Fifth Grade Reading

I’ve been reading a biography of Lillian Moller Gilbreth, industrial psychologist and efficiency engineer, and thinking of a book two of her children wrote about their family, Cheaper by the Dozen.

I first encountered the Gilbreths in the fifth grade because my teacher, Sharon McKenna, read to the class for about a half an hour a day after lunch. Now, my readers know that for all I love to read, there are few pleasures I enjoy more than being read to.

“Read to kids in the fifth grade?” I hear you cry indignantly. “Shouldn’t the lazy little monsters read for themselves?”

Nonsense! It was a brilliant idea. No-one had to convince me to read. The trouble was prying books out of my hands long enough to do other things. No, it was the brilliance of having the teacher pick some books and read them aloud. Captive as I was in school anyway, it exposed me to books I might not otherwise have read. While my fondness for science fiction ensured that I’d pick up A Wrinkle in Time at some point, my general tastes would never have pushed me to get a book about a boy and his dogs like Where the Red Fern Grows, nor is there any way I would have picked up what I would have seen as essentially a fluff nostalgia piece like Cheaper by the Dozen.

Yet these books remain among my favorites to this day.

I learned more than I realized. A fifth-grader doesn’t have the sophistication to read between the lines and figure out that “Mother” in Cheaper by the Dozen was essentially a simply drawn foil for the over-exuberant “Dad.” But, the charm of the book stuck with me and led me to investigate the actual lives and professions of Dr. and Mr. Gilbreth many years later.

Though, no, I’ve never been able to use a tesseract.

Great Literature

Now, I read a lot.  I know, big secret.  But, online social media being what it is, there are websites that will quantify that.   I tend to track my reading through Goodreads, where you can track your books, list what you’ve read and when you’ve read it, and interact with friends online about what you read.

I try to read about a book a week.  Call it fifty books a year.  More than the average for an American, but I know several people who read more. That’s cool.  I’m happy with how much I read.

Fifty books a year is a lot.  Well, it looks like a lot until you look at what I’m reading.  Some of it is Serious Literature, or Serious Non-fiction.  That tends to be history, biography and cultural analysis, with a bit of self-help and motivational thrown in.

Otherwise?   I read all over the place.  Science fiction, fantasy, sentimental late 19th century stuff that probably had yellow covers when it came out, children’s literature, YA, classics, men’s adventure, horror, you name it.

With that experience, I find myself impatient with people who are necessarily proud of themselves for only being into Great Literature.  Is there such a thing?  God, yes.  But it’s simpler than people think

Great Literature is Great Literature because a lot of people over a long period of time read it, loved it and took it to heart.   Can we analyze why this is so?  Again, God yes.  Can we predict if something new will become such?

Not so much.  It takes time.  Harry Potter is a great example.  People have loved it and it’s a phenomenon.  Will people love it 100 years from now? Dunno. I would say I doubt it.  A lot of its charm is the juxtaposition against late 20th century life.  I could also be dead wrong. People still love Dickens, and a lot of his work requires an understanding of the times.

It’s about the love that people put into it over time that makes Great Literature.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

Immersion Reading

Amazon has this new thing called “Immersion reading” for some of its books.  The basic deal is if you buy a book, you have the option of buying an accompanying audiobook for a very small fee and then reading along with the book as it is narrated.  The syncing mechanism will sync the narration with the text, so you can switch between audiobook and written word with ease.

Me?  I like the concept but it’s more of a way to get cheap audiobooks than it is a different way to read a book.  I read, quite literally, over ten times faster than people speak. To follow along in a book with a narration would be a serious irritant.  I’m more likely to use it switching between listening and reading.  Or would, if I didn’t download audiobooks and physically add them to an iPod that doesn’t use an Audible app, and won’t sync in any case.  Listening to a book on my smartphone means a heavy device that has too little battery.  I listen for hours at a time while I’m doing housework and stuff.

I still like the concept.  A book in French?  It’d help immensely with my language comprehension.  For someone trying to bring reading skills up to scratch (child or adult), it’s a great idea.  But since it works on Kindle Fires and the smartphone apps, I’m dubious that it will be used much except among the affluent, and maybe I’m wrong, but I’m going to have to assume that most adults who can afford to buy this stuff read just fine.

Has anyone else tried this and what do you think of it?

Knitting: The Expensive Hobby

I was reading a discussion board recently where someone was complaining how expensive knitting was as a hobby, and quoted a price of $75 in materials for a sweater, saying that was really an expensive sweater.

Retail? Not really. At least, not for the good, well-constructed stuff of good materials. Hell, a Dale of Norway authentic Norwegian sweater costs over $300, and I have never spent anywhere close to that in materials for a garment I’ve made.

That being said, I’ve also never walked into a department store and dropped $75 on a sweater in my life!

So, is knitting an expensive hobby?

Certainly it can be. If you’re buying the Martian spidersilk yarn dyed with crushed rubies, yeah, it’s going to be expensive. Me? Wool of the Andes for many of my projects. Or even Lion Brand’s Fisherman’s wool for bulky projects. You’re still looking at way under $50 for most sweaters. Since I expect at least ten years of wear out of a sweater, I don’t feel like that’s really a poor investment.

And the perception that acrylics or acrylic blends are automatically cheaper is quite inaccurate. Wool-ease, a common alternative to 100% wool yarn , is actually a bit more expensive than my usual Wool of the Andes. In doing the math, Wool of the Andes is actually cheaper. $2.26/100 yards for Wool of the Andes v. $2.29/100 yards for the Wool Ease acrylic blend. That’s a no-brainer for me, who actually prefers to knit in 100% wool. A sweater for me runs around 1350 yards, so you’re looking at a little over $30 for a sweater.

Me? Since it takes me a bit over 40 hours to make a sweater, you’re looking at less than a dollar an hour for entertainment, and I get a garment that I can expect to last me into my mid-fifties that fits me better, is unique, and costs me less than I am likely to find in a department store.

For me, it’s worth it and then some. I assure you I drop many times the amount I spend on knitting materials for books, audiobooks and my Netflix account! You who have cable TV with its millions of channels? I bet your spend even more than I do on other forms of entertainment that do not give you anything tangible at the end.    

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* I could count Internet with some legitimacy, but I don’t. It’s a necessary business expense.

Warehouse Stores and Cooking

I used to shop at warehouse stores more often than I do these days. I’d let my membership lapse. But when I got into bulk cooking again, buying in bulk started to make more sense, so the family renewed the membership. I’d gotten used to one-stop shopping for a lot of stuff, and there are things that warehouse stores are great for. Meat is usually multiple dollars a pound cheaper. That alone makes it worth it to me to have the membership, even if I don’t buy anything else there.

Of course, I do buy other things there, but it does drive me a little crazy that there are definitely things warehouse stores aren’t good for at all. If you cook from scratch, eat anything even vaguely “ethnic”, or don’t eat a lot of junk food, you’re not going to be able to do most of your shopping there!

This is a list of things I regularly use that I can’t/shouldn’t get at my local warehouse store:

Produce – Now, I do eat a lot of produce. But my household only has three people. Three pounds of grapes is going to go bad before we finish them. Ditto lettuce or any of the more fragile veggies. If we had more people in the house or more than one fruit addict, it would be different.

Spices – You’d think things like spices would be an ideal thing for a warehouse store, but unless you can find it in an Italian mix, don’t count on being able to find it there in my local store! I mean, nutmeg? They didn’t have nutmeg??? Honestly! I get that they might not have a good garam masala, but not nutmeg? Psychos…

Pasta – Another thing you’d think would be awesome for a warehouse store. It’s $0.17/lb more expensive in the warehouse store than it is in my local grocery store.

International-type food – Coconut milk? Green chilies? Refried beans? Forget it.

Dry beans – This is where I roll my eyes and say, “Come on, people!” You’d be hard put to find something more shelf stable that sells well in bulk. (Yes, yes, I know, convenience food makes more profit for them, and there are plenty of people who find cooking with dried beans too damn much trouble)

Old-fashioned Oatmeal – I think the instant stuff is nasty and mushy, but that’s all they sell there, and even the oatmeal is hard to find.

Seltzer water – Yes, yes, buying fizzy, flavored water isn’t exactly frugal. But a majority of the household likes it better than soda. It was available in the warehouse store, but more expensive than we could get in the grocery store.

Short grain rice – I like rice you can use to make onigiri. Since even most grocery stores in my area only carry it as expensive “sushi rice”, I don’t sweat this much. There’s a co-op that sells it in bulk and sells it as inexpensively as bulk rice is often sold in other stores. (Other forms of rice are quite a good deal, and their variety actually wasn’t bad otherwise).

Plain yogurt – Everything they had was flavored and sported pink ribbons. ‘Nuff said.

Oddly enough, they do carry flour and even the brand of flour I insist on using. They also carried the yeast I prefer. Canned goods were indeed cheaper, and though we don’t use a lot of them, I do at least buy crushed tomatoes. Paper goods, plastic bags and many other things were also cheaper to get there, so we did.

The point is that while you could argue that warehouse stores are awesome and cheaper than regular grocery store, it’s easy to get caught up in the greed and buying in bulk. So, how do you work a warehouse store to truly save money?

  • Keep a price book

    You can do this in several ways. I use a shopping database on my phone (does anyone but me mourn the loss of the PDA Handishopper? That was awesome) and keep the price I can generally expect to pay for items in the database. This means it’s easy for me to tell whether or not a particular item is a good buy or not. Some people just remember that sort of thing, but I don’t, hence the database.

    If you don’t use a handheld device, you could make a price book in a spreadsheet (I’m presuming you have a computer if you’re reading this, and there are free spreadsheet solutions out there. Google Docs and Open Office both have spreadsheets that can more than handle this) for items you usually buy and print out the prices along with the items you want to get on that particular shopping trip.

  • Shop to a list

    Impulse buys are Satan’s own toenails when it comes to warehouse stores, as you’ll have all sorts of gadgety goodness and gastronomic greed pushed at you when you are in the store. Resist! Think about what you want and need in advance and stick to it!

  • It’s not cheaper if you’re not going to use it up/will have to overuse something before it goes bad.

    You know how I don’t buy produce at a warehouse store? Throwing away lettuce mush isn’t saving any money, but neither is eating a whole box of Clementines in a couple of days, or using way too much dish detergent because you have that huge bottle of it. If buying in quantity has you being careless about what you use because you have lot of it, you’re probably spending more money, not less.

The real takeaway? Warehouse stores are an awesome savings tool if you show self-discipline. Otherwise? Forget it. They’re not worth it.

I wish I had time to write

“If I lose the light of the sun, I will write by candlelight, moonlight, no light. If I lose paper and ink, I will write in blood on forgotten walls. I will write always. I will capture nights all over the world and bring them to you” – Henry Rollins

I had someone say that they wished they were like me, self-employed, so they would have time to write a novel.

Now, I agree that in many ways I am not as time-strapped as some.  I have a child, but that child is man-sized and as capable of doing anything that needs doing around the house as I am up to and including shopping for food or cooking.  I have a husband who also believes in streamlining household routine so that it doesn’t interfere with his projects, either.  I am self-employed, but it doesn’t exactly give me the extra time to work on stuff for which I have no direct client or market.  I mean, bills do need to get paid, and to date I’ve earned enough writing fiction to buy one pizza.  But, the last time I wrote a novel, I had a full-time job in an office I had to commute to.

More than that?  I know for a fact my current favorite writer (she’s won Hugos, gotten on best-seller lists and all that smack) has a “real job” in an office that she has to commute to.  Chances are good that many of your favorite writers have “real jobs”, too.  At the midlist level, writing doesn’t pay all that well, especially if you’re worried about having health insurance.

But it’s more than that.  There was a time when I had all day, really, no-kidding, the whole day to write.  I often didn’t.  I balanced the checkbook (this was before we had an internet connection), I did origami (my husband could always tell a bad writing day because he’d have to wade through origami figures to get to my desk to say hello), and oh my word the house was never so clean as when I just didn’t feel like writing (this is still true.  I use cleaning house as a procrastination method more often than I like to admit).

Later on we had a kid, and after that, the household living situation changed so that I never had all of any day to do anything, ever.

It was then I learned that a certain level of “now or never” was a great boost to productivity for me.  I needed to schedule time.  I needed to threaten the household that I was writing and if they disturbed me for anything less than blood or fire during that scheduled time, the fangs were going to come out.

I learned to take myself, my goals and my writing a little more seriously.  I could not make my household respect my writing time if I, myself, did not respect my writing time.

I learned not to be such a damned special snowflake artiste about writing.  During my origami period, I had to have my perfect little routine before I could write.  I would arise, make myself a mug of espresso, turn on my writin’ music on the CD changer, and go to the computer (an Apple IIe at the time) and write in perfect, blissful solitude.  A knock on the door would throw me.  If my husband had a day off for some reason and spoke to me before I got to the computer, it would throw me.  Knowing I had an appointment in the afternoon would throw me.

You get the point.  I permitted the situation to be far too fragile to bloody well get anything done.

Oh sure, I still like to have a mug of something hot when I write.  I still hate it if someone tries to talk to me while I’m writing.  I like to have my writin’ music when I’m working.  But I can write on a plane, or on a train.  I can write in the morning when I first get up, or in the evening before I go to bed.  I’ve trained myself that routines and locations to create the mood are so much frippery.  As Gurney Halleck would say, “Mood is for cattle or making love…”  Writing is work time.

It doesn’t even need to be a lot of time.  I don’t write for hours without getting up.  For the most part, I write in 20 minute chunks in hyperfocus, get up, wander around, check my email, lather, rinse repeat until I’ve made my daily word count.  While I have more time than some, 20 minutes a day of hyperfocus writing still gets stuff done.  Maybe not as quickly as one would like, but if the writing is the important part, at least you spend a chunk of time really practicing your art.

‘Course, writing is no more compulsory than knitting or weightlifting.  If it’s not really important to you, it isn’t.  But if it is respect that and give yourself at least a little time even to write something utterly awful.  Hey, if musicians are allowed to be crap sometimes when practicing, so re writers!

Spring Cleaning in Thirteen Weeks

My home is more or less decluttered. I mean, I don’t have to do more than a routine decluttering on a periodic basis to make sure that I keep up with problem areas. Drawers may get stuffed occasionally, but surfaces tend to be relatively tidy.  While I hardly keep the house perfect, I do have daily, weekly and quarterly chores. Technically, I probably should do some of these things monthly. I don’t. So there.

Daily Chores

  • Make bed
  • Swish-n-swipe bathroom
  • Evening clutter patrol
  • Clean up kitchen after dinner
  • Quarterly Chore (weekdays)

Weekly Chores

  • Dust
  • Vacuum
  • Get trash to curb
  • Mop kitchen and bathroom floors
  • Wipe down fridge shelves in prep for grocery shopping
  • Change sheets

This is not a lot of work in a decluttered house. It also means parts of the house could get really grody, as there is other stuff that needs to be done (after decluttering. You’ll never get to this stuff before decluttering). If you haven’t decluttered so that you only own what you can reasonably store, part of your weekday thing probably should be five to fifteen minutes of decluttering (if this matters to you. Hardly a moral imperative).

So, how do the Quarterly Chores work? Well, my list is actually thirteen weeks long rather than 12, but hey… Who cares? Stuff gets got to on a semi-regular basis, and that’s plenty good enough. This isn’t tool and die making, so precision isn’t that damn important. Your house will be different, but I wanted to give you an idea of how this works. Few chores take more than five or ten minutes, unless you’re starting from something really nasty (like my fridge recently. I added the wipe down every week thing because I NEVER want to do THAT again!) Another thing that you should notice is that I do have some regular decluttering of places that in my house tend to collect it. I think it’s something like a quarter of the chores. If you do it every three months, you’re going to find that you’re looking at a five minute job after a year or so.

Are there things missing from this list?  Oh yeah.  Absolutely.  If it becomes truly problematic, I’ll add ‘em to the list and have a longer rotation.  I don’t care about perfection, but just that detail cleaning gets done somewhat regularly. What I won’t do is try for more than a few minutes a day cleaning.  I’ve proven time and again I won’t do it, so it’s better for the chore to be broken down and put into a long rotation than do it “perfectly.”  I cannot urge anyone who is Housework Challenged strongly enough not to try for “perfect.” You’ll never live up to perfect.  Good, on the other hand, is completely possible to maintain.

I put the list under a cut because, it’s LOOONG.

Quarterly Chores

Week One

  • KITCHEN: Declutter Fridge and Calendar board
  • KITCHEN: Declutter Pantry Cabinet
  • KITCHEN: Declutter Spice Cabinet
  • KITCHEN: Declutter under sink
  • KITCHEN: Declutter baking cabinet

Week Two

  • DINING ROOM: Polish chairs thoroughly
  • BATHROOMS: Wash Bath Mats (NO DRYER!)
  • DINING ROOM: Polish Silver
  • LIVING ROOM: Declutter Entertainment Center (Including cabinets)
  • KITCHEN: Clean Cat’s Water and Food Bowl. Dust off Cat’s food bucket

Week Three

  • BEDROOM Declutter a desk or bureau drawer
  • BEDROOM: Wash Curtains
  • BEDROOM: Declutter Plant Stand
  • BEDROOM: Declutter Filing Cabinet
  • BEDROOM: Polish Furniture with Pledge

Week Four

  • HALLWAY AND DOJO: Declutter Printer Table
  • HALLWAY AND DOJO: Declutter bookshelves
  • HALLWAY AND DOJO: Pledge dust bookshelves
  • HALLWAY AND DOJO: Shine Mirrors
  • HALLWAY AND DOJO: Dust baseboards and get cobwebs

Week Five

  • KITCHEN: Scrub Down Counter Tops
  • KITCHEN: Declutter Tupperware
  • KITCHEN: Scrub Down Small Appliances
  • KITCHEN: Scrub down kitchen faucets
  • KITCHEN: Clean off top of fridge

Week Six

  • BATHROOM: Scrub around entire commode
  • BATHROOM: Dust Baseboards
  • BATHROOM: Scrub Bathroom Mirrors
  • BATHROOM: Scrub Tub
  • BATHROOM: Declutter a Cabinet

Week Seven

  • LIVING ROOM: Clean Windows
  • LIVING ROOM: Vacuum Under Cushions
  • LIVING ROOM: Clean Ornaments
  • LIVING ROOM: Vacuum Under Furniture
  • LIVING ROOM: Clean glass and electronics

Week Eight

  • JUNGLE ROOM: Clean and declutter shoe shelf
  • JUNGLE ROOM: Clean Dragons (Yes, I do collect something).
  • JUNGLE ROOM: Clean Windows
  • JUNGLE ROOM: Declutter generally
  • JUNGLE ROOM: Sweep and Mop floors

Week Nine

  • KITCHEN: Polish Cabinet Doors
  • KITCHEN: Wipe Down Baseboards
  • KITCHEN: Scrub Large Appliances
  • KITCHEN: Clean Out Fridge
  • KITCHEN: Run Self-Cleaning Oven Cycle

Week Ten

  • BEDROOM: Wash Comforter and Shams
  • BEDROOM: Wash Windows
  • BEDROOM: Clean Mirrors
  • BEDROOM: Declutter Vanity
  • BEDROOM: Dust Baseboards

Week Eleven

  • DINING ROOM: Run china through gentle dishwasher cycle and dust hutch
  • DINING ROOM: Clean Corner Cabinet Thoroughly
  • DINING ROOM: Dust Baseboards
  • DINING ROOM: Wash Windows
  • DINING ROOM: Declutter Hutch Drawers

Week Twelve

  • BATHROOM: Vacuum The Prince’s Bathroom Vent Fan
  • BATHROOM: Vacuum My Bathroom Vent Fan
  • BATHROOM: Vacuum Muscle Boy’s Bathroom Vent Fan
  • DAUGHTERROOM: Tidy room (She doesn’t live with us full-time or this would be her baby!)
  • DAUGHTERROOM: Dust and Vacuum thoroughly

Week Thirteen

  • WHOLE HOUSE: Windex light switches
  • WHOLE HOUSE: Windex Door Knobs
  • WHOLE HOUSE: Dust Picture Frames
  • WHOLE HOUSE: Clean glass lighting fixtures
  • WHOLE HOUSE: Clean Front Door

Bible Reading Survey Follow-Up

Okay, some follow up. I had to go question by question to tabulate the responses as Survey Monkey doesn’t let you filter responses on a free account.

Out of 100 people, 18 people self-identified as a Christian.  11 of them had read the Bible in its entirety, giving us an approximate “Yes” percentage of 61%.

Now here’s the funny part:

A slightly larger percentage of non-Christians who took this survey had read the Bible in its entirety.  However, if you take a look at the bar chart from yesterday’s post, you’ll notice a lot more people claimed to be non-Christian than Christian.  I am not a statistician, and the survey population was only 100 people, but I am wondering how statistically significant that 5% would be considered.   I am genuinely surprised at how close the responses are.

A Non-Scientific Bible Study Survey

First off, this is an almost textbook example of a poorly-written survey that does not actually answer the question asked, even though it does give some interesting data.   Kiddiewinks, spend more time in the design phase!  (I’m always telling my students this in various classes, and here I am not doing it.  I hang my head in shame).

Some friends of mine and I were discussing religion when one of them mentioned that he had never met a single self-identified Christian who had read the entire Bible.  I found that such an odd thing to say, since we were both reared in the same denomination and the practice was encouraged in the church I attended as a youngster, that I started asking around.  The answers I got became a little complex, so I designed this rather simplistic survey.  Unfortunately, as designed, it cannot answer the question originally discussed:  Is it really unusual for Christians to read the Bible cover to cover?

Even though it doesn’t fulfill the original intent, the answers are interesting nonetheless.  It does seem a lot of non-Christians have indeed read the entire Bible.

Curious, that…