Saturday, December 20, 2008

Hasty Update

We're moving to Texas. Jon is hovering like a vulture, waiting to pull the plug on my machine.

I will try to update November and December entries in early January.



Monday, November 10, 2008

Happy birthday, Marian

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Mommiest Moments: October 2008

Gail: I hope the vice-presidential debate will be entertaining. An experienced, gaffe-prone Biden versus an inexperienced, gaffe-prone Palin.

Jon: I wonder how her handlers are preparing her for it.

Gail: She's probably overwhelmed by textbooks, murder boards, and advisors chanting, “Drill, baby, drill!”

[Prepping for General Conference]

Danny: Mommy, the crossword puzzles are more appropriate for Eric and the coloring pages are more appropriate for me, even though I might scribble-scrabble. And I do the memory matching game to im- to get more memory.

Mommy: Oh! If you do it enough, will you gain a few gigs?

Danny: Yes.

"I will try to resist the urge to dance in circles around her, waving the report and making Indian war-whoops. But I can't promise I'll succeed."
--Gail, vindicated after a disagreement with an administrator.

Drat. This means I have to behave at that meeting.”

--Gail, after listening to General Conference. See above.

Well, I didn't get the chance to gloat in person, but I like Jon's theory that she wasn't there because she already knew the outcome and was avoiding us assiduously.”

--After the meeting, where the administrator was conspicuously absent.

Come, Danny. We need to go help do pumpkin math in Eric's class. Not that Eric needs any help with math, of course...”

--Gail, in the front office of the school, seizing the serendipitous opportunity to gloat—subtly--in front of aforesaid administrator.

Gail: Redeemer...but he signed 'Savior' not 'Redeemer!' 'Israel?' Aaah, that was too fast, do it again! 'happy' 'blessing'...What was that? Oh, curses! Wait. I shouldn't be cursing things on a Sunday while watching General Conference.

Jon: Is that ozone I smell...?

--I was trying to follow the ASL interpretation of Conference hymns. And got frustrated on occasion.

Twice a year for General Conference, the boys and I traditionally construct a tent in the living room. The boys can play quietly in there pretending they are camped out and listening to King Benjamin's great sermon. (Which, if you think about it, was General Conference: Nephite Edition.)

[Playing in the traditional general conference tent]

Danny: Mommy, you be the kid and I will be the grown-up.

Mommy: [Whining] No! I'm tired of that game! I want to do something else.

Danny: [Firmly] But human kid, I am the grown up so I say that we have to do it.

Mommy: [Throws a temper tantrum which includes weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. And kicking the carpet.]

Danny: Human kid, stop that.

Mommy: Why? And you can't make me!

Danny: [Looks trapped] Um...I will get you a toy?

Mommy: [suspiciously] Well, let's see it.

Danny: [goes upstairs, grabs a toy, and brings it back]

Mommy: [inspecting it] I guess it's okay. Do you mean that if I calm down, I can keep it?

Danny: Yes!

Mommy: Okay, I will calm down. That's a relief. Throwing a tantrum is exhausting!

--Jon was interjecting comments about how Danny had opened a dangerous door by bribing me to be good. I should note that we don't tend to bribe kids that way--except in advance, like before a big car ride--so I don't know why Danny tried it. I guess he realized he wasn't big enough to sit on me and make me stay in time out.

[Boys playing]

Eric: Who is there?

Danny: No, Eric, you should say 'whom is there?'.

--Technically that is not correct because it was the nominative, not objective case. But I appreciated the effort.

---Technically, the editorial note above is not correct because I used a sentence fragment beginning with a coordinating conjunction. But if you know the rules, yer allowed to break'em.

Jon has been inundating me with techno-babble all week. I don't mind, but I keep thinking, 'So if, according to the interviewer, only 1% of trained computer engineers got that question right, what on Earth makes Jon think I can follow the gritty, gory details?' Still, I grasped that the interview went well (which doesn't surprise me) and that Jon is very, very smart (which I already knew).”


Daddy, I only had to give Eric one assignment, and now all the clothes are cleaned up.”

--Danny. (He has been very bossy lately.)

Danny: Will you play with me?

Mommy: You know, honey, I just don't feel like playing today.

Danny: Why not?

Mommy: I don't know. I'm just not in the mood.

Danny: But I want you to play with me!

Mommy: I'm flattered. I will probably play with you tomorrow. And I enjoy playing with you! Just not today.

Danny: [cannily switching tactics] Oh, but Mommy, if you don't play with me, you can't read books to me, either.

Mommy: [Surprised] You wouldn't allow me to read books to you?

Danny: Yes. [Nods sadly] That is the consequence.

Mommy: Oh dear! That would be a loss. What about reading books with you? Or reading you like a book?

Danny: No, Mommy, you will lose all your reading privileges.

Mommy: [Blinks in astonishment] [Successfully represses a smile] That is a convincing argument. It almost makes me want to reconsider. [Note: It really did. I almost caved.] But my original decision stands. [Mulls briefly] So, does this mean that if I play with you tomorrow, you have to read a book with me?

Danny: [Pause, trapped] ...Yes. Only, Mommy, you have to play with me today to earn your reading privileges for tomorrow.

Mommy: So, if I play with you tomorrow, you will considerately allow me to read a book to you the day after.

Danny: Yes.

Mommy: Very noble of you. I will miss reading to you today and tomorrow... [pouts] [Danny sees the pout and melts a bit, but holds firm] ...but I guess that's the result of my choice.

Danny: [Nods sadly, like a parent talking a wayward child through natural consequences.]

--Jon, by the way, was cracking up. I, however, managed to keep a straight face. [Preens primly] I believe this demonstrates that my four-year-old understands about consequences. So obviously I have done something right.

---Danny relented the next day. After I had played with him, he allowed me limited reading privileges for the day, meaning I was allowed to read him like a book. Obviously he is a pushover, and I will soon become deft at taking advantage of him!

[Eric was in charge of Family Home Evening.]

Eric: Simon says, 'Go downstairs and do whatever you want.'

Gail and Jon: [Glance at each other conspiritorily, race downstairs, and start kissing on the couch.]

Eric: Stop!

[Jon tries to stop]

Gail: Hey! You were tricked, but I wasn't! It's not fair for me to be 'out' because you refused to cooperate!

Gail: [Tries to say something but is interrupted by a huge yawn.]

Jon: Sorry, I don't speak Wookie.

[Mommy's wrist watch beeps an alarm.]

Mommy: Eric! Get your shoes on! It's time to go get you from school.

[Eric was tracked out, but my watch didn't know that.]

Why do people keep asking me if Eric and Danny are twins? I mean, apart from their height difference, Eric looks like me but acts like you, while Danny looks like you but acts like me.”

--Gail, to Jon.

The good news is, Jon expects to be laid off very soon. The bad news is, it hasn't happened yet.” [Pause] “I am fully cognizant of the irony, yes.”

--The issue was that if Jon quit, he'd have to repay several thousand dollars of tuition assistance. If he got laid off, the company would give him several thousand dollars of severance pay. The end result, Jon seeking employ elsewhere, was unavoidable, given his company's financial...distress.

[The following online chat transcript has been modified slightly for readability.]

Gail: ...three of Jon's major four leads are in Austin.

Mark: Do you need a passport to go to TX? Or a TX passport to visit the grandparents?...Texas is a big country. ;)

Gail: lol. But it would be long-term, so we'd either need a work visa or a change in citizenship.

I must say...if you subscribe to the 'torture the character' method of plot generation, this was brilliant. Making a fifteen-year-old boy the adoptive mother of a baby girl dragon really is sadistic. Forcing him to be the principal potty-trainer of a monster with highly acidic excrement is just diabolical. What better answer to the question, 'Now, what's the worst thing I could possibly do to this character...?' “

--Gail, after reading DragonHaven by Robin McKinley. you need to learn how to evaluate and weigh your sources. Let's look through these books and decide which we should take home with us. You can read through them, and then together we can plan what the castle will look like...”

--Gail, guiding Eric through the research phase of a lego-castle-building track-out project. The librarian was very taken with us and kept dropping by to foist new non-fiction resources upon us. :)

A MegaBloks tower bridge. The first twenty attempts to assemble it inevitably resulted in a collapse, crash, and cry of "They're all out of spec! I want Legos! Dad should do a TQM paper on this!" Eric got very frustrated and quit. I finally used Legos to modify, stabilize, and strengthen the design. And also to improve the architecture. (I added in the portculis and drawbridge chains, for instance.) Note: MegaBloks look very cool, but Legos are absolutely worth the extra money. They are definitely high-precision, quality-controlled tools.

"MegaBloks are for architects. Legos are for engineers."

--Gail, for obvious reasons.

Gail: We just don't have the resources to make a good castle. Even a few hundred gray bricks would help so much. And we are orders of magnitude away from a superlative castle, like Bob Carney's creations. *pout*

Jon: A few hundred? How many bricks does Bob Carney use?

Gail: Oh...twenty thousand or so.

[Gail and Jon gape in awe at pictures from the website linked above]

Gail: Wow. WOW. [drools] Oh, wow... You know, Christmas is coming...

Jon: That looks...expensive.

Gail: I could create a wishlist and you could purchase small bunches of bricks here and there...

Jon: That still sounds expensive.

Gail: [Gazing at Jon with big, innocent, slightly-hurt, liquid puppy eyes] When we got engaged, you promised me a castle. I've waited years and years for you to keep your promise. Perhaps you could consider a Christmas present of a few hundred legos as a minimally-expensive downpayment toward redeeming your word. After all, it would be something like a 1/100th scale model. And I'd provide all the labor myself...[Flutters eyelashes irresistably. And unfairly.]

--I should mention a few things. First, I am not completely lost to economic reality. Lego castle bricks are not a necessity of life, and I shan't insist upon them. Given a choice between books and legos, I'd choose books. Given a choice between legos and children, I'd choose my children. Given a choice between starving and selling my books to feed my children, I'd...[mournful pause] feed my children. [Whimper]

Second, at the time, I was in manic-project-mode. In another few weeks, my acquisition addiction will fade. Jon knows that if he waits a bit, I will likely find other things to obsess about.

Still, the persistent vision of a 3,000 square-foot house, with a small room filled with thirty-thousand legos and huge scale models of castles...well, it's not very practical, and not as compelling as a $2 million castlesque home, but it's much more plausible than a real castle.

My second attempt at a castle. This time I designed everything myself. Sadly, Eric did not end up helping much. Even more sadly, I had only enough brick for a single tower, not several concentric walls with turrets. Sadliest, I'm ashamed to say it was flimsy construction, due to the poor materials. Even sadliester of all, it wasted several hours because it kept collapsing halfway through construction, forcing me to start over. My Lego double-reinforcements helped it survive the photo shoot, but soon there was "not left here one stone upon another."

"This is totally a schloss, not a burg."

--Gail, pouting to Jon, explaining that her new tower, though aesthetically pleasing, was not built to withstand a siege of hyper-active children. In German, a schloss is a castle that is more of a palace. A burg is an actual defensive castle. And a festung is a super-fortress! According to a high school teacher, French also differentiates between chateaux de guerre (castles of war) and chateaux de renaissance (palaces). Note that my blog title translates to "Berry Castle," and my email address, roughly, to "unconquered castle." I like renovated fourteenth-century castles, which are modern enough to have amenities, but old enough to have real defenses.

"I would prefer to create castles that are well-built! The whole point is to have some redundancy engineered in! Something that can withstand a two-year-old kicking it and take minimal damage! As my father's daughter, I am appalled at how flimsy the thing is! You shouldn't have to tiptoe around, worrying about carrying a castle wrong. If a giant picked up Hohensalzburg with reasonable caution, would it implode into rubble? How would my poor tower hold up against a three-inch cannon, I ask you? Or against a Papo-figurine-sized catapult?...Okay, I'm done ranting."

--Gail, ranting about the above tower. Have I mentioned that I want grey lego bricks for Christmas?

Festung Hohensalzburg, one of the largest and best-preserved medieval fortresses in Europe, towering above the city. From our trip in March, 2003.

Jon threatened to make Danny live in a cardboard box in the backyard today. (Danny had been banging, slamming, messing, and destroying things wantonly. Not in a temper-tantrumy way, but just exuberant carelessness.) Danny didn't even notice, but Eric became very concerned on his brother's, behalf. “What about food? Would he come inside to eat? What if it gets cold at night...?”

--Gail, talking to Carolyn online.

[Another minimally-modified online transcript.]

Gail: *sigh* How can I work with the bedtime story prompt, "And I want it to be a story about the whole family goes camping and the stuffed animals come and there is a sympathy card on the pillow."

Carolyn: lol. I think you could do quite an admirable job

Gail: (I should note that I have already told MANY camping stories. And camping stories with stuffed animals. And camping stories where all the stuffed animals play "Capture the Flag" in the dark in the woods. Etc., Etc.)

Carolyn: I see

Gail: Well, I admit that the "Capture the Flag" one was fun. But other than that, it's getting old.

Gail: But...this is WRONG.

Carolyn: ?

Gail: Tennessee at Georgia. SEC. Dixie.

Carolyn: what are you talking about?

Gail: Georgia just scored, and their band started playing "Battle Hymn of the Republic".

Carolyn: hahahaha

Gail: "Glory, glory, Hallelujah..." I'm not kidding. It's insane!!! I mean, Georgia! It's like they don't remember Sherman burning Atlanta! (And everything else.)

Carolyn: maybe those confederate wounds have finally been healed?

The playset has completely recouped itself.”

--Gail, after enjoying the wonder of a simple birthday party. I let the kids run around outside and I didn't even try to structure very much.

'Oh my ears and whiskers!' At least we're doing something right!”

--Gail, after listening to a radio program about under-privileged kids and vocabulary. They cited a study which said that the single-biggest predictor of an adult's success is the number of different words he's exposed to during early childhood.

And I had a brilliant plan and so I got some of Daddy's pieces but not all of them.”

--Danny's report after playing chess with Jon for the first time.

Jon: I was sweating. And if I had lost to a seven-year-old, I would never live it down...”

Gail: I lost to a four-year-old once...

Jon: Yeah, but you probably never saw him ag—wait, who was it?

Gail: Ronald. He might have been five. But it was embarrassing. He had put me in check the turn before, but I hadn't noticed and had failed to protect my king, so then he “captured” my king with his rook. I started to explain that, technically, the last two moves had been illegal and we needed to back up, but quickly realized that even if I could bring myself to snatch away his brilliant victory, I probably couldn't explain the nuances of the situation, and he'd refuse to believe that he hadn't won. [Pause] Of course, in my defense, I would have been eleven or twelve. For you as an adult...Well, there's no real shame in losing to Eric.

Eric: But, Danny, I don't want to be screw-drived!

Mommy: [Pedantically] Screw-driven.

Mommy: So, Eric, if the base price is $1.30 and I have a coupon for 50 cents, what would I end up paying out of pocket?

Eric: Is it a store coupon or a manufacturer's coupon? Because I think a manufacturer's coupon would double...

--Eric helped me to do grocery math while he was tracked out. He assisted in figuring out which deals would get a lower price per ounce. At one point, he got furious at me because I “skipped” a step when I said “...and this 50 cent coupon doubles so it's $1.00 off...” before asking him to figure the price per ounce. He accused me of ruining the problem by helping him.

Eric? Where are you? Errriiiic... Oh no! Where did he go? [Melodramatically] How will I ever explain this to his Daddy? I will have to call Jon at work and say, 'I only turned my back for a second and your son disappeared! Vanished into thin air!' Oh, this is dreadful! Daddy will be furious, and he will never trust me with children again! [pause] And why is my shopping cart giggling?”

--Mommy. It was an amazing shopping cart. It not only giggled, it also talked and did math problems!

No, you didn't crash, you just fell.”

--Eric, leading Danny around by the hand. Danny had put a pillowcase over his head and was pretending to be blind. This was inspired by my asking if the cane he had constructed out of k'nex pieces were for physical injury or vision impairment.

This time you will be blind and I will lead you down the stairs.”

--Danny, to Eric. Fortunately they didn't crash into—excuse me, fall—into a ditch.

[I was editing a paper for Carolyn.]

Carolyn's paper: "Walking the halls of Westminster each day I seized..."

Gail: LOL!!! Um, dangling participle. This makes it sound like you put the halls of Westminster on a leash and dragged the recalcitrant puppy outside for a daily constitutional stroll in the park.

Carolyn: hahahahahaha

Gail: I know!!! I am laughing and Jon is like, "What???" And I'm laughing so hard I can't even tell him what's so funny.

But, Mommy, falling asleep only makes me more tired!”

--Danny, whining about bedtime. Obviously I should let him stay up all night so he'll have more energy.

There's a Mommy and Daddy watch!”

--Danny, after bedtime. The forecast was quite accurate. Environmental conditions were indeed rife: children talking loudly, sneaking out of bed, and playing after lights-out do tend to breed suspicious, stormy parents.

Eric: [Proudly displays his tinker-toy creation]

Mommy: Oh, a cube—no, a rectangular solid. Very nice.

Eric: And I ran out of regular sticks so I used two smaller ones instead.

Mommy: Excellent. You used the materials available to solve the problem. That's real engineering; engineers can't always implement the perfect solution, but they can design the best possible, most efficient and cost-effective practical one.

Jon took an Artificial Intelligence class in college. On the first day, the professor stood up and said, 'Rocks are brilliant. Rocks are amazing. Rocks can add up huge columns of numbers in their heads! Unfortunately, they have rotten I/O interfaces.' It's the same for autistic kids: they might be geniuses, but if they can't communicate, how would we know?”

--Gail, at a parent-teacher conference, agreeing that while getting Eric differentiated curriculum is important, it is also very important to help him practice expressing his ideas.

Even though Mommies don't roll over, can I use a Mommy from one night for the next?”

--Eric. He meant that the boys are only allowed two “Mommy...”s per night after being tucked in. Even though he can't hoard them (spend only one tonight and then three tomorrow), he wanted to know if he could take an advance (say “Tomorrow night, I would like...”). The judge issued a firm ruling: no. [Slams gavel]

Well, pretend that Modern English has two cousins: French on it's mom's side, and German on it's dad's...It has a lot of simple words and grammar in common with German, and a lot of fancier, longer words in common with French. French and German are not all that similar...except that they are third cousins themselves, since all the languages I just mentioned come from Proto-Indo-European. It's like how you are very similar to Danny and somewhat similar to your cousin D-, but you have very little in common with D-'s other cousins on his dad's side...”

--Gail, drawing a (very simplified) genealogy chart for Eric after he asked a question about...something. Synonyms or “stock words” or something. We got out the language map in my dictionary and he asked tons of intelligent follow-up questions and we had a marvelous, educational track-out morning! Have I mentioned that he'd be fun to home school?

I am proud to say that even in transition, screaming at Jon to go faster and run red lights, I still refrained from cursing.”

--Gail, describing Danny's dramatic birth in a conversation with the neighbors.

Walk, don't run...go around, not through...personal reverent...I sound like a traffic cop.”

--Gail, directing the boys' audobon driving in the country lane church.

Eric: Mommy?

Mommy: Yes?

Eric: Mommy... [stares off blankly into space]

Mommy: Yes, Eric?

Eric: Mommy, I...Mommy, I want...[long pause] Mommy, I want...[longer pause]...

Mommy: A predicate. I want a predicate.

Eric: What?

Mommy: A verb. A direct object. Anything!

Daniel. Your father is more important than you are.”

--Mommy. That sounds harsh, but the child has to learn not to interrupt. And he'll be happier in the long run if he's not egocentric and if his parents have a good marriage.

But, Mommy, there will be a surprise next week and that's why I am not going to tell you anything about my day today.”

--Danny, after preschool. I ascertained that he had imposed a gag order on himself lest he slip and reveal classified information. I thought it demonstrated remarkable discipline from a four-year-old who normally likes to chatter.

Mommy: I'm sorry, Daniel. I thought I knew the way to the farmer's market, but I must have taken a wrong turn. I have called now and gotten directions, but by the time we get there we will be very late. Would you rather try to join your class field trip late, or would you rather go to the church and help decorate for the Halloween party?

Danny: Go to the church! Because, Mommy, I know you won't get lost if we go there!

Mommy: [Blushing] [Mutters] I am duly chastened.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Eric's Birthday Party

Eric turned 7 last month, but due to scheduling issues, his birthday party was delayed until yesterday.

Eric chose airplanes for his theme this year. I issued simple but fun invitations. The formatting doesn't look as pretty in my blog, but you can get the idea below:

Eric Berry Air


Name of Passenger:

Daniel Berry

Traveling to:


Carrier Flight Date Time

EBA PARTY Oct 11 1:00-3:00 p.m.

*Passengers are allowed carry-on parents,

if desired. Please confirm your reservation

with your travel agent, Gail Berry, at

(***) ***-****. If you need to bring extra

carry-on family (such as siblings), please

alert the airline to make the necessary

arrangements. Boarding begins at

1:00 p.m. from Terminal B Gate 7.

Eric Air is a discount carrier with limited

cargo capability. Please try to limit your

checked baggage. (Translation: you don't

need to bring presents. Really. Of course,

no one is ever required to bring presents,

but you know what I mean.)

The cake was not my fanciest, but it was easy and edible. It contained sufficient sugar and the children seemed content.

Eric Airlines cake. Candle inventory: one candle at the tail and one on each wing (collision lights) and four below (runway lights) make a total of seven. (Yes, the runway should be green. Or black. Don't quibble.)

Eric blowing out the candles. Let's hope he's instrument rated if he's planning to pilot the plane in the dark!

The party went well. We had six kids besides Eric and Danny. The playset was a big hit, as was the wooden castle. Both have more than recouped themselves because they saved me from needing to supervise more structured games. It was a low-key party, really more of a play date, except for the cake and ice cream. And the traditional Homer Happy Birthday song (about death and dismay) that my Dad learned at girl's camp.

Still, my favorite part may well have been several weeks ago, on Eric's actual birthday. He had been asking me for puzzles and challenges for several days, so I obliged him. I sent him on a treasure hunt to find his birthday presents. (A Choose Your Own Adventure book and an excellently-illustrated chemistry dictionary for children.)

The clues run as follows:

Happy birthday, Eric dear!

You'll be seven all this year.

But “Where's my present?” you may ask.

Well, first you must complete a task.

If you can solve this puzzle, then

You'll be the cleverest of men.

What's that you say? You're still a boy?

Oh no! I did not buy a toy!

Instead, I got a book or two.

A special gift from us to you.

Now here's the first clue you must solve:

How can you see the world revolve?

Now, number two. It cannot be:

A rectangle with corners three?

And yet it's so. At night, and oft,

One corner disappears aloft.

You got it. Humph. I'll try again

To bog you down in marsh and fen.

(That was a metaphor, you know

Which means you'll get confused and so

Give up, or pause, or play awhile

Distracted by your Mommy's guile.)

Or, “bogged” may mean, as you might guess,

You've gotten stuck in mud or mess.

Now, where's a messy spot 'round here?

My kitchen? (No!) In Danny's ear?

Where do clothes, books, and toys converge?

(Hint: Place that, presently, we'll purge.)

Just wade through there, and in the rear

You'll see a chasm, grim and drear

Just step inside! Yes, have no fear!

Your present should be somewhere near!

Happy birthday, Eric dear!

I hope my budding engineer

Approves his present; after all--

Aha! Already you're in thrall.

I'll tiptoe softly from the room

And go prepare a different doom.

I must create ('cause I'm depraved)

A dinner daring few have braved.

I am pleased to report that he was quite taken with the book. (Score one for Mommy's fiction campaign.) He was also quick to figure out the clues.

I am holding the answers hostage until I get more comments. (Please! I crave comments!) A few daring souls might even entertain the rest of us by posting their guesses!

All in all, a successful birthday operation. Now I just need to get through Christmas, followed by the January triple crown: Jon's birthday, Danny's birthday, and Grandma Homer's birthday all within fifteen days of each other.

The most terrifying part is that next year, Eric turns 8. I keep trying to convince my boys not to grow up, but they insist upon it. (I also try to convince them that, if they're so keen to grow up, they should take shortcuts and skip certain years, like ages 13-15. Alas, that hasn't worked either.)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Mommiest Moments: September 2008

“Mommy, there was a stampede of wild hangers.”

--Danny, explaining the tangle in the closet.

A Stampede of Wild Hangers. Let's hope my cowboys are skilled at roundin'em up.

“Carolyn thinks I'm odd because I had a dream about cannibalistic zombie hot dogs.”

--Gail. It was awful, I tell you! Sheets of hot dogs were spewing from grates and drains everywhere. I was hacking at them madly with a short sword while trying to command the magic university's campus defenses...

Mommy: Eric, did you try reading your Time Warp Trio book while waiting in the carpool room?
Eric: I wasn't that bored.
--I will not give in on my quest to make him read more fiction! I won't!

"Mommy, will you tell me a commercial bedtime story? And Ursa Major will be in it because Bear is the daddy and he had to go to work all day and all night."
--Danny. Fortunately, Jon's almost-all-nighters seem to have ended now.

Danny: Do I start school soon?
Mommy: Yes. Next week!
Danny: Yay! But wait. Who will help you if I'm not here?

[First day of school]
Mommy: Bye, honey. [Hug] [Deadpan] I will do my very best to handle things without your help.
Danny: Okay. [Nods seriously, then disappears into his new classroom.]
--Am I a bad mother because I don't cry at the start of school? Ever? (Freeeeedom!)

[After school]
Mommy: Was Maddie in your class?
Danny: No, but there was a new girl I made friends with.
Mommy: That's nice. What's her name?
Danny: [singing cadence] I don't know!
--You had to hear his inflection to get it. It was funny. Trust me.

[Wincing] "Much as I want to say, 'What are you talking about? My child is perfect!...' "
--Gail. Under less than ideal circumstances, obviously.

"I want a bedtime story about I-derry-keeka flooding his city with a potion of healing."
--Eric. I'm delighted that his imagination is improving, as are his story prompts!

"...So the young dragon, exasperated by all the adults' reasons why he couldn't have a pet, decided, in a defiant mood, that he would find the biggest, naughtiest, messiest, most hyper-allergenic, most mind-bogglingly expensive pet ever. He decided that as soon as school was over, he would go out and find a hurricane. Of course, the details of what he would do with the hurricane, and how he would tame it he decided to leave for later..."
--Mommy, telling a bedtime story.

Homework question: What is something special about this person?
Eric: My Mommy tells funny bedtime stories.
--Awww! I love having my work appreciated!

"Mommy! You forgot to give me my allergy medication! And my vitamins! And I don't think Eric had his, either!"
--Danny. I swear, it's like having a tiny adult. That is, when he's chiding, not whining.

Gail: "...And for only $1.49 out of pocket, I got a tube of toothpaste and a diabetes monitor! And I figured this one out all by myself!"
Carolyn: But, why did you need...?
Gail: That's an excellent question!
--The answer is that I got it for better-than-free. I ended up earning more in rebates than I paid for the thing. And I will happily give it to a person with a legitimate need. Anyone want an AccuChek compact diabetes monitoring kit, the market value of which is roughly $50 to $75? (I should mention that I made a minor error in my calculations. I had thought I would pay 50 cents out of pocket, and it ended up a dollar extra. Ah well, I am still an acolyte. This is no fault of my amazing mentors, though!

"That...that may possibly be brilliant! And even have merit!"
--Gail, to her mother, who had made an excellent suggestion about how to create coupon storage pockets. ("Manufacture your own," she said. "You have a Bernina. It can do anything!") Which advice I followed, mostly. (Being a rebel Gail, a "never-read-the-manual" Gail, naturally I had to make some slight personalized modifications. It turned out wonderfully, despite my tweaks, and received many compliments!)

Left: The inside flap of my coupon binder, complete with scissors, calculator, and pockets for "active" coupons. Right: Sample pages of cleaning supplies, configured 8 and 9 to a page.

"Are you saying her pretender isn't as good as yours?"
--Eric. With a twinkle in his eye.

"I will not say that I was wrong. Merely that converted."
--I never like to admit I'm wrong. (Especially to Jon, with whom I have a standing joke that I am always right.) I used to say that clipping coupons was not worth my time. However, when my couponing mentors tell stories like "And then the cashier opened the cash register and paid me fourteen cents to haul away my groceries," even I will swallow my pride and say, "Where do I sign...?

Mommy: Danny, you are doing such a great job reading! Let's set a goal. If you read an entire Dr. Seuss book out loud to me, I will buy you ice cream at Goodberry's.
Eric: [Hopefully] Mommy, if I read a Dr. Seuss book...?
Mommy: No. For your level, reading one of the Chronicles of Narnia would be more appropriate.
Eric: But it will take me a very long time to read that out loud!
Mommy: You could read it silently to yourself, and in stages.
Eric: But then how will you know I actually read it?

"Why do both my boys resist reading fiction? Well, one of them resists fiction, and the other resists reading.”
--Gail. It forces me to think up silly stories, crazy characters, improbable plots, and magical machinations almost daily! Woe is me!

[Speaking of highly imaginative stories...]

Gail: “...And the secretary at Eric's school looked at me funny because I was talking to Danny about the etymological origins of the word "alphabet" (From Greek alpha, if our "ABCs" turned into its own word). And when Danny asked if "QOD" spelled anything, I said no, but then taught him that "QED" stands for quod erat demonstratum, and what it means. Why does everyone think it strange that I have educational conversations with my 4 1/2-year-old son?

Mark: They're jealous.

Gail: They're jealous that I have dreams about getting locked up in a psych ward, stalked by a guy who is honestly insane (not just a little crazy), fomenting a revolution against the nursing staff, leading my crazy followers through the pharmacy full of hallucinogenic drugs, through a weird glass skybridge, and into the spirit world? (Talk about 'storming the gates of heaven!') They're jealous that my dreams create spiritual crises, because I discover doctrinal contradictions, like the spirit world is actually divided into four sections, not two? And the high-telestial kingdom is like a really dirty bus station with security guards/temple workers (wearing white uniforms/suits) kicking us out after business hours? And thinking, "But Danny's Bear shouldn't be able to manifest physically!” as Bear goes through an airport-style security screening before being permitted to move with us to the Terrestrial level?

--I wouldn't trade my imagination for anything. I love my imagination, even when it has very weird subconscious outlets.

"According to my statistics, Daddy has been telling me most of my bedtime stories lately, so I think it's likely that I will probably get a Mad Scientist story tomorrow."
--Eric. If statistics work that way, does it mean that a woman who has three boys in a row has a 3/4 chance of producing another boy with the next pregnancy?

Danny: Mommy, I will help you clean tomorrow and that means that I won't be able to work in my workshop but that's okay because Ursa Major will be in charge and she will tell everyone not to go in there.
--Getting ready for Book Club.

Mommy: So because the hurricane was being obstreperous, the dragon lost control and crashed it into a forest several miles away, thus losing the bet.
Eric: [upset] But I think his friend did not realize it was the hurricane's fault!!!
Mommy: No, it was The Curse taking effect.
--The serial bedtime story this month is about a dragon named Timothy, his pet hurricane, and his curse to lose every game or competition he ever plays. The serial bedtime story last month was about Mommy's dream castle in the Monster World besieged by an army of Orexes (half elephant, half dinosaur, and bright orange) and rescued by SCA'ers. Before that was a really long, twenty-five chapter novella about peasants plotting a really well organized revolution.

"You have a really good ear."
--Eric's speech therapist. He has officially graduated! No more weekly trips to Wake Forest! We will definitely need to continue practice at home, though.

Eric: What should I name my new beaver? Mommy, do you have any suggestions?

Mommy: [Mulls it over] Hm. Hoover?

--This is also particularly apt given the financial turmoil of these times. I neglected to mention that to Eric, though. Let the kid enjoy his childhood.

"My Mommy tells better bedtime stories, but my Daddy tells them more often."
--Eric. Personally, I think Jon's Mad Scientist stories are also adorable and entertaining.

Danny: ...and then I read a book, and then I finished it and started another book but I didn't have time to finish it so I will read it again tomorrow...
Mommy: Wonderful! What was the book about?
Danny: I don't know!
--Again, you had to hear his inflection to get how funny it was.

Eric: But why is Danny in trouble?
Mommy: Because it is a consequence.
Eric: But what did he do?
Mommy: That's between Danny and me. He may tell you if he wishes.
Eric: Danny, will you tell me what you did?
Danny: Eric, no thank you.
Eric: [Frustrated] But I might not ever find out what happened!
Mommy: [Deadpan imitation of a British butler] Truly, I am overbrimming with sympathy.

--I went on to explain that often another person's mistakes are none of our business. I lectured about sin and the Bishop and the Sacrament, but I don't think it made a dent.

[Snuggling on the couch]
Mommy: Eric, what kind of girl would you like to marry when you grow up?
Eric: I think she should have a really good imagination.

Danny: Mommy, will you read me this book?
Mommy: Sure! Will you help me read it?
Danny: No thank you.
Mommy: How about two words on each page?
Danny: No, thank you.
Mommy: One word per page?
Danny: Mommy, no thank you. I want you to read it.
Mommy: [sighs] Okay. But If you don't help me, you might not like how I read it.
[Reads it blazing fast. Not quite as quickly as the "micromachine" ad guy from the 80s, but really fast.]
Danny: [blinking] Mommy, will you read it again? This time I will help you.
--Sweet reason and gentle persuasion.

"But why do garages have to have garage freezers?"


Eric: I need help with this homework.
Jon: [glancing quickly] It looks like a simple addition word problem...[reads] "Tim has twenty fish. Five are red. How many are blue?" Ah, I see the problem.
--Jon offered to help write a note to the teacher about specificity, but Eric declined. He was flexible and wrote down the answer the teacher wanted as opposed to a critique. Jon was proud, but also disappointed. ;)

"This reminds me of a story I heard about an Aspie middle-schooler. On his EOGs he had to write an essay based on the prompt "What would happen if a dinosaur egg hatched?" The kid wrote a very well-organized, well-argued critique of why the prompt was stupid, because dinosaurs are extinct, any of their fossilized eggs are millions of years old, the entire scenario was impossible, and the test-makers were idiots. A very well-written essay, other than his insults; sadly, it didn't "answer the question" and so he got no credit for it..."
--Gail. EOGs are End Of Grade tests.

Jon: So we're trying to create our own standard-cell library as discreetly as possible. If Munich gets involved, it will be awful.
Gail: 'May the Lord bless and keep the Czar...far away from us!'

“This is the trap I built that doesn't hurt good people but only bad people with spikes. “

--Danny. Jon immediately banned it from the house. Too dangerous. Especially if its sensor was set too high and it trapped naughty children along with bad ones.

"Poor Danny has been subjected to six hours of Pride and Prejudice while I clipped and organized coupons. I heard 'Can we please watch Veggie Tales now?' a lot."

"But why was Netherfield Hall vacant? And why did Mr. Bennet quarrel with his cousin, Mr. Collins' father? Did Mr. Bennet marry Mrs. Bennet because he got her pregnant? No, probably just because she flirted and he was flattered, the poor introvert. If Mr. Darcy was so snobby, why was he hanging out with Bingley all the time? How did Mr. Gardiner meet his wife if she grew up in Darbyshire? Why did they move to London? But the most vexing question of all is, 'How did Sir Lucas come to be knighted?'"
--Gail, trying to piece together an outline of what preceded Pride and Prejudice. Somebody should write a prequel!

"I want to play for my bedtime story. Wait. Mommy, I want a bedtime story that is a commercial that ends on a cliffhanger."

--Danny. I want you to know, I pulled it off.

"For my bedtime story, I want the next chapter about the dragon going on a quest to break the curse that he will lose every game he ever plays. Or about a hurricane that loses its wind and so isn't a hurricane anymore but just a tropical depression."


[Telling the story]
Mommy: Poor Joe. He moved in ever-widening circles laterally, but never found his spiraling winds. After a while, no longer hurricane but merely a tropical depression, he parked himself gloomily over a small island in the Atlantic and cried.
Eric: [giggling] But hurricanes can't cry!
Mommy: He wasn't a hurricane anymore. --And cried, and cried. Of course, the people on the island just thought it was raining a lot. But after a few years of this, they all started moving away--
Eric: But why was it just sitting there and crying and not moving?
Mommy: Because he was a tropical depression.

"Here, Mommy. You can be the caboose."
--Danny, generously giving up his spot in line when I volunteered in his preschool class. I refrained from pointing out that normally one allows a person to “cut” in front, not behind. It was a noble gesture on Danny's part.

"Drat! Another coupon for $1 instead of $0.99!"
--Gail. Some grocery stores automatically double coupons less than a dollar, see...

"I wonder how they'll manage a cockney accent in French."
--Gail, preparing to watch My Fair Lady with the French sound track.

"Dear Heavenly Father, please bless us to have a good morning, good afternoon, good noon, good night, good evening, and good day. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen."
--Danny, saying, ironically, the evening family prayer.

"Mommy, four plus one is five and four minus one is three! That is a hard math I figured out myself!"

"Daddy, that consequence is a good thing because it will help me not to be lazy."

“Our children are freaks!”

--Jon, after Danny's comment above.

Danny: Mommy, will you look in my bookbag?
Mommy: Of course! [Parks the van and rummages in the backpack while Danny buckles] Oh, this is a nice painting. That must be the orange that got on your shirt a few days ago. Is it a...truck?
Danny: It is a tractor.
Mommy: Of course. Oh, and this is also a very nice painting. The blue is so sparkly! That must be what got in your hair yesterday. And this that a castle or a house?
Danny: It is a house.
Mommy: And here I see how you drew a triangle with smaller triangles inside.
Danny: Mommy, actually it is a triangle roof with trapezoid windows.
Mommy: [Gaping slightly] Who taught you about trapezoids?
Danny: Nobody but I just did them anyway.
Mommy: Well, you're right. Those are certainly trapezoids. [Shakes her head and begins driving]

"Daddy, this is the art I did at school today and this is my name. I wrote it with an m because I am tired of writing two ns."

"Mommy, I want to be called Daniel at school." [Pause] "But at home, you may still call me Danny."


"Some idiot put this wrapper in the washer!"
--Eric, helping with the laundry. I can only say that I'm glad Jon and I don't use profanity!

"So, distracted by the chaos of a purple dragon chasing a mama sheep and her baby all around the cafeteria, our hero spelled e-w-e instead of y-o-u and lost the spelling bee. The other dragon children laughed and poor Timothy was so embarrassed! The Curse had struck yet again..."

[Eric's "challenge" homework. It was way too easy.]
Q: What do these numbers have in common?
A: They are reversed!
Jon: [checking Eric's work] No, they are symmetrically rotated. You need to fix this answer.

"Mommy, you forgot the period!"
--Eric, in Sacrament Meeting, calling after me as I walked to the organ. I had been in the middle of writing Danny a very simple story to keep him entertained.

[Coughing] "My stuffed animals were supposed to be non-allergenic pets!"
--Obviously they have been collecting too much dust. Also, obviously, this means I should play with them more. Poor dears.

"What happens when a hurricane goes to sleep?"

"At every store I went to this week, the cashier had to call the manager."
--Gail. It was always a sale/coupon issue. Naturally.

"Eric, when you are done with that book, I want to read it."
--Danny. (Hallelujah!)

"Why is it that when I make money off of coupons, it is for less nourishing food, like pop-tarts or pudding cups? Oh, right, because cheap carbs"
--Gail. My coupons actually did net money on those items; I paid $2.00 for the pudding cups and got $2.25 back in coupon savings. I will put them in the storage room and pack them in the occasional lunch.

"Mommy, I did not want you to purge my cup!"
--A family of perjurers. Purgers. Whatever.

[After escorting Danny to a roller-skating birthday party.]
Gail: I did not, alas, manage to fall and sprain my wrist.

Jon: This is a bad thing?

Gail: It would relieve me of music duty. When I was 15, I fell while skating (at a youth activity) and sprained my wrist badly. I couldn't play the piano or organ for a month. Except for my ad hoc performance at an emergency wedding at youth conference, but I had to fudge the bass line by plinking with my pinkie finger while moving my arm, not my wrist.

Jon: Wait. A wedding—at youth conference?

Gail: [Grinning] I love doing that to you!

--It's a true story. The stake president, a rather impulsive fellow, pulled me out of a youth dance and asked if I could play for a wedding. I smelled drama and entertainment—which was more than could be said for the dance—and agreed. I don't know why the bride and groom were being hustled into marriage—they didn't look like Fallen Sinners—but it was obvious the stake president had decided they needed to get married and was now vacuuming everyone else into his vortex of personality. Rather an amateur Miles Vorkosigan (a brilliant, hyperactive, and manipulative science fiction character who could somehow make people do whatever he wanted). The couple looked dazed, like they'd been enveloped by a tornado.

It was the oddest wedding I've ever seen. The mother of the groom arrived with a few minutes to spare, remarking (albeit pleasantly) that she wished she'd had more warning than a phone call an hour beforehand. President M-- went around the room and asked all the people present (there were less than a dozen) to offer a sage piece of advice to the new couple. He started to skip me, but I asserted myself and said, “Always present a united front to your children.” I suppose the incongruity of a teen-ager saying that was dwarfed by the other absurdities of the situation, like everybody sitting in the Relief Society room, singing the hymn "Love at Home" off-key as if it were a regular class or quorum meeting...

---I should mention that some of the details above may be faulty, but the core of the story is accurate.

----P. S. For more anecdotes about this crazy stake president, read the comments section.

Danny: But a while ago, why did a daddy get into his car and leave church without his kid even though he knew he needed to take his kid?
Mommy: Uh, honey, I have no idea what you're talking about.
Danny: [Frustrated, he yells, stressing each syllable] Mommy! Why. Did. A. Dad.Dy. Leave. His. Kid. At. CHURCH?
Mommy: Daniel. Yelling will not help me understand you better. As to why a father might leave his kid behind...maybe he thought she was going home with her mother. Maybe he thought she was in the car and didn't check. Maybe he simply forgot about her, though that's unlikely.
Danny: Or, maybe he got drunk but went to church anyway and then left his kid because he was drunk.

--I swear. I have not the least idea in the world where this came from.

"But, Daddy, I know Mommy will not be able to puzzle with you. But I will still have family home evening on Monday night."
--Danny. Jon was going out of town Monday and Tuesday for a business conference. Jon and I “puzzle” every night. We compete doing network puzzles and kakuros. And, when we have time, futoshikis.

"I think those are foothills and if we went that way we would get to mountains but the road doesn't go over there."
--Danny, looking out over some woods from an interstate overpass.

"I meant, the bridge was like a mountain"
--Danny, recovering smoothly when informed that the woods were just woods, not foothills.

"The good news is, Eric was immediately concerned about rescuing the bed monster from the fire. The bad news is, he didn't stop to put out the fire."
--I've been "playing" with Eric by leading him through a choose-your-own-adventure story.

“And then I came and I was four-and-a-half and I used my words and she was hearing and not deaf and so she gave Bear back!”

--Danny, interjecting comments into a story as I pushed him on the swing.

“That's okay, because Bear can still be a Daddy bear even if he has a cousin.”

--Danny. This was during a story about Bear getting lost in a toy store but serendipitously discovering his long-lost cousin Gertrude in one of the bins.

Mommy: The pudding cups are only for special treats because they are not very nutritious.

Eric: But it says “Good source of calcium”.

Danny: “I made an excursion with a purple crayon.”

Mommy: Was it on a piece of paper...?

Danny: [Pedantically] No, Mommy, an excursion means going out and doing something.

--(Turns out he had just drawn pictures of where he wanted to go.)

“So her litter of tantrumy, terrible-toddler tornados was too much for the poor Mama hurricane...”

--Mommy, telling another story about hurricanes. Have I mentioned that I'll be glad when hurricane season ends? Eric is entirely too obsessed with them.

“I putted it away.”

--Danny. I love allomorphs!

“Mommy, look, the twilight catched us!”

--Danny. (He meant that we could see the sunset again.)

“But Heavenly Father designed things so that they move when we are driving in the van.”

--Danny, explaining why the sunset was chasing us.

Danny: I want it to be a story about our whole family but there won't be any problem, just details.

Mommy: [Tells a story, which, lacking conflict, is quite boring.]

Danny: But, Mommy, you forgot to include what I told you about the magnets holding the ball diagonally in the story.

Mommy: But you inserted that halfway through! It wasn't in the original prompt!

Danny: But, Mommy!

Mommy: But you mentioned it so I didn't think I had to!

Danny: But, Mommy! It is part of the story!

Mommy: Fine. [Tacks it on at the end.]

Danny: But, Mommy, if you put it at the end, it will make the story twisted!

Danny: Mommy, here is a special snack for you! [Presents Mommy with milk and crackers.]

Mommy: Mmm. Delicious milk!

Danny: [modestly] Thanks! I made it myself.

Mommy: Boys, its time to purge the playroom.

Danny: Eric, I have one little assignment for you...

Jon: You kids will have to live with an imperfect globe since you didn't take good care of it. It looks like there's a huge crater in Iran.

Gail: 'Bomb, bomb, bomb...bomb bomb Iran...'

Gail: I don't know if I like this new organ or not.

Jon: Hopefully as you two spend more time together, you'll work out your differences and become good friends.

Eric: Danny tried to get out of the van first even though he should have let me!

Mommy: Eric, questions of precedence and protocol in exiting the van do not concern me. I'll let you two work it out yourselves.

Danny: Eric, I still will not play with you. Eric! Errrrric! [frustrated growl] ERIC!!!

Eric: [Finally looking up from his reading his birthday present, a Choose Your Own Adventure book] What?

Danny: I still will not play with you!!!

“We shall have a pleasant snuggle.”

--Eric. I'm enjoying this phase while it lasts!

So, when asked about health care, Bob Barr said, 'Government shouldn't be involved.' Ron Paul said, 'Let the private sector handle it! I see no constitutional justification for government to meddle...' John McCain answered with his standard speech about businesses competing more. Barack Obama quickly outlined his proposal for the government to do more. But Ralph Nader of the Green Party surprised everyone by saying, 'I think we need an environmentally friendly solution. We need to invest in a Manhattan-style project to develop a potion of healing, and then mass produce it and get it into the water supply. In fact, we could lace hurricanes with it...'”

--Mommy, telling Yet Another Bedtime Story about hurricanes and potions of healing. Under protest.

“Hey! A Homer, even one by adoption, can do anything!”

--Gail, giving Jon a pep talk before a job fair.

“Jon blinked. 'You really like me, so you want me to go work for a direct competitor in a job you guarantee I'll hate?'”

--Gail, describing an odd experience Jon had at the job fair. (The issue is that the gentleman in question would love to hire Jon—who wouldn't?—but won't have the resources for a year or so.)