Geekmom strikes again

Artist Boy has been trying to get his friends interested in Dungeons & Dragons for quite a while — years, actually — but he has never really succeeded. That is, they are happy to play, but the gaming is never quite up to Artist Boy’s standards. “The problem is, they spend too much time playing video games,” he complains. “They think the goal is just to have the most powerful character and win all the fights. They haven’t read the right books. They don’t want to solve mysteries or role play. They don’t get it.”

So I gave him some maternal advice. “You should require them to come up with back stories for their characters,” I said. “And then make their back stories relevant to the campaign.” We then had a long discussion of favorite D&D role playing moments.

“Mom,” said Artist Boy plaintively, “will you tell all this stuff to my friends?”

“Um, okay,” said I.

So yesterday I found myself preaching D&D to half a dozen 14yo boys. I actually came up with a backstory for one of them. The conversation went something like this:

Artist Boy: How about you hate all members of a particular race.

Friend: Okay, I hate gnomes.

Me: Why? What’s your grudge?

Friend: Ha ha, they messed up my potato patch.

Me: Potato patch! Perfect! Okay, how’s this? You are a serious potato farmer and the best potato chef for miles around. That means you have to bring an extra pack animal when you go adventuring because you are bringing sacks of potatoes and all your cooking equipment. And every time the party stops for a meal it takes an hour for you to cook it. This will be annoying to the others but you will insist. And you occasionally take detours to search out special cooking herbs and everyone has to wait while you do it. But your potatoes are amazing and anyone who eats them gets +1 to their morale. Or you have a better chance at bluffing them later. Or maybe they regain one hit point. And Artist Boy, you have to make sure there are plenty of gnomes to get in the way.

Later, Artist Boy found me and asked me to come down and explain to his other friend why, as a paladin of Anubis, he should have a mace as his primary weapon and not a bastard sword. I’ll spare you the details on this one, but after five minutes of conversation the friend was totally convinced and super excited about the mace, even though maces are much less powerful than bastard swords.

This morning Artist Boy told me it was his best gaming yet.

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A good morning!

I don’t know a better way to start the day — any day, but especially a holiday — than with the Bach Motets.

Before I go any further with this post I should give you a couple of caveats.

  1. I am the least critical music-lover in the world. I will listen to just about anything, and the more I listen to a recording the more I like it. Honestly, if music is performed with conviction (I was going to say passion, but no, conviction is the better word), I will probably like it. This is quite a contrast to how I am about books, by the way. I am very picky about books.
  2. I have an embarrassing capacity for listening to the same recording over and over and over again. I am famous for having to replace worn-out CDs (and LPs, back in the day). I believe this is what makes me a good Suzuki mom. I have no problem listening to my kids play the same damn thing again and again. I have no problem listening to the recordings with them either. In fact, like I said before, the more I listen to something, the more I like it. Even if it’s just Go Tell Aunt Rhody.

Ok, so now that you know to take everything I say about music with a huge grain of salt, let me just say that there is no better way to start your morning than with Bach motets. The masses and passions are wonderful too, but there is something so joyful in the motets — so joyful and serious at the same time — that my heart just about explodes when I hear them. They feel like Christmas carols, but they’re not. You can listen to them year-round, guilt-free.

Today is Thanksgiving, and of the many things I am so very very thankful for, high among them is the music of J.S. Bach.

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I discovered these two items stacked on top of each other, as shown, in the bathroom the other day. Tee hee!

Architectural Digest

Architectural Digest comes to our house every month. We never ordered it; we never paid for it. I suspect that when we renewed our Atlantic Monthly subscription from a teenager going door to door for a fundraiser, the kid must have checked the wrong title. Except that we still get the Atlantic also. *shrug*

Hubs and I do have an interest in architecture, but not this kind. In fact, this magazine isn’t even about architecture. It’s all interior design. And I’m sorry to say this, but I just don’t live at a level where I can look at glossy photos of movie stars’ boudoirs and say gee, honey, why don’t we do something similar? We used to subscribe to Old House Journal — now that’s a magazine about architecture. Every issue had actual floorplans! And jargon! Words like gambrel and muntin and foursquare… *shiver*

Shelters of Stone

The other thing on the stack, Shelters of Stone, well, that’s a little harder to explain away. Yes I did in fact give Bookworm Girl a copy of Clan of the Cave Bear to read. I really could not resist. She herself is kind of a mousy girl but she loves books with strong women characters. True, there are sections of Clan that are totally inappropriate for an 11yo. But she has read other “inappropriate” stuff which has led to some great mother-daughter discussions. And personally I think the fascinating setting of Clan, and Ayla’s story, more than outweigh the rape scenes. Needless to say, she loved the book and we had some great conversations about it.

However, when I gave her Clan of the Cave Bear, I wasn’t thinking at all about the subsequent books in the series. Once she’d read the first one, I couldn’t very well leave her hanging. But they are… simply… terrible. And by terrible I mean they are badly written. I could forgive the stale, repetitive plots (Ayla meets strangers who don’t trust her because of her weird accent and strange ways… until she saves the day either with her medicine woman skills or one of her new inventions… and then the strangers love her and accept her as one of their own… and then she leaves and meets more strangers who don’t trust her… ad infinitum…). I could forgive the explicit sex scenes (well… nevermind…). I could forgive the endless descriptions of Stone Age geography, ecology, plant life, etc. (actually, I like that stuff…). But I can’t forgive the lousy story-telling. The way we are told instead of shown. The way every time Ayla meets someone new, the author spells out her whole story all over again. The way too many adverbs. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

One good thing, though. Bookworm Girl was very critical of the series too. “I bet you anything the baby is going to look just like Ayla,” was her snarky prediction, “except it’ll have Jondalar’s striking blue eyes.” Good girl!

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Has it been this long?

Wow, has it really been half a year since I last checked in here? How time does fly. Funny how the urge to blog comes in cycles…

Well the first thing I had to do was make a couple of updates on the About page. Bouncy Boy turned 7. And the old decrepit dog is no more (kind of a relief, I must confess). In her place we have a new kitten who is the cutest, sweetest thing EVER. All white, with one blue eye and one brown eye, yes, and you can get her to purr just by walking into a room.

This year I have three kids in three different schools, oh joy. Artist Boy started high school, Bookworm Girl started middle school, and of course BB is still in elementary. Artist Boy is thriving, as I expected. I never actually see him doing his homework — certainly I never tell him to do it or even ask him if he has any — but apparently he is doing it because he is getting all A’s. He is also on the debate team, which he loves but which I am finding (at best) a mixed blessing. This kid does not need any more encouragement in the arguing department!

Bookworm Girl is having a little harder time adjusting to middle school. The homework load is high, especially math. She needs a lot of help just to stay focused while she’s doing it. If she had her druthers I’d be sitting next to her while she worked, and after every step of every problem she’d ask me whether she had gotten it right. Ugh! It’s funny, but that is basically what I do during her violin practice, and I love doing it. We are the smoothest parent-child Suzuki team this side of the Mississippi. But when it comes to schoolwork something in me rebels. I just don’t care about it. I have spent far more time telling her it’s okay to get bad grades than I have in helping her get good ones. Whereas the violin, I truly believe, is a matter of life or death importance. Am I totally crazy???

Bouncy Boy is having a great year so far. His second grade teacher is amazing. He is doing very well academically and socially — a far cry from where we were at this time last year. He knows the name of every kid in the school and has friendly bantering relationships with many of them, especially the fourth- and fifth-grade girls. :-) He is still hyper and impulsive but he has calmed down a lot since last year. I can usually talk him out of a temper tantrum and coax him into doing the things he doesn’t want to do. I don’t know if this is just the difference in maturity levels between age six and age seven, or if the things we’ve been working on are finally starting to sink in, or what. Of course we still have plenty of ups and downs but overall, wow.

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Recently read

Well, I did manage to do some reading in the last couple months. Highlights:

The Invention of Air by Steven Johnson. Nonfiction, and I read it practically in a single sitting! Biology, chemistry, American history, and religion, all wrapped up in a biography of the most charming, likeable Enlightenment dude ever, Joseph Priestley. Who knew??? I highly highly highly recommend this one.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. This was a book group pick, and I must confess I was a hard sell because of the cutesy title and the fact that it’s a love story. But it also has gender, race and class issues with no easy answers; excellent writing; and the main characters are engaging and three-dimensional. The supporting characters are a bit heavy-handed and the big climactic scene at the end is a little too tidy, but even so I would recommend this one without reservation. Oh, and the cover art is AWESOME!

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie. I’ve been hearing about this book for years and I finally got around to it. I didn’t realize it was YA, and I might not have bothered with it if I’d known. I loved YA fiction back when I was a YA myself, but now in my 40s, not so much. Sooooo, Native American kid on the rez goes to all-white high school in next town over. Includes complex race and class issues (big time!) and also coming of age. No easy answers here, either. It does feel like a teen book, though. I found the short declarative sentences, the single-sentence paragraphs, the numerous exclamation points, and the cute illustrations tiresome after a while.

Two People by A.A. Milne. Believe it or not, he wrote novels for grownups! I am not, repeat not, a fan of Winnie the Pooh, but I was curious to read this nevertheless. Actually it has a bit in common with Major Pettigrew. It’s also a very British love story and it also takes place in a small village and deals with gender and class issues, again with no easy answers. And it is also written in a light, charming, humorous style. Published in 1931, this book has a lot of period details, and although it’s not going to change your world view, it’s definitely a pleasant story to while away a few hours with.

When I ordered Two People via interlibrary loan, I was hoping for the recently re-issued Capuchin Classic edition. I was disappointed when this volume arrived instead, but when I opened it I found a nice little surprise. Click on the image to see…

first edition of Two People, by A.A. Milne

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New theme: 2010

Well my goodness, it has been a while since I checked in here. I do like this blog, and writing about my life still seems like a good idea The only problem is, life gets in the way of writing about it! I suppose it’s better to be living it than writing about it, but shouldn’t I be able to manage both?

Anyway, to celebrate my return and get me all excited about blogging again, I switched themes. This one is 2010. It’s’s new default theme, and it’s a good one. Tidy, clean, accessible. I only have a couple of complaints (so far), and one feature request:

  • I don’t want to see the “About Daxie” blurb staring me in the face at the bottom of every post. That feature only makes sense for a blog with multiple authors. We should be able to turn that off.
  • If you don’t want to show gravatars in the comments, the comments should be flush left, not indented. I would rather not show gravatars, but I am because the comments look dorky without them.
  • Feature request: how about offering more page templates besides single column? Why not an archive page? Or a contact page with a form à la Blixt?

Because it’s the new default theme, I’m sure we’ll be seeing it everywhere. I’ll get sick of it soon, no doubt, and switch to something else. But I’m happy with it for now, and looking forward to getting back into regular blogging.

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So last week was our mid-winter break and we spent it, woo-hoo, in a fancy resort on the Yucatán peninsula. We lolled about on lounge chairs, sipping cocktails and soaking up the sun while the grandchildren shrieked and splashed in the surf. Thank you, Grandma and Grandpa!

I did a lot of reading during this vacation, too. It’s been a long time since I’ve managed to read for hours at a stretch; I didn’t even realize how much I missed it. One of the books I brought was Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope — oh, Anthony Trollope, where have you been all my life? — and by strange coincidence my mom had brought The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, which has been on my mental TBR list for years.

I say by strange coincidence because both are big fat Victorian novels, full of dukes and earls and poor relations and governesses and blackguards… you know. My mom and I joked around about whose book was better:

Mom: Well, mine has half sisters.

Me: Oh yeah? Well mine has kissing cousins.

Mom: Yeah, but does yours have a hugely obese yet incredibly charismatic Italian Count?

Me: [struggling to one-up her]: No, but mine has a scoundrel who would be handsome but for the great big ugly scar across his face! And when he’s angry the scar opens up!

Mom: Mine has letters! And a mysterious envelope that arrives with nothing but a blank piece of paper in it!

Me: [really struggling now] Mine has a dairy farmer named Mr. Cheesacre! And his farm is called Oileymead! Ha ha ha ha!

Mom: [smug] Cheesacre, shmeesacre. Mine has an escapee from a mental asylum!

Ok, there she has me beat. My book most definitely does not have an escapee from an mental asylum, and nothing in it that even comes close… except… maybe…

Me: Oh yeah? Well my book has sequels! It’s the first of six in a row!!!

Game and match!

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