companion? I do not freak out. We aren't panicking here.
  3. At the same time, set reasonable time limits. It goes something like this: At the appointed hour, I announce to all interested parties that it is just about bedtime. I ask my questions (see below) and then set a timeline for each task to be accomplished: "OK, I'm going to set the microwave for ten minutes, and when it beeps, you need to have your pajamas on and have your toothbrush in your hand, ready to brush" or whatever. Because I have (of course) left myself a cushion of time, I do not set unreasonably short times for things to be accomplished, and therefore the children do not panic. Also, because I have left a cushion, when a child wants to negotiate for more time, I am happy to do so, and we are all OK.
Work with the children. Specifically:
  1. Either just before or just after you announce your cruelly arbitrary bedtime (remember, all bedtimes are cruel and arbitrary), ask some basic questions: "Is anybody hungry? Who needs a drink? Do you need help getting a drink/finding your toothbrush/ zipping up your pajamas? What do you guys usually do at bedtime?" (This last one is for babysitters and aunties/relatives who are not in residence; for those with more influence over the bedtime-going situation, you might be interested to know the answer to "What would you LIKE to usually do at bedtime?") Also, the perennial favorite: "Who needs a story?" If you ask the questions before bedtime and it turns out that a kid didn't realize that he or she was hungry, thirsty, etc., then do not accuse them of lying; just get the drink, small snack, etc. Realizing that you won't get to do something for about nine hours really can make you realize that you need to do that thing right away.
  2. Go with the flow according to the answers to the questions. I personally don't believe in sending children to bed hungry if I can possibly help it, because (beyond nutritional reasons, which involve a slightly different situation, one in which where you do this on a regular basis) hungry children are grumpy, uncooperative, and most of all don't go to sleep or stay asleep well. At the same time, I believe that children who refuse to eat reasonably nutritious and delicious food should not be coddled. My solution is plain food: bread or toast without butter; oatmeal or other hot cereal without excessive sugar; non-sugary cold cereal; crackers and cheese or peanut butter; an apple; and so on. Have the food fight over last night's dinner in the morning. Offer the proclaimedly hungry child three options (including tonight's uneaten dinner, if it's an issue), and if the child doesn't want any of them, assume that he or she is bluffing/stalling. Of course, you have to go with your gut on this one, as with all issues of believing another human being.
  3. Getting a drink: the only issue with this may be bed-wetting. One of my sisters tries very hard to remember to help her bed-wetting child get lots of water before dinner time, so that he isn't thirsty between then and bedtime. She reminds him of this plan as she is implementing it, because he doesn't really like wetting his bed either.
  4. Help should be offered cheerfully, and with kindness. The people who most obviously need help are often the ones who are too short to turn on the water for themselves or too uncoordinated (as yet) to do their own snaps, but keep an eye out for older children who disobey not from an underlying desire to stall or defy you, but because they aren't sure where to find something or how to do something. The process goes something like this: "I see that you haven't gotten your pajamas on like I asked you to. Do you need help?" The normal response to this is, "No!" to which the proper reply is, "OK, but if it isn't done in five minutes from now, I'm going to come help. Let's look. The clock says 8:25. When the clock says 8:30, if your pajamas aren't on, then I will come help. Do you understand?" The child says yes, not because they agree (they don't have a choice), but because they understand. When 8:30 rolls around, one of two things will be true: either the kid's pajamas will be on, or they won't. If they are, hooray! If they aren't, my personal suggestion is to go in and be as absolutely helpful and kind as possible. You say, "Do you know where they are?" If they don't, you ask where they usually are or where they might be. At this point you may get a panicky, whiny, sad story about how the kid looked in the drawer and Mom didn't put them there (you may choose to graciously pass over the assumption of Mom's servanthood and save it for a pointed moral story later on) and how the child CAN'T find them. What you do is stay calm. This is a chance to work with the internal monologue the child is developing for any difficult task. That monologue has gotten into a panic/can't do it mode because it has seen a seemingly unsurmountable difficulty. What you inject at this point, when the monologue is exposed, is hope, cheerfulness, and competence. "You can't find it? Well, let's look." And you do-- both of you. The both of you part is essential, because otherwise "help" becomes a euphemism for "I do it for you". To help find pajamas, look in the places the child's brain thinks up. If they can't find them even still, give them some possible acceptable alternatives (wear a tee- shirt, sleep in your underwear). To help a younger kid put pajamas on, hold the pajamas up or else point out how the kid can hold on to furniture to hold themselves up while they get into their own clothes. To help a little person turn on the water faucet, lift them up to the faucet and let them do the turning; if the faucet is too stiff, provide extra muscle power at the outside of their hand, if that is possible without hurting the little hand. At advanced stages of self-efficacy, you can just give an enthusiastic and sincere, "You can do it!" and the kid will figure it out for themselves.
  5. Once the kid figures out the manner in which you offer help, you will be surprised at how often he or she will say yes, when you first ask if they need help. Of course, if you are mean or upset as you give help, they will probably keep saying "no" and start hustling when you ask if they want help. You may find this to be a more desirable result. I like my way better, because I feel that it helps children develop in a way that I want them to: they start to recognize when they are panicking because they need help or feel like they need help, and they start to recognize how they can calm down and get things done anyway.
Incentives (and you're saying: I KNEW it would come down to this!)
  1. Say "thank you" to whoever is even slightly doing what you ask. Don't get manipulative, but these two words are an extremely, extremely powerful combination in our language, and it pays not to forget this.
  2. Ask the children to do "magic tricks". I learned about "magic tricks" from a book called Arthur the Anteater by Marc Brown, which I bought from the Provo Public Library's used book sale. I wish that I could tell you if he is related to the Arthur who is on PBS kids, but I have no idea. Anyway, what you do is this: you ask children (our household is currently doing this a lot with our under 8s, but I would be interested in testing an older limit) if they would like to do a magic trick. They enthusiastically say yes. You explain that you will close your eyes, and when you open them you want to see if, by magic, they have changed in to their pajamas. Or picked up the train set. Or put their dishes in the dishwasher. Or whatever. It gets tiring to have your eyes closed a lot (our little ones think up their own magic tricks all the time, and after spending more than half of one dinner close-eyed, I had to put my foot down) but it is sure worth it to get a little bit of independence going in the younger set. An alternative to closing your eyes, especially with the pajamas, is to just leave the room. The advantage to this is, of course, that you can do other stuff while you are waiting for the magic to happen.
  3. Don't forget about songs. THIS DOES NOT HAVE TO BE ELABORATE. Play a CD if you want to. Or, sing songs you learned as a child (as long as you are fine with them having passed on to the next generation). My dad would always play classical music records for us, and I deeply believe that this affected, for the better, my later ability to play and learn music.
  4. I haven't ever forgotten about stories, but don't you forget either. For variety's sake, check stories out from the library; or, twist a well-known one. My dad once told me The Three Bears where the bears had a record player; I, myself, have put a couple of fairy tales under the water (the three bears lived in a sub, and goldilocks was a random scuba diver). You can also add sound effects (knocking, popping, chewing, ding-dong for a doorbell). Also, children love to hear stories about themselves and people they know, especially about relatives when those relatives were younger. My older sister often bases made-up stories on events that have happened during the day in combination with other common fantasy-story elements ("So, Taran and Morrow were going to visit their Auntie Cornelia, when they met a troll...).
  5. Appropriate physical contact is very, very important for growing children. I admire my parents to no end for the fact that, when they married, they consciously chose to do two things differently than their parents had: 1) they would tell their children on a regular basis that they loved them, and 2) they would hug their children on a regular basis. This does not mean that my grandparents were horrible; to the contrary, it means that they raised children who were healthy enough to recognize even better ways to do things than the last generation had. So, of course, give your children hugs during the day to say hello, goodbye, good job, and I hope you feel better; but also consider piling everyone on to a couch, rocking chair, beanbag, bed, or whatever, to get some physical contact as you read or tell stories or do your end-of-day talk. This is very relaxing, as I can attest. Occassionally as I snuggle with my neeflings at the end of the day, I get so sleepy that I can barely finish the story. Ok, once or twice I haven't finished the story.
  6. I've never done this one, but I've read about it and want to try it: the end-of-day talk. How was your day? What went well? Would you change anything? It's just a chance to connect to each other in a relaxed environment.
Maybe this one was obvious, but just in case: remember to make sure that their physical needs are met.
  1. I've addressed hunger above.
  2. Exercise is something I personally need in order to sleep well. So do children. This one can't really be dealt with right at bedtime, but if you are finding that getting to sleep is a consistent problem, you might try to find some way to incorporate more exercise into the daily routine (this is assuming you have control over it). If you have two hours lead time before bedtime and recognize that this might be a problem, start running games or other possible physical activity right at the two-hour-before mark, and then start winding down about half an hour later. Experiment to see what works for your little ones (this is true of all of this, I guess).
  3. If they are so tired that they are running around the house like energizer bunnies (if you haven't experienced this yet, just wait...) then catch them and try to keep them at least still (though not yet calm) while you play music, tell stories, or do whatever it is that is going to best calm them, which thing varies by child.
  4. You know this and I know this, but I'm going to remind us: babies cry when their diapers need changing, when they have gas bubbles in their tummies, when they are hungry, when their siblings have whacked them, when they just plain want to be held, and for other completely inexplicable reasons. Check the checkable things before giving up.
I have no where else to put this, but it is extremely useful: babies imitate what they see faces doing. Close your eyes if the baby you are walking/rocking can see you. Close them slowly and sleepily. Not long ago, my sister was holding her infant daughter so that the baby was facing me, and something woke the baby up, and she looked at me. I slowly and sleepily closed my eyes once, twice, and then left them closed for a count of ten. When I looked again, she was asleep again. My sister and I looked at each other and both grinned, because we both know this trick.

Friday, November 14, 2008

German Apple Pancakes

I've promised this to numerous and sundry people at various times. I pray that my memory (especially of ingredient amounts) is up to the task of making this a decent replication of the way I actually cook this dish.

This recipe is different from the one in my cookbook, so I'm not sure whether I should change the name to show that it's not really authentic, or if I should keep it, because it is substantially the same recipe and I want to show influences. I've settled on the latter strategy, because I think that it rests on the more relevant fact. Besides which, it's really difficult for me to come up with (good) recipe names.

Ingredients:
  • an apple. If you want to make a small pancake or you are short on time, use half an apple. My personal most recent favorite is to use Galas (which the grocery store says are bad for cooking with, and I don't know how to respond to that), but I think that anything you want to use will be fine. Red delicious will probably mush up on you, but if you are fine with that, I'm certainly fine with that.
  • allspice (or other sweet spices, if you don't have allspice): 1/2 teaspoon? It has been a really long time since I measured this for this recipe.
  • a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar (I never measure this-- it's just a guess, based on what I think I remember from the recipe and what I usually do)
  • butter and/or oil (a couple of tablespoons, between the two of them)
  • one egg
  • a pinch of salt
  • about a tablespoon of flour. Maybe less. I've forgotten the flour before and it has been OK, but it really doesn't taste the same.
Chop and core the apple. I sometimes peel them but usually don't. The peel adds a texture that I like. Start frying the apple in preheated cast-iron skillet. You can use butter at this stage if you want, but I like oil because it is healthier, it is cheaper, and it doesn't burn as easily-- meaning that you get a bigger chance of turning out a pretty good pancake. (This, by the way, is the step where I somehow deviated from the cookbook. In the cookbook that I got this recipe from, you add the apples after you have added the batter. Having made them in the adulterated way, I will never go back, but in the interest of full disclosure, I thought I'd let you know where I deviate from authenticity.)

Add the allspice at some point. It really isn't so picky about the allspice, since the allspice doesn't have to brown or anything.

The apples do need to brown, for maximum yumminess. As an interruption to your sitting on your hands to make yourself be patient while they do so, crack the egg in to a reasonably sized bowl (like a cereal bowl), add a tablespoon of water, beat it with a wire whisk if you have one, with a fork if you don't, and then add the salt and flour and beat them until you've gotten as many lumps out as you figure you're going to get. I sometimes remember to start this process before I chop up the apple, but if I take long enough on browning the apple, it turns out OK anyway. Even when the egg has flour lumps it turns out pretty yummy, so don't fret.

Once the apples have browned as much as you have the patience to let them (my record was something like twenty minutes, but usually I'm in more of a hurry than that), add the butter and brown sugar. I do like butter better than oil at this point, because it interacts in a totally delicious way with the brown sugar in a way that oil does not.

The recipe gets kind of finicky at this point. What you want is for the brown sugar to melt in with the butter and start to turn to something like caramel, but you have to factor in the cooking time for the egg, which gets added in for the final bit of caramelization. You also have to not burn the sugar. Some people like the taste of burned sugar, but I do not. If you are nervous about this, then just dump the egg mixture in about a minute after you have added the brown sugar and butter, and you will come out with a totally delicious pancake, even though it is not at the extreme edges of deliciousness to which this recipe can be pushed. If you are not nervous, then trust your gut, make the recipe a few times (keeping careful notes), and email me the results so that I can tell people with precision how to do this part.

Add the egg mixture to the skillet. Turn on the broiler at the same time so that it can preheat, and make sure that the oven rack is on the top shelf. Moving it after the broiler has preheated involves putting your delicate hand very close to a 500 degree element, which is not my favorite thing to do, especially since I don't usually have the glove kind of hot pad available.

Once the egg is mostly not runny any more, take it off the heat and put it in the broiler for one minute. Or maybe two. You want the egg to be done and the top to be brown. (Darn it, I'm going to have to go home and make up a batch to check the time on this, among other things.) When you take it out, salt it (if you want-- I always need to), and enjoy. I usually take mine out of the skillet in quarters or halves.

You can double this recipe in an eight-inch skillet with relative impunity (the cooking time will of course be longer), but for more than that I'd definitely do batches.

If for whatever reason you don't have a working broiler, then put a lid on the pan as soon as you add the egg, and be sure that your heat is low enough that you won't burn the sugar (which is all on the bottom of the pan, right next to the heat source) while the egg is cooking. It will take longer to cook, but it will be-- almost-- as yummy.

If you have a tilty stove-top, such that most of your egg slides to one side of the pan and sits there, refusing to cook, in a salmonella-inviting mass, as the film on the other side becomes crispy and starts curling, then swirl the egg around now and again while it is cooking. This probably seems obvious to some of my readers, but it took me a while to figure out.

Pizza Adventures

Last night, I went with my older sister and her five young children to get pizza. Because we are a frugal family, and because the only working car available to us at the moment has only five seat belts, we took the bus. Two women, five children (four walkers and a babe-in-arms), a stroller, two backpacks, and, on the way home, six pizzas.

A friend once told me that an adventure is when you don't know how something is going to turn out. This expedition fell in to that category.

First, there was a misunderstanding about the bus route, and I (being the more experienced bus rider among us) only figured it out just in time to get us off the bus at the right stop. I was happy that I had come.

Then we walked and we walked and we walked and we walked and we walked until we came to Blackjack Pizza, where the children had coupons from the library's Summer Reading Program to get individual pizzas as long as their mother purchased something else, too. (I was very thankful that the pizza place wasn't too busy, because that meant that our general largeness and craziness didn't throw them off too much.)

The fun thing about this pizza place is that they make their pizzas fresh, meaning that they take the dough and roll it out and sometimes toss it to make it bigger before they put the toppings on it and put it in the oven to bake. Whoever designed that kitchen so that you can see them making and then baking (in a conveyor-belt oven) pizzas is a GENIUS.

We were a very appreciative audience. Whenever one of the employees started throwing the dough around, we would gasp in wonder, and I would hold the three-year-old up, and the older two children would stand up on their chairs to watch. We finally pushed three of the four chairs over to the counter for better viewing, because the counter was more than four feet tall. I commented to my sister than when I was little, I would only have ever seen something like this on TV, never live. I felt pleased that these neeflings are getting a more--er--rounded cultural experience than I did, growing up.

The pizza guys enjoyed the attention. I wouldn't have known this for sure, but after all of the pizzas were in the oven (ours plus some others from phone orders), two of the guys started throwing pizza bases over and over again, to the sound of our amazed ooohing and aaahing, throwing them until they became larger than any pizza I had seen them make yet, and finally they became so large and so thin that the middles broke up, and then they smooshed them together and threw them over against the wall, where they (the pizza bases) splatted neatly in to the garbage can.

We sang as we walked back to the bus stop. My sister and I were the only ones singing, but it was very beautiful because our voices go so well together, and we sang harmony. The children walked an exceptionally long "balance-beam"-- you know, the curb, which in this case was dividing a very not busy parking lot from the sidewalk we were on.

At the bus stop, we saw a man waiting for the bus (by now it was late enough that missing a bus would be a big deal), and he assured us that even though the schedule said it should have been gone by then, it hadn't, because he had been there on time. Hooray! We ended up riding on the same bus to the Wilk, where we waited for the next bus together. As we waited, my sister haded the children their pizzas and let them start eating them, and I started on mine. I offered the man a slice of my pizza (he looked kind of hungry). He accepted. My sister offered him a slice of hers, too, and he again accepted. She noticed a lady sitting on a bench facing the other way who looked like she might want some, and offered her some, and she accepted too. It was a regular bus-stop pizza party.

When we boarded the bus home, Quarto (the three-year-old) boarded the bus with us and then calmly walked to the back of the bus, where there were other people but none that he knew, and sat down almost out of view of his mother and I, who were at the front. We only noticed this as we were hopping off after the very short ride home, and counting noses. The bus driver thought that it was so funny that he had to tell my sister a story (as she was standing on the street, having exited the bus with all of her offspring in tow) about how once his own child had been playing in the (locked) back yard, and had climbed over the fence to the neighbors' yard, played on the neighbors' motorcycle, taken the key, climbed back over the fence, and lost the key-- all unbeknownst to his parents. They found out that the child had left the yard when the neighbors questioned them. They found the key when the snow melted, the next spring.

Cool Stuff my sister has been doing

I am number two in a family with five girls and a boy at the end. Number three has been doing various cool things, which I wanted to report on.

I must mention that this sister is the person I would, hands down, vote most likely to receive an honorary PhD in ornithology.

Specializing in Penguins.

On her (relatively) recent family trip to California, they went to both Disneyland and Sea World. She was in seventh heaven listening to the penguin show, even though she has learned so much about penguins on her own that the only new thing she learned was that a penguin body was called a "fusiform". At the end of the presentation, they asked a "quiz" question, and whoever in the audience who got it right would receive the privilege of going to the back and getting to actually meet the penguins and their keepers. The question they happened to ask was, "What is the name of a penguin body?"

Her mind went blank.

[Wait.... wait....]

Her husband's hand shot up in the air! He remembered right away! And they let the whole family go back to see them. (She has worried in the past that her children are sort of being brainwashed into liking penguins, just because she likes them so much, but I pointed out that there are worse things than being brainwashed into liking penguins.) Her husband didn't even do any petting; he just took pictures of my sister and the kids having the time of their lives with real, live penguins.

On the way home from California, they accomplished a feat which she had never thought possible with her eight- and five- year old children. They got through all of Jacob 5 in one day of family scripture study. This is how it happened: they had scriptures in digital-audio format, and the kids were strapped in their car seats. They were a captive audience. (Not recommended for an every-day sort of activity, but what else are you really going to do when you're crossing Death Valley?)

About a week after they got home, she was talking to me and telling me these stories, and she mentioned that she had changed her car's oil filter. Because they have switched to synthetic oil, it's the filter that needs to be changed more often than the oil itself, and she proudly told me about how she did it all by herself in only five hours, including procrastination time, and that was with her five-year-old watching. He may not have thought it was all impressive, but she felt like a pretty cool mom, and I agreed. I think that the ramps you drive up to get the car off the ground may have a lot to do with the coolness factor, but just doing anything to maintain or fix a car is pretty cool to start with.

Monday, November 3, 2008

I guess I like Halloween after all

Reasons to like Halloween, despite the reasons not to:

1. Its celebration fosters actual creativity in yer average American. While I will admit that shopping (such as for Christmas) has its own level of creativity, there is nothing like Halloween for actually getting people involved in the nitty-gritty of creating. I refer here to both pumpkin-carving and costume creation. My sister's children nearly mutinied on the Monday night before Halloween when Family Night ran out of time before the kids actually got to carve (said sister was saved by her homeschooling group, which had sent a link to a virtual pumpkin-carving site). Also, I still remember how my parents rallied and came together in a remarkable way on Halloween morning of my Junior year of High School, to help me make a "forties woman" costume. My dad hand-sewed a veil on to a hat that I already owned. My mom pointed out that nylons back then had seams, and offered suggestions on how to get the effect, as well as offering the use of her aunt's genuine 1940's suede coat. Both at the time and since, I have felt a sense of almost unreal wonder about the uniting power of getting to do something creative together. Plus, (at least if you are as disorganized as my family, meaning that the holiday is always upon you before you realize it) Halloween is short enough and low-stakes enough that there is no time for the petty rivalries and huge fights which so often develop over larger/longer collaborative creative projects.

2. Halloween is, at least in my neck of the woods, still a great chance to unite neighborhoods and catch up on old friends. I met at least five neighbors whom I had not known before this last Halloween, as I was trick-or-treating with my neeflings, and exchanged happy greetings with several others. I have noticed that many cultures seem to have some sort of tradition centered around children going around and asking for candy, money, or other treats. Since giving people things, and being given things, tends to increase our feelings of kindness and love towards both the recipient and the giver, I feel that anything which encourages the practice of giving stuff to any one who asks-- even on one day a year, even tooth-rotting, meltdown-inducing sweets-- is itself worth encouraging. On the visiting-friends front, I pointed out to my sister that just as in some churches, the less-active tend to show up on Christmas and Easter, we sometimes see certain of our friends on Halloween and Christmas, because we visit for candy and caroling. She pointed out that these are the two occasions in our society when you can legitimately show up unannounced.

3. Ok, ok, but what about the fact that this holiday is CENTERED around darkness, scariness, is a pagan tradition to boot?

On the pagan tradition thing: it doesn't bother me about Christmas, and it doesn't bother me about Halloween. I know I'm preaching to the choir here, as far as my family is concerned, but I just felt the need to say it.

I have been thinking about the darkness and scariness thing. I hate, hate, hate, absolutely anything to do with deliberately attracting actual powers of evil. But. I like the movie of A Series of Unfortunate events. A lot. I enjoyed watching The Corpse Bride. It appears that I don't mind dark things-- just scary ones. I'm trying to think of how to express this.

This I believe: we have to both mourn and rejoice, all the time. I've been to so many funerals in the last year that when I got an insight in to how sacrament is like a funeral, I was immediately able to become much more reverent and respectful during that meeting. You can't spend your entire life mourning, but I think that if you can cry for the dead, no matter why-- because they were children; because they were the same age and had the same health problems as one of your loved ones, and it seemed so random that they went and not your person; because you love and have loved the widow, or widower, or parents, or children-- if you can cry for any of these reasons, you should. It shows respect. It shows that you have a clue about what is going on. If you are unable to mourn, you somehow show yourself to be a certain amount of soulless (which we all are at one time or another).

And at the same time, you have to rejoice, often, because there are so many things to grieve over that we would literally go crazy if we focused on them all the time. I learned that from The Secret Life of Bees. I learned that hoping, even rejoicing, in the good things, is a moral requirement from watching/listening to General Conference, among other official LDS sources. I do believe in the resurrection. I believe that Jesus Christ was resurrected, and I believe that each human being who has ever walked the planet will be resurrected, that their limbs will come together again and their faces, hands, legs, feet, hairs, and every single thing needed to make a physically perfect human will be in place, just as all these things came together for the first time on this planet on the resurrection morning of Jesus Christ. When I look at a dead body, I am reminded, at the same time that I feel the sadness, that the resurrection is real. I cannot not believe that. I can't find it in me to disbelieve, and I can't really explain why that is other than that the Spirit of the Lord has told my mind and my heart that it is true.

Getting back to the movies: some movies seem to deny the existence of the dark side of life, the sad side. In a lot of American movies, especially, there is no pain which is not quickly ameliorated in the lives of our practically-perfect heroes and heroines. I don't need to rehash this; other people have said it better elsewhere. The point is, when a movie refuses to acknowledge that bad things happen and that good people take time to grieve over them, that movie disenfranchizes the grief of anyone who feels like they fit in that mold. Grief which is still present but unacknowledged becomes a weird, bad thing, difficult to dig out and difficult to even identify after a certain point. Let's not go there.

On the other end of the spectrum are movies (e.g. every single Arabic-language movie I have ever seen) which dwell only on darkness, death, and destruction, which as I mentioned earlier is also, literally, crazy-making.

I feel that the path to sanity lies in the path of serious hope. Like is found, to a certain degree at least, in A Series of Unfortunate Events. Nasty, horrid things happen to the children in this story. Things so bad they're funny happen, which is art imitating life. And yet, the children maintain that which so many others have lost (or never had) in so many "better" circumstances-- unity as a family, kindness, joy in creativity, the ability to look at problems as just problems to be solved and not as everlasting despair generators (so why even try), the ability to tell the truth in the face of danger for telling it. That is what I want. That is the kind of family I want.

And that's why I like (at least some parts of) Halloween.

--

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Vampire Story told by a Fairly Victorian Auntie

One of my young nephews consistently asks for at least one of (and often all of) three kinds of stories: princess stories, vampire stories, and witch stories. He also prefers made up stories, which are the kind that stretch my brain very far, especially when its elasticity has been worn out by a long hard day at work. But for what it's worth, here is the vampire story I told the other night.

Rupert the Vampire and the Three Kittens

Once upon a time, there was a vampire who lived in a little house in the woods, far away from other vampires and witches and goblins and stuff. He had one cat and three kittens, and he would watch the kittens doing the silly things that kittens do and he would laugh and laugh until he fell off his chair and tears ran down his face.

There was another vampire in the woods who thought that it was very improper for the kitten-loving vampire to have these kittens (the kitten-lover's name was Rupert); in fact, he thought that it was so improper that he decided to kidnap Rupert's kittens. He put them in a high tower, in a castle that was outside of the woods, and he put a forgetting spell around the tower, and he put a forgetting spell on Rupert which was so strong that Rupert even forgot his own name.

Rupert did remember, however, that he had a friend who was a witch who knew how to break forgetting spells, and he could remember how to get to her house, so he went. She could see right away what the trouble was. She told him that the best way to break a forgetting spell was to start remembering things. She asked if he could remember any pieces of poetry. He couldn't. She asked if he could remember his times tables. He couldn't. She asked if he could
remember his alphabet. He thought he might.

"Let's see. A, B, D-- no, no, that's not it. A, B, ummmm... C, uh, F, G,H, no, no. A, B, C, D, E! Yes! F, G, H!" And then he was able to remember the rest of his alphabet, in order.

Next, he tried his times tables. "One times one is two. One times two is two..." and a little later he said, "Six times seven is forty-two. Six times eight is forty-eight..." and so on until he had said all of his times tables.

He wanted to go on to poetry next, but his friend, Griselda the Witch, thought that all he needed now would be to remember his name (she didn't know about the other forgetting spell).

"Rupert!"

And with that he set off to find his kittens.

He didn't have to look very hard, because the other vampire hadn't thought that he would break the forgetting spell, and he had left a very clear path in the woods of scratched tree bark and blood, because the kittens had been biting and scratching the whole way as he kidnapped them.

When he got to the top of the tower where they were, he ran in to the second forgetting spell, but this time he knew how to break it.

"A, Z, B... nope. A, B. Yes. A, B, C, D, Z. No. A, B, C, D, E, F..." and he remembered the rest of the alphabet, and he remembered the times tables through twelve, and he thought about reciting Beowulf, but instead he just remembered that his name was Rupert and that he had come for his kittens, and he stepped inside the door of the tower (it wasn't even locked) and gathered up his kittens in his arms and carried them home.

After he got home, he put a forgetting spell around his own house so strong that if someone walked through it, they would forget that they even had a name, let alone what the name was, but he was careful to leave a hole so that he and his friends could go in and out with their memories intact, as long as they remembered the password.

And that is the end of that story.

Cinnamon Chili

I made this soup a week ago Saturday, I think it was, and it just felt so glorious to be cooking again-- chopping onions, frying them to perfection, considering other ingredients and adding them at whim-- that the very process of making this chili fed my soul.

Actually, the process ended up feeding me a lot more than the soup did. There I was, throwing in ingredients left and right, not quite knowing how it was going to turn out, and I thought to myself: hey, I could put in some chili powder. So I did. I put in a lot, because I am used to my roommate's old chili powder, which isn't very potent at all. A little later, I checked the saltiness and discovered that the powder had apparently concentrated on the spoon I was using to stir-- it was pretty hot. Then I discovered that there wasn't a concentration, anywhere; it had been mixed in just fine. I had just made my first accidentally-four-alarm skillet of chili.

It turns out that my dad left some chili powder in the house a few years ago, except that it isn't just chili powder; it's cayenne pepper. My sister said that she keeps waiting for it to get less potent as it gets older, but that hasn't really happened yet. I really, really like the taste of this chili for the first three seconds after I take a bite, but after that the taste is overwhelmed by the burning all over my throat. I have fed the leftovers to my brother-in-law.

Cinnamon Chili
  • 3 onions: chop and fry in olive oil until brown
  • 3 cloves garlic: chop/press; fry in a separate pan of olive oil than the onions are in
  • 1 large can tomatoes (15 oz.?): drain in a colander while you are frying the onions and garlic, then add the drained tomatoes to the garlic and fry them for a bit

combine the onions and the tomato/garlic mixture then add:

  • 1 can (8 oz.?) black beans, drained and rinsed
  • a little bit of chili powder
  • 2 t cinnamon
  • 2 T sugar (I actually used cinnamon sugar, but I would use brown sugar if I were adding them separately)
  • 1 c. raisins
  • the liquid from the tomatoes
  • mushrooms (I used the stems of portabellas, the caps of which my sister had used the night before, and I cut them in to about 1/2" pieces); fry them in your separate skillet, first, until they are brown
  • nutmeg
  • allspice
  • 2 cloves of cloves
  • juice from 1/2 lime
Cook it long enough for the raisins to get fat, and then it's done.

Just for the record, I think that the mushrooms, raisins, sweet spices, and beans-- OK, and the tomatoes-- really are great together. I think that allspice and nutmeg are probably not necessary for the success of the recipe, but I wrote them down so that you (and I) would know exactly what I used. I would skip the cloves if I had to (but if I could, I would put them in).

Also: did I remember to mention in my food snob blog that Thompson Seedless Organic raisins are not only ten times as delicious as regular raisins, but at our local "natural" food store (The Good Earth), they are also cheaper than regular? This is definitely a case where organic is waaay better.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Quotable Neighborhood Logician

There is a person in my life who is almost six, who is very bright, and who is extremely logical. Some people think that children are not logical, but when one examines their supposed illogicalities, it often turns out that it is the grownup world which is illogical.

I will tell these three stories/quotes in reverse chronological order, simply so that I can put the funniest one last. They happened last night.

I was talking to said logician about when Jesus visited the Nephites, and the Nephites brought their children forward, and the children were surrounded by fire. He looked alarmed. I explained that it looked like fire, but it didn't burn them, so it wasn't really fire. He said, "Oh, so it was like wooden fire?" (His dad pointed out that a wooden sword is a sword that isn't really a sword and doesn't really hurt people, so maybe a wooden fire is analogous.)

Earlier than that, I explained that Jesus had to leave the Nephites to go visit other people. I was asked how he traveled. I said that he went up in to heaven, just like he came down, and that when he went to see the other people, he probably came down out of heaven again the same way. My logician looked confused. Then he said, "Oh, sort of like the cow jumping over the moon."

Still earlier, I was trying to explain the difference between the law of Moses and the law that Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. I was explaining that the way Moses taught, if someone poked out your eye, you were not allowed to poke out both of their eyes and break their arms and their legs. You can JUST poke out one eye. The logician's reply was: "Or, if someone pokes out your eye, you can run the other way."

And the only answer to that is: yes. Logic wins the day again.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Waiting to Become a Grownup

I made a comment in RS a couple of months back that I meant to blog, but never got around to it; but then today my friend, Ms. Winterberry, got me thinking about it with one of her most recent blog postings (http://winterberrybook.blogspot.com/2008/10/pursuit-of-happiness-kick-will-smith.html), so instead of hearing about my accidentally-four-alarm cinnamon chili, you get to hear about this.

When I was nine, my family moved from Blackfoot, Idaho, to Provo, Utah, where my mom had been hired to teach part-time at BYU. One of many joys of being a faculty dependent was that we could go swimming in the BYU pool (to this day I adore swimming), and one of the most anticipated events in my life became the advent of my twelfth birthday, when I would not only enter Young Women's, but I would get my own Faculty Dependent Card with a photo ID, which would allow me to go swimming at said pool without a grownup to take me.

The funny thing is, once I got the card, I didn't really go that much. I wasn't used to going. My older sister kept going with her friend who was used to going, but I never even went once, all summer long (the following year, we moved to Alabama, so my plans for swimming more were nixed).

Does this sound like a familiar story? Waiting for permission from a not only invisible but even nonexistent party, to do something that we have permission to do and want to do, but we never get around to doing?

That same older sister has a favorite story about this principle from one of our old Young Women's leaders. This woman, Sister G, kept her wedding china in very good condition. In fact, she almost never used it. She would probably have kept on never using it if not for a comment that her mother-in-law made to her one day: "Oh, so you're saving them for Roger's second wife?"

Becoming a grownup became something like that for me. I kept waiting for the birthday to happen, the degree to be achieved, the permission to be granted-- I still don't know from whom, God maybe-- for me to do the fun things that I always saw that it was possible for grownups to do.

My definition of grownuphood has changed a little over time, but in some ways it hasn't: to me, there is still magic in the fact that, as a person over the age of 18 who is not incarcerated, I get to choose what I do with a significant (enough) amount of my time. The same goes for money.

That said, I find that I am not actually happy about this freedom unless I have goals that I am working towards with both my time and my money. When 1) I have to spend all of my time or money on a given obligation that I don't particularly like, I am unhappy, or when 2) I carelessly squander my extra, and THEN have to pay the bills with what is left over, then I am very unhappy.

I recently reorganized my time so that I get to spend an hour a day on stuff that I have decided to spend it on, stuff that I think will get me closer to my goals. This is, indeed, making me happy, but I am also becoming progressively more sleep deprived, so we'll see how long it lasts...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Princess Anabel and the Self-Cleaning Castle

Once upon a time, there lived a princess named Princess Anabel who was so helpful and kind that one day, when one of the third-floor maids was sick and couldn't come to work, Princess Anabel offered to help the other maid clean that floor. She worked very hard all day long, and at the end of the day, as she was beating out a rug, she happened to come across a rug fairy.

This rug fairy's rug had not been properly cleaned in some time, and she was so pleased that Princess Anabel was doing it that she offered the Princess a wish. Princess Anabel, being helpful and kind as she was, asked for a self-cleaning castle.

The fairy granted her wish, and this is how it worked: whenever Princess Anabel wanted the castle to be cleaned, she would step out of the kitchen door, and there she should press a button which looked a little bit like a doorbell, but which was really a self-cleaning button. She should stay outside for at least one hour, and then she was free to come back in the castle again. However, there was one rule: she could never be in the castle when that button was pushed. The fairy didn't say exactly what would happen if this rule was broken, but she warned Princess Anabel very sternly about it, and so Princess Anabel promised her that she would never be inside when the button was pushed.

All went swimmingly for the next few months, but then Princess Anabel's pen pal (really a pen suitor; they were becoming interested in marrying each other) decided to come for a visit. His name was Prince Rupert. He knew from her letters that Princess Anabel enjoyed helping in the kitchen, so he decided to surprise her by coming around to the kitchen door. Sure enough, he pressed what he thought was the doorbell, never knowing that it was the castle-cleaning button, which no one but Princess Anabel was supposed to touch.

Inside the kitchen, Princess Anabel was just reaching for a carton of eggs when all of a sudden she turned into a pile of glittery dust. When Prince Rupert heard the screaming of the other people in the kitchen, he rushed inside, and when they explained to him what he had (accidentally) done, he was very sorry indeed. They swept the Anabel-dust into a pile and then used a funnel to put it into a canning jar so that Prince Rupert could take it with him on his quest to find a cure for dustification.

I will not trouble you with the details of Prince Rupert's long and arduous journey to the island of the dragons (perhaps I will tell you another time). I hope you remember that dragons are very wise and often know the solutions to magical problems. Suffice it to say, once he got there, he was told that he should add five drops of blue food coloring, four drops of red food coloring, three tears from a boy who was crying for his mother, and two drops of almond extract, and his princess would be restored.

He followed the instructions exactly, and Anabel did come back-- but the trouble was, she was only about as tall as a pencil.

That's when they thought of going to the rug fairy again. Prince Rupert worked all day long, scrubbing floors, dusting knicknacks, and (of course) beating out rugs, and finally at the end of the day, another rug fairy appeared to him. (You must know that rug fairys are seldom found at the beginning of a work day; usually, if they appear, it will be at the end of a long day of cleaning.)

The rug fairy was perfectly happy to grant his wish, and in an instant, Anabel was back as good as new (or, to be precise, as good as she had been about three weeks earlier). Princess Anabel and Prince Rupert courted for another month, but they had already been writing letters to each other for three years, so it did not take them long to see that they really did like each other well enough to marry each other, and so another month after that, the marriage took place.

In preparation for the marriage, Princess Anabel instituted a very generous hiring policy for castle-cleaners, because it was now well-known in her land that her castle was full of rug-fairies. Her rule was that whoever wanted to work for one day cleaning the castle would be hired to do so, and they would be allowed to keep whatever wishes they were offered in the line of duty. About twenty people got wishes in this way, and several of them chose to have self-cleaning houses, themselves. They were very careful, however, to put very large signs next to the self cleaning buttons, which read: "ABSOLUTELY NO ONE EXCEPT [here they would put the name of the person] IS ALLOWED TO PUSH THIS BUTTON, ON PAIN OF DEATH." They didn't really mean the "on pain of death" part, but they wanted people to know they were serious.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Interesting Stuff in Alma

I'm on my second time through the Book of Mormon this year. I'm not keeping up with Sunday School, which I feel guilty about, so here's for repenting soon. In the mean time, I noticed a couple of interesting things from Alma's experience in Ammonihah.

One is the fact that Alma and Amulek were "convicted"-- or, at least condemned-- for testifying of Christ, which I find to be really interesting. Abinadi, Jesus Himself, Lehi, Joseph Smith, and some other people I thought of before but have forgotten now, were also condemned for this exact thing. My question is: why care at all, let alone that much? If you don't believe in God, what's the point in condemning someone else who is just talking about Him coming? I know that this isn't a new idea, but it really struck me this time: Weird. Interesting.

The other thing that I noticed is that these people (back to Ammonihah) took the "perpetrators," and then murdered those who believed them, in front of them. This also defies any logic except for the most hellish kind. When you get to the point of a) killing people just because they believe something, and b) killing not even your main targets, because you are trying to get to your main targets psychologically by killing others, then you are literally evil beyond description.

One last, somewhat more cheerful thought, brought up by Elder William Oswald's conference talk on teaching, in which he referred to Moroni as a teacher: how much leeway do angels get? I mean, you have this assignment: go tell Alma to repent; go tell Alma that he's doing well, but he needs to go back to Ammonihah; go tell Joseph Smith that he needs to go find some gold plates that you buried nearly two thousand years ago, and give him extra instructions besides about how to get the kingdom off the ground (er, you know); and so on. You have thus-and-such audio-visual equipment available. Remember the cultural context of the person you are talking to. You must cover these points.

When I was younger, I used to assume that God always told angels what to say, word-for-word, and I have very little doubt that this is sometimes, perhaps even most of the time, the case. But if He would trust Nephi (Helaman's son, in Helaman 10) to not do anything He wouldn't do, isn't there a possibility that Moroni got a less than word-for-word assignment on what to say to Joseph Smith? An on the other hand, Joseph said that he DID repeat his message word-for-word, which would tend to lend weight to the idea that each word was deliberately chosen for itself. And on the other hand, if you have a thousand years to prepare for an assignment (including time and resources to watch a language develop), you might just whittle it down to the exact words you want, no more and no less. It gets you wondering (or daydreaming) about ideal teaching situations, you know?

Yes, I have enough hands to do that many "other hand"s. Go watch Fiddler on the Roof.

I just noticed that I said "When I was younger" rather than "before I heard this talk," which tells me that at some level, I think I have been moving away from the rote-talking idea for a while. Maybe Touched by an Angel had some unrecognized effect on me. Maybe my lifelong longing to be an angel has had an effect on me (I always wanted to be an angel when my primary class acted out scripture stories, and to this day remember the Sunday when said longing was fulfilled). Surely it has, but this is leaking into being another topic for another posting, so I will promise (as I notice I often do, falseley) that I will write more later.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Small Conversation

My sister, as she examines her second-youngest's head: "Darling, did you cut your hair?"

Child (aged three): "No. Not today."

The Glories of Oatmeal: First Installment

Finally, the post I know you've all been waiting for: the best way to fix regular oatmeal.

First off, the best way is to eat it the way you feel like eating it, which may be not at all. Which is fine. But do give my methods a try, if you haven't already.

OK. I never cook my oatmeal in a pot. I always cook it in a bowl. When I am at home, I flavor it with salt and brown sugar; when I am at school, I use the over-flavored instant oatmeal to do the job, and fill in the rest with the good stuff. Of course you remember from my Food Snob blog that "the good stuff" is organic, non-instant rolled oats.

The best way to fix oatmeal as oatmeal is to boil water, then pour it over the oatmeal and let it sit for a couple of minutes. I wish that I could give you exact measurements, but I have been doing this by eye for so long that I'm afraid that if I guessed, I would lead all of you astray. I will say that I put in a "handful" of oatmeal (sometimes literally), then pour in enough water that the water line falls between half and a whole centimeter (between a quarter and a half inch, for imperial-ites) above the oatmeal line. As it were.

If I cook it in the microwave, I do add the water before boiling it, and then cook it for one or two minutes (depending on the microwave-- the one I usually use at school is pretty efficient, so one minute works just fine these days).

If I really want to get fancy, I can add cream and/or fruit. My prepackaged flavoring mixes at school add just that, but at home, I'm usually too lazy.

That's it for now. You are just going to have to sit on your hands until I can get around to telling you about dry-fried and wet-fried oatmeal (plus, in the latter case, a side note about fried mush); granola; and oatmeal pancakes.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Brothers Grimm Come in Handy

The other night, when her mother asked her to put some dishes away, my niece wailed, "Why?!" in such a distressed tone that I answered,

"Because you are now Cinderella, and you will have to act as a maid and do all of the housework from now until you are eighteen. Luckily, you will then get to marry a handsome prince, and live happily ever after. I, on the other hand, will get to marry a duke whom you are gracious enough to offer me."

She started working.

"I won't even miss the toe that I cut off so that my foot would fit in to the slipper that the prince had brought in hopes of finding you."

Then her mother chimed in, "I, on the other hand, will have my eyes pecked out by the birds, because of their sympathy to you."

By now she was smiling. Sometimes it comes in handy to know the corpus of a couple of old German Linguists.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I'm Yours

My youngest nephew, when he is in trouble, will say (to whoever is punishing him), "I'm not [yours]!" For instance, if I am bodily removing him from a situation where he is kicking a sibling, he will say, "I'm not Auntie Cornelia's!" Or, if it is his father who is doing the removing, he will say, "I'm not Daddy's!"

When he is in a good mood, he will say, "I'm Mummy's, and Daddy's, and Auntie Cornelia's, and A's (his younger sister)."

The other day, when he was letting us know how much he loved us in this way, his father said, "Yes, but this morning you said you were the garbage truck's!" You have to understand that he is of an age when garbage trucks are very impressive/attractive.

Evidently this reprimand had an impact, because tonight when I was on the phone with my sister, and he was being excited to come pick me up from school, he said, "I'm Mummy's, and Daddy's, and Auntie Cornelia's, and A's, and not the garbage truck's."

"Not the garbage truck's?"

"Not the garbage truck's."

I felt loved.

Monday, September 22, 2008

What I would do with time out time (for me)

Today I was daydreaming about what it would be like if I got an hour of time out per day. (Sorry, guys; the essay admonishing us all to be more patient with small children will come some other day.) I made myself think, for fifteen whole minutes, about what I would do with that time. This is what I came up with:

blog
read the news
read for fun
sew
cook
work on my room
swim
plot how to get the things I want
“shop” (window shop) online
pre-write
plan vacations
plan my budget
go to the library
embroider
paint
teach myself how to make books
scrapbook
look up online how to do things (like scrapbook)
read blogs
go on walks
visit museums
have a mini-vacation, here in the city I live in (plan beforehand) (maybe half of my vacation budget must be saved each year, and half must be saved for some big future thing, like five years out)
become a seamstress to myself and others
write about my goals
learn Calculus (multivariable)
teach myself how medicine works
read philosophy
run and walk for fun
write about Christmas
write about how to be healed
read about Geology
play with paper—maybe make an architectural model of a theoretical house I would want some day
daydream about exactly how to build that house I would want some day
write up the stories I’ve made up for the children I know
learn how to draw better than I do now (learn from the book in the teacher library at my work)
knit socks. Warm socks. Comfortable socks.
read about history, especially the history of the American Revolution (I don’t feel like I know enough about it)
file/go through my papers that are extraneous
write about Book of Mormon stuff/religious stuff
try to write short plays for the New Play Project
take a long walk and then take a long, hot bath in a bathroom which is not interrupted on a regular basis (by children needing to use the toilet)
plan Christmas decorations for the current year; plan celebrations for the upcoming year
film movies (home made)
edit movies (home made)
try skiing
plan menus
make cookies
make other fun recipes that I want to try
go to the temple
do extra scripture study

Sunday Afternoon Soup

I made this yesterday afternoon-- hence the name. I think that I have written down fairly accurately how much of what I used. It might still need more bullion or salt. "Better than bullion" is a bullion alternative. I use it because it is vegetable-based.

Sunday Afternoon Soup (made on 21 September 2008)

3 onions
4 medium pieces of chicken (boneless, skinless breast, but any would be fine, I’m sure)
1 T (?) cinnamon
2 cloves garlic, minced pretty fine
lots of oil (sure, olive oil)
3 quarts of water
4 carrots
2 large potatoes
bullion (1 ½ T Better Than Bullion, approximately)

I chopped the onions and the potatoes big and the carrots small. I fried the onions in oil first (in a frying pan); then I added the frozen chicken (meaning, if you use non-frozen, then don’t put it in as soon); then I put the cinnamon in. I also added the garlic. I put the water on to boil. When the onions and meat and stuff were done (onions were golden-ish and the chicken was browning), I put them in the water. I chopped the carrots and fried them, then added them to the water. I then chopped the potatoes, added them to the water, and added the bullion. I cooked it until the vegetables were done, which was about half an hour after the potatoes went in.

This was darn good, in my opinion, and pretty good in the opinion of others who ate it. I definitely think that it would have been better with a few bones in it.

Friday, September 19, 2008

How I Became the (/a) Tooth Fairy

The other day, my sister and I were discussing the fact that I am the tooth fairy, and her daughter asked how it came about that I was the tooth fairy, so I told her the story, and now I am telling it here.

The Halloween when I was fifteen, I dressed up as a tooth fairy. I had a kind-of-fancy greenish-hued dress, and I happened to have a piece of matching tulle (tulle is a kind of gauzy fabric) and I decided to make a little gold-foil-covered box labeled "teeth". And I did. That was fun, but like the vast majority of Halloween costumes, it really was just a joke.

A few days after Halloween, however, my younger brother, who was five, woke up in the morning, and said, "Cornelia, the tooth fairy didn't come!" I told him to go back to sleep, and once he had gone back in his room, I looked all around our small house in search of a quarter (which was the going rate for teeth in those days). I think I finally got one from my dad. Anyway, I went in L's room, and slipped the quarter under his pillow, and took the tooth, and thought everything had gone just fine. But then, not long afterward, he came in the living room and announced, "That wasn't the tooth fairy, that was you!"

To which I replied, "How do you know I'm not the tooth fairy?" and he got a mystified look on his face, as though he were seriously considering it.

I loved this story and told it fairly often in the next few years.

My older sister had her oldest child five years later, when I was twenty. When I was twenty-five, her family moved to Australia.

A short time after that, her oldest (if you count, he was five by then) started losing his teeth. In a phone conversation with my sister, she mentioned casually that I was the tooth fairy for her children. I said: What? She repeated herself. She said that she tells her children that every family has a tooth fairy, and every family has a Santa Claus, and every family has an Easter Bunny. In their family, the tooth fairy is Aunite Cornelia, and the rest is a mystery for them (the children) to figure out.

I went with the flow. When my sister's next child got old enough to start asking such questions as, "Does Auntie Cornelia come here by magic to get our teeth?" I told her that I could deputize people. It's only in hindsight that I realize that I never explained what "deputize" means, but maybe that's all for the best. She (having never seen me at work, and perhaps only having a hazy idea of exactly what a tooth fairy does) drew me wearing a dress made of teeth. Just for the record, the teeth themselves are not my favorite part of the job. I was a little weirded out by the thought of that picture, but I let it ride.

So, I was just a theoretical tooth fairy, but then my other sister who has children started telling them that I am the tooth fairy, and then I started having to go through with it. I decided that one golden dollar is sufficient, per tooth (the price is double, as it was when I was a child, for teeth with roots-- roots normally mean that the tooth in question has been pulled). I dressed up in the shiniest clothing I could find. My younger sister made me a wand.

So this is how it works. I get a call that goes something like this: "Miss Young Person's loose tooth just came out today at lunch. Can you come down on Friday or Saturday?"

And I say, "I think Friday will be fine." And I pack an overnight bag on Friday, and I take my "Tooth-Fairy Kit," which has two fancy dresses (I let the child who has lost the tooth pick which one I wear) and a wand and, of course, gold dollars. I used to get the gold dollars at the post office vending machine, but then I figured out that I could get them at the bank, so that is where I get them now. The kit also has a light-up tiara, because one time when I was going on a Tooth-Fairy run (as I call them), one of my roommates gave it to me-- a friend had given it to her-- because, in her words, she couldn't think of anyone more fitting than the Tooth Fairy to own such a treasure. The last Tooth-Fairy run I made, I discovered that that particular niece has a light-up tiara almost exactly like mine, only with slightly different colors. She won hers at the library's mother-and-daughter-book-club party, where she won a frog-kissing contest (the game is sort of like pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, only it's pin-the-lips-on-the-frog).

I used to make the children go to sleep first, but now I just make them pretend to be asleep, because it is funner for all involved, and I am here to tell you that there is absolutely no other point to this game than having fun.

Here are some advantages to being the tooth fairy: I always win my round of "liar's club" (a popular game around here wherein a person tells two truths and a lie about themselves, and the others have to guess which is which. As long as I tell a reasonably truthful-sounding lie, no one is likely to believe that I really am the tooth fairy). Being able to announce that I am the tooth fairy gives me immediate cachet with the under-twelve set, in particular, though now that I think about it, it really has a certain cachet with all age groups. I hadn't realized until recently that the coolness factor also extends to the parents of my fairy-ees, as well; my younger sister says that other parents are always impressed that she has an outside tooth fairy. She also appreciates that she doesn't have to do it. The last and best advantage to being the Tooth Fairy, though, is that I get to spend time with my nephlings (word copyrighted by my youngest sister, being gender-neutral term for children of one's siblings) on a regular, if unpredictable, basis.
It makes them happy, and it makes me happy. I can't think of a better reason to perpetuate mythological creatures than for the perpetuation of happiness.