Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Graciously Consubstantial, Like The Dewfall

I have been putting off this post, hoping I would get over it.  Until lately, every time I heard the word consubstantial, I'd twitch with a slight feeling of annoyance.  You see, I can't help remembering a few angry letters to the editor of our local Catholic newspaper concerning the new translation. I don't have the exact words, but some readers complained about the annoying use of the phrase "graciously grant."  Another complained about "under my roof" which I defend here.  Still another complained about that most brutally burdensome of all the words in any language, "consubstantial."  Each of these letters irked me, but I decided that answering the complaints would probably do no good.  The Mass has changed, and if these Catholics refuse to grasp the reason, no amount of explaining will help.

I have been giving some thought lately to the idea of "willful ignorance," and I am pretty sure that's what we have here.  Rather than explore the meanings and reasons for the new translation, they are satisfied to complain about them.  And they find they are not alone.  There is no lack of listeners who will readily add their voices to the complainers' chorus.  Oh, if they would only sing (good music) as loudly as they complain!

But a year into the new translation, there's good news:  Catholics Overwhelmingly Approve the New Missal.  So.

I love the word consubstantial, and that is due to, I suspect, my love for language studies.  There is a school of thought in linguistics that there is a physical or intuitive relationship between a word and its meaning--a certain kind of iconicity.  I know it is not always true, though there are some fun examples to add to the discussion, like matching IKEA items to their catalog designations, or not.  In the case of consubstantial, the word itself is consubstantial, together in an inseparable way that make it one word.  I find it way more evocative of the relationship between the Father and the Son than "one in being with" ever could be.  "One in being with" is awkward, and sounds like bad grammar.

Look.  We humans are linguistic geniuses.  We use words because we want to communicate   We use big words to communicate big ideas.  People raised on big words learn them just as easily as they learn small words.  If we are capable of learning these longer, more precise words, then let's do it and stop disparaging the new translation for its differences, and embrace a bigger reality that requires more precision and more thought.

Monday, December 3, 2012

BEST Chem Lab Book for Home Use (and more)

So...The kids are rapidly approaching high school age, and you are worried about science.  You can probably handle biology, astronomy, earth science and even physics, but what about chemistry?  Is it possible to provide a student with chemistry labs at home?

It's not hard to teach basic chem.  If you find it too difficult, pick up a used copy of The Teaching Company's Chemistry course, or a new copy at The Great Courses website, a few good (living) books (see booklist at the end of this post), a review book for a topic spine, and do labs.  

OK.  So how do we add a lab?  Glassware is readily available.  A small scale and coffee filters will help.  But how do we get chemicals?  A few are easy.  I got a roll of magnesium ribbon from Amazon (lighting a strip and watching it burn brightly demonstrates activation energy--adding a bit of energy to start an exothermic reaction).  But many other necessary chemicals are simply not legally shipped to home chemistry labs.

The solution (heh!) is simple:  The Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments.  Yeah, yeah...sure, I thought.  Ha!  It's fine if you can get the chemicals.  But look.  Not only does this book tell you where you can buy chemicals, it tells you how you can make the chemicals you can't buy!  And best of all, since a few of these are very simple qualitative recipes, younger siblings can follow the instructions and get a taste of elementary chemistry without doing the harder stoichiometry.  Everybody wins.  Here's an example:

[...long pause.  The problem with really good books is that they sprout legs in this house, and migrate away from my review pile and into some kid's room, book bag (good luck getting that back) or shelf.  Oh, good; I found it.]

"You can produce ammonium acetate by neutralizing clear household ammonia with distilled white vinegar and evaporating to dryness."  The younger kids can then watch the older student use it as he determines the pH of an aqueous salt solution.  And he will gleefully remind his younger sibling,  "If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the precipitate!"  (Yes, there's a t-shirt for that.)

And just a reminder:  You don't have to complete the book.  Do what you can, and that will suffice.  Make sure you follow the safety instructions, and have your students (even the younger ones) document everything they do.  This book has some very heavy-duty experiments for the more dedicated chemistry student, but it also has some of the very basic experiments that most high school students will need.

Here's a quick list of books (gleaned from the old MacBeth's Opinion site):

 The Joy of Chemistry (Warning:  This is a  wonderful new book, with labs included...easy to understand, and uses common and familiar items...but, you might need to take a black marker to the preface and introduction, as the authors compare this book briefly to The Joy of...something else.)

 Stories of the Invisible  Small stuff!

Bright Earth  Find out about the chemistry, history, and language of color!  A wonderful book for young artists.

CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics (reference "must have" for those hoping to study science in college) .

Molecules at an Exhibition : Portraits of Intriguing Materials in Everyday Life by John Emsley  This is such a fun book that the one objectionable chapter is excused (see end of review).  Chemicals are grouped in "galleries" of similar molecules, and the author gives us a neat story of the history of the stuff and its use or effect on the body or the world.  The first gallery includes chocolate, cola, garlic, and selenium.  Other chapters include the metals we need in the body, chemicals in the home, harmful chemicals (including some drugs), plastics, common elements, radioactive elements, and more.  I do wish that the author had included a diagram of the molecules he lists, and he makes the unsupported assertion that the world is overpopulated by humans during a chapter on chemicals and sex.  So skip chapter three, or talk about it, but the rest of the book is fascinating.

The Chemical History of a Candle by Michael Faraday was written as a series of lectures by the famous scientist himself.  The science is clear, and you can follow the experiments along with Faraday.

 The Mystery of the Periodic Table How did it ever come to be?

The Periodic Kingdom by P. W. Atkins follows CM's suggestion for science of a literary character.  The periodic table of elements is treated as a geographical place, with each element being a different country, similar to the countries surrounding it, but with subtle differences.  This is an excellent introduction to the elements.
Camelot Chemistry Primer is the best work/text for chemistry I have seen.  It is literary and fun, but includes the mathematical chemistry that a serious science student needs.  This book will help quantify all of the qualitative information he has learned through years of nature study.

Life's Matrix: A Biography of Water by Philip Ball tells us all about water, from the moment of creation (Big Bang) to the present.  Water, a common molecule, is unique!  Use this book for biology, too.

Mendeleyev's Dream : The Quest For the Elements by Paul Strathern (history of the periodic table of elements) .

The 13th Element : The Sordid Tale of Murder, Fire, and Phosphorus by John Emsley (real life drama about phosphorus--engaging!) .

The Chemical Tree: A History of Chemistry by William Brock (history of this science in a quick 744 pages) .

Chemical Magic by Leonard Ford (old-fashioned demonstration book--dove-tails nicely with history of chemistry, but some of the experiments are dangerous!)

Radioactive Substances by Marie Curie (Madame Curie's thesis; great for physics and chemistry students)    

Update:  The wonderfully trustworthy Karen Richards adds Caveman Chemistry to the list of books.  Thanks Karen!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

25 Picture Book Favorites

A list with relevant comments.

1. Make Way for Ducklings  What?  You didn't grow up in Boston?  Get a taste of the best city on earth (politics excepted) through the illustrations in this book.  Ironically, I understand that the author studied ducks for the illustrations in his apartment in that other northeastern city.  This book was at my grandmother's house, and it is the first book my mother buys for her grandchildren.

2. Ping  Ping is also about ducks, but Ping is domestic, kept by a family living on a boat in China.  Ping gives us a peek into a China that is nearly gone--a China where big families are typical.  Ping has siblings, and so do the children in the wise boat.  Contrast this with the Ping-inspired, lavishly illustrated China of Daisy Comes Home.  This new China has no families, no siblings, and like the people of post-revolutionary China, unrelated hens are crammed into quarters with each other.  When one hen resists and runs, she is relentlessly hunted down and forced back into the communal life.  The little girl who cares for the hens is so similar to the little girl on the "one child" billboards in China that it gives one the creeps.

3. The Five Chinese Brothers are lucky they have each other.  Had the first brother been born under the one child policy, he'd have been put to death for sure.  This is one of my favorite books of all time.  Every time I am at the beach at low tide I think of the first scene, where the first brother swallows the sea.  This book was always at my grandmother's house, and I read it over and over again as a child.

4. Blueberries for Sal Trip once told me that I never read this book enough.  Poor Paul does not even remember it.  The bear is the best part.  I suspect that McCloskey did not keep a bear in his apartment while illustrating this classic summertime story.

5. Jamberry More Berries! During the same discussion we had about Blueberries for Sal, Trip told me he wished to live in Jamberry.  It's not just about the berries, but the canoe and the waterfall!

6. Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny  My opinion on GNM is long; read it here.  TRB has a different charm.  While putting together this post I asked Paul about his favorite picture book, and he chose this one.  Really??  When Paul was little he hated this book with such a passion!  He cried and got angry every time the bunny's escape was foiled by his crafty mother.  In fact, after reading The Edison Trait I emailed the author and told her about Paul's issue with the book.  She reassured me that this was typical Edison kids behavior.  Aha!!

7. Millions of Cats OK.  So the cats have a big fight and eat each other.  Don't let that put you off. The last kitten is so sweet.  Read it with funny voices, especially for the cats.

8. Harry the Dirty Dog I love this book more now since we actually had two dogs that resembled clean and dirty Harry.  And it's also a view into places in the city that only a dog would visit.

9. The Wall  Back to communism.  Were you enthralled by the illustrations in Daisy?  Here's a first hand look behind the iron curtain's colorful veneer. What jolly drab fun, comrades! Rejoice with the author as he escapes to the Land of the Free.

10. Rapunzel (Zelinsky) When it comes to fairy tales, the creepier the better.  These are cautionary tales of the best type, and are meant to frighten.  We enjoyed the illustrations in this version, and the story, but...This isn't Disney.  Rapunzel is visited by the prince and falls pregnant!  The notes at the end explain the historical accuracy.  Perhaps this is a version best left for more mature readers.

11. The Wild Swans And when it comes to brutal fairy tales, no one tells a better one that Andersen, whose characters are as cruel as the thrashing sea that threatens to swallow the eleven enchanted bothers and their sister.  The image of crushing nettles into flax and spinning and weaving the fibers has stayed with me since childhood.

12. Stephen's Feast The simply-told story based on the carol Good King Wenceslas earns a place on this list because it makes the lyrics clear to little ones.  The illustrations are lively, ranging from warm and fire-lit to cold and snowy. The page from the second verse is the eponymous Stephen.

13. Stone Soup Stone soup, nail soup, whatever you call it, this is a story of sharing, and is not to be confused with the miracle of the loaves and fishes, though there seems to be some trend in canned homilies to turn the feeding of the multitudes into some kind of hunger-crazed mob sharing event.  This is also an interesting reminder that we, too, have troops coming home from wars.  How do we (people, not government) treat them?

14. The Huckabuck Family is one of Sandburg's funniest and weirdest tales.  I have not tried it, but this book might be a good launching point for a gardening unit.  Try growing popcorn, or placing a small Chinese slipper buckle on a squash blossom and see if the fruit grows around it, revealing the buckle when the squash is cut.  Be careful, though...your luck might change!  Also?  Try calling your family members by their first names twice (Paul-Paul!) to see if they respond more quickly.

15. Peter Rabbit  The only thing I can say here is what a shame it is that the Peter Rabbit game we got from the Traditional Game Company (SAC) is no longer made.  Hours of Peter Rabbit fun in a box enhanced our reading!  Some few online interactive games and more are out there, though.  Peter is a disobedient rabbit who finds there is a reason for the rules.  Check out Potter's other books, especially Ginger and Pickles, The Tale of Two Bad Mice, and the horrible Tale of 
Samuel Whiskers.

16. Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain (and other Tim books) Before reading Swallows and Amazons, read these.  Ardizzone's illustration take us to the quay side.  These are stories of daring rescues, tall ships, and kids who talk to strangers.  As we always said, "Everyone's a friend on the sea!"

17. Letters from Father Christmas Tolkien.  Christmas.  What could be better?  Goblins!  a polar bear!  What will happen next year on the North Pole?  Unlike the author's children, yours ill not have to wait a whole year to find out (unless you read one letter per year).  All the letters are in one place.  And Tolkien's own illustrations bring the book fresh from the author's mind into your home.

18. Madeline We'll always have Paris, as long as we have Madeline.  Really.  when the girls and I were in Paris for Libby's concert tour, all they kept saying was, "Remember when Madeline was here?"  It was a real picture book tour, and we were not even trying.  The one thing we didn't see much of were vines.  There were plenty of old houses, but no vines covering them.

19. The Little Island Is another terrific pre-Swallows and Amazons book.  Read this, and take the kids to a little island.  Sometimes, a little island is a pile of mud in a puddle.  Sometimes it's a biggish island in a bay.  Sometimes it's just a rock at low tide on the sound.  In any case, an island is a place the children will find unique creatures and adventures they can call their own.  Enticed by an island in the marsh beyond my aunt's house, Trip was determined to make this journey.

20. The Shoemaker and the Elves is one of the few fairy tales with a nice cast of characters.  the evil is poverty, but the elves and the shoemaker and wife are just nice.  My favorite retelling was on a film strip in elementary school.  Heh.  Remember film strips?

21. Many Moons  Thurber.  Funny, thoughtful, and fresh.  Grab a copy with the 1943 illustrations by Slobodkin, if you can. This is a story of common sense triumphing over the brains of the elite.  Oh, if we only had more of that today.  After reading this, I wanted a moon necklace.  Someday.  But it has to really be the moon.

22. The Magic Fish Bone A Dickens short story.  This is the tale of a very poor princess and her family, how she came to have a magic fish bone, and how she learns to live by "contriving" instead of by magic.  It is, if nothing else, a story of patience.  Those soft-hearted among you might want to skip the very last sentence, wherein a pug meets a bad end.

23. Where the Wild Things Are This is a book for every child who has ever misbehaved, and for every loving parent to read to that child.  Not too many children's books include gnashing of teeth, but this one does.  Of course, any book with a sailboat is for me.

24. The Little Red Lighthouse A local treat for us New Yorkers is this story of the red lighthouse in the harbor and the George Washington bridge.  Every time we cross the great gray bridge over the Hudson the kids look for the lighthouse.  Since there is usually terrific traffic on the bridge, the search for the lighthouse is a great distraction.  And any lighthouse then becomes a magical place.

25. Trolls  No picture book survey would be complete without a selection from the D'Auliares.  The Greek Myths, The Norse Myths, and the historical books are all a bit long for simple picture books, though they are gorgeous and ought to be part of your collection.  Trolls is a big, wonderful tour of a very northern part of the world of Norse mythology.  These ugly, icy creatures will frighten and delight the kids.  This is a favorite book for all ages.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Sandy-land on Long Island

Things are getting weird here.  Sure, everyone is friendly and helpful, and the stores are well stocked and taking credit cards, but some people are getting edgy. The weather is pretty calm, but it is getting chilly without the heat.  Trip gave us instructions on plugging the furnace into the generator just in case the temp drops more.  Thank God for unmiddleschooling.

Loooooong gas lines. Figured I'd fill up after picking Paul up at a friend's house.  When the station wanted cash only (now they tell  me--after 45 minutes in line!!), I fished through the car found a $5 bill, 6 quarters and a Kennedy half-dollar, and got my $7 worth at $3.99.  We all laughed (especially the cheery Turks who own the station).  Later, Don and Paul walked to the local station with gas cans for the generator.  We are also powering our liberal neighbors (we love you guys!!).  Whatever your politics, don't let anyone tell you that conservatives are selfish; it's one of those big lies that the media tosses around with the help of Hollywood.  Read Makers and Takers and hear the facts on giving back.

But life after Sandy is not all book recommendations and fun in the after-storm sun.  A guy who had his credit card denied at the station nearby drove his car into the crowd of gas-lugging pedestrians, then got out, screaming like a lunatic at everyone for being in his way, before he tried to run folks over again as he drove off...thank God no one was hurt. Scary.

A scruffy-looking guy walked into Mass with a gas can.  But everyone seems to be walking around with gas cans, or empty juice bottles or gallon milk jugs.  One guy didn't make the station, and was getting a scant gallon of gas in a jug to put in the car so he could keep his car in line for a fill-up.   Some neighborhoods have the National Guard checking I.D.s and keeping the peace. Housing Authority has a list of neighborhoods their agents should not go.  Not that bad here yet, but there are still no Long Island Power Authority trucks to be seen.

I drove past Cablevision's service office earlier today; their lot was full of parked service trucks.  Now, you may think that cable is a low priority in a storm, but many people have their phone service and internet through Cablevision.  If cable companies are in the telephone business, losing cable has become a lot more critical than missing ESPN, especially for the elderly.  Communications from gov't offices and agencies, like the one sent out about the water conservation order due to sewage treatment plant failure, are sitting in inboxes unread, and automatic emergency calls are locked in voicemail.  Does anyone own a regular radio anymore?

For those who think government would handle the clean-up any better, consider this situation I saw earlier today on the parkway.  Our parkways have huge swaths of grassy areas with trees.  Sometimes the trees fall.  During the storm, many trees fell, and some fell across the road.  The DOT comes and clears the road.  Frankly, until the whole place is back to normal, that's all they should be doing--clearing debris off the roads.  But today, well after the parkways have been cleared, but while other roads remain blocked, they were chipping.  Yes.  4 guys, a truck and a chipper, on a very big lawn, while trees are blocking access to homes and services on other main highways and side roads.  These guys were using equipment to chip some branches that had already been cleared from the road and that no longer presented a hazard.  That's big government's response.

Libby's friend Jen and her family lost everything in the storm...I guess we can't complain.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Unschooling Middle School and a Book Review

Middle schoolers--yuck.  What a dreadful curricular system to inflict upon students who are dealing with daily physical and mental changes.  Compounded by the compulsory school factory model with students herded into peer segregated classrooms, the typical middle school experience is  made worse than it needs to be.  I often say I don't believe in middle school.

And it's true:  I do not believe in middle school, but not quite in the same way I don't believe in the tooth fairy.  When my homeschooled kids are of that middle school age, I back off formal schooling in any form and suggest alternative, real world, things for them to do.  With one student, is was easy--she was exploring the possibility of becoming a professional musician.  My inventor took to electrical wiring and installed lights or rewired much of our home as a middle schooler.  My archaeology-minded student read history and excavated part of the back yard.  And the computer geek and gamer spent hours learning some programming skills, and helped me install a toilet, too!

Kids need to do real things.

Those were the big projects, but of course, there were other smaller projects, too.  As unschoolish as we are, the kids were always into informal things in the middle school years.  No one was ever bored (a banned word).  Yet, when I mention our plan for middle school, many moms are skeptical, thinking their children will fall behind or get into trouble without some very specific guidelines.  While I say, "Be not afraid," I understand that's not too reassuring coming from me.

I hate writing reviews of books with problems that preclude me from recommending them. I thought I had found a book that might help middle school unschoolers, with the memorable name Unbored, authored by Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen, et al.  It could supplement any minimalist unschooly sort of curriculum without seeming overwhelming, and as the subtitle suggests, it could be a field guide to serious fun. Like other books in the genre, The Dangerous Book for Boys, Totally Irresponsible Science and The American Boy's Handybook, it is full of short, easy explanations  and suggestions for things to do--real things--of a sort that middle schoolers with freedom to explore will love.  This is a book geared towards middleschoolers, but I cannot recommend it without serious caveats.  Unlike the aforementioned others, this book has a definite ultra-left-wing slant; but this is a hurdle that may be overcome with a bit of wit.  Unbored runs just over 430 pages divided into but four chapters:  You, Home, Society and Adventure.  Perhaps something useful is in there.  

They need freedom, and mixed-age associations.

That middleschoolers are self-absorbed is a given in the first chapter, and there is some unusual fun here--exploding things, LED light "graffiti" and inventions.  But you'll find a very typical list of "puberty advice classics" and a list of young adult novels.  The bit on flatulence is mitigated by excerpts from Anne of Green Gables and Little Women, and the bit on not cursing is actually historically interesting, while the list of books considered "historically" young adult is dubious as "young adult" is a relatively recent category.  Taking the anything goes attitude towards family, in "Your Funky Family Tree" the author claims that a government's view of "what makes a family" is pretty limited.  Huh.  Adoption situations aside, I would call the author's view extremist and absurd, and demonstrably detrimental to children and society, in light of actual scientific research.  But anything goes, because no one should ever feel bad about anything your grown-ups do (unless, of course, they go to church).  This is definitely a section to skip at some ages, though it might spark lively discussions with older students, perhaps in preparation for a debate.

They need challenges.

The Home chapter is rather better, though hardly original.  Architecture, forts, room decor and reading food labels?  It's been done, and often better.  But, this section is mostly harmless.

The same cannot be said of Society.  Yes, your middleschooler can support his favorite cause, by working in a soup kitchen! How original.  He can do things to save the planet, including "Fool Your Friends" into doing so; spread the now ubiquitous LGBT blather; and learn a useful lesson from a curious excerpt from Tom Sawyer in a section called "How to be a Con Artist".  (Progressives don't seem to get the point--without a worldview that insists on right and wrong, the scene is not funny, but cynical.  Or, maybe they do get that.  Hm...Now I'm being cynical.) I can see how this society-changing chapter could be useful, but the author's views about what needs changing society are not mine.  Instead of hugging trees and otherwise latching onto every left-wing bramble-ramble, engage in some serious pro-life work every time the book suggests something contrary to our beliefs.  Yes, then the book becomes useful.

The last chapter, Adventure, is fun.  Book excerpts include first person narratives and interviews with mountaineers, explorers and that sort of person.  Fun ideas include orienteering and geocasheing, traveling tips, a decent list of sci-fi, and knot-tying.  A long section on gaming is included, too.  Computer games can be an adventure of sorts, depending upon the game, though when I think of adventure, I am usually heading outside for the real thing.

Throughout the book, those people we antediluvian conservative types call "your parents" are referred to as "your grown-up" (in the singular, as though it were more common for a child to have budded off from an adult like a yeast cell).  That's the authors' charming way of pointing out that the children-who-think-they-are-so-smart must submit, at least somewhat, to rules set forth by adults.  The book is chock full of prog-subtleties...many of which are not so subtle.  It recommends many great reads and good movies, but also sprinkles in books and films that many of us would find inappropriate for some ages. It introduces obscure "social critics" like Lewis Mumford and Jane Jacobs, making one wonder if the author isn't a frustrated doctoral candidate dropping names to find some use for years of under-appreciated study.  But I can give him a pass on that account.

Ultimately, I would opt for any of the other books listed above.  While there may be a few novel ideas in Unbored, most are either variations on tried and true projects that kids have been enjoying for years, updated to inclusively include inclusiveness, or projects that push progressive propaganda on our kids.  Who needs more of that?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Inks, Links, and Drinks

(A blog post in which I muse without purpose, but suggest books, articles, music, and beverages.)

The NYTimes has a lovely article about a the work of a biology prof at A's university:

     “You can live a perfectly happy life never having heard of Shakespeare,” he says, “but your life is in some ways a  little diminished, because there’s such beauty there.
      “And I think the same is true of nature. Much of it is useless to us, and that’s O.K. It’s not true that every species that goes extinct is like another rivet off the plane and the plane’s going to crash. We lost the passenger pigeon and the U.S. economy did not tank. But we lost the passenger pigeon and we lost some of this remarkable music made out of atoms and DNA.”

(h/t to Melanie for pointing out those lines)  Read the article with an autumnal beer; but if you get the book (The Forest Unseen, highly recommended) see if you can get some of Tennessee's own Jack Daniel's Gentleman Jack to sip while you read it by the fire.  For the kids?  Eggnog (non-alcoholic, or course) with plenty of nutmeg.

Looking for another great read by the fire reminds me that a new issue of Touchstone is here!  From the announcement:

-Two articles by Anthony Esolen: One on the Theological Depth of Spenser's Neglected Wedding Hymn and another on the ninth-century Advent hymn, Conditor alme siderum, "Creator of the Stars of Night." 

So, because the husband claims he is trying to eliminate paper, I buzzed onto Amazon and found that I could subscribe via Kindle for Android (and most other Kindle devices) and get a free 1-month trial of Touchstone, cancel any time.  The going rate for the paper magazine is around $30 for 6 issues, but e-mag style via Amazon, it's only $1.99 a month.  Touchstone, for those who are not familiar with it, is "A Journal of Mere Christianity" with a variety of authors writing from a Christian perspective.  As one might expect from the description, the publishers have a fondness for Lewis.  As do I.  So, cider with this issue?  I think so.

Speaking of Mere Christianity, the (audio) book  itself is keeping P awake at night.  Warm milk may be the remedy.

Also?  This photo made me happy today; photographing a more elusive common yellowthroat did not.

Don't get angry, get even, as the saying goes.  I thought this might make me laugh, and it did.  It's a great first birding book for the toddler/preschooler who plays Angry Birds better than you do on your smartphone while waiting anywhere.:

Finally, a little Byrd:

Monday, October 15, 2012

Church Restoration

One of our local parishes (I hate to remind my fellow Catholic earthlings that there are 5 Catholic churches within walking distance of my house for fear that I sound as if I am bragging) has recently been renovated.  Most of the time, when one says that, a look of horror in anticipation of a description of the "wreckovation" comes over the face of the listener, but in this case, the wreck was over, and renewal had begun.  The "old" church was redone in 1970, to specification that were outlined in no church document, ever.  The recent work is in fact called a "restoration" and the church truly has been restored.  Gone is the dark brown paneling (who ever thought that was beautiful?).  Gone is the hideous (and I mean hideous-looked like the Brady Bunch bread box) tabernacle placed waaaaaaay off to the side of the church.  Gone are the wooden table and lecterns.  In their place?  Just look at the photo.  It's gorgeous.  They say there was much resistance, but resistance is futile.


My youngest son was at the dedication Mass, and told us how lovely it was, but it is not our parish, so I had not visited until last Sunday.  I saw as I walked in that it was just beautiful and reverent...but then I saw--and I admit, I gasped and whispered the word guitar* to my son--the music ministress up in the sanctuary.  He reassured me as he saw the celebrant enter, that it would be worth it to hear this priest.  And he was correct.  I endured "Gather Us In" and Gloria with refrain, but heard a homily on the anniversary of Vatican II with emphasis on the documents, not the spirit, an exhortation to read these documents during the Year of Faith, an explanation of the restoration of the church, and more.  Worth it.

In contrast to this, the music, which nearly no one sang but the song leader, seemed like a series of protest songs.  They just didn't fit the setting.  I wonder if anyone else had that feeling.  And have they restored the organ, too?

*I have heard guitar played very well and reverently at Mass.  This was just a lot of loud strumming on two chords, and the music choices were dreadful.  My apologies to liturgical guitarists, but those of you who know what you are doing know what I mean.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Tale of Two Sermons

We were more than delighted to spend Family Weekend with daughter number 2.  Her college is a beautiful place to learn, with Gothic architecture, acres of forest, some of the finest fog you have ever seen, and a vibrant faculty.  In fact, a highlight for me was sitting in on her humanities class and listening to a professor who sounded like an American version of C. S. Lewis.  It was wonderful, and the round of applause after the lecture was not initiated by thankful parents, but by students.

Fog on campus.
Since the college is Episcopal, we had to go off-campus for Mass on Saturday evening in a nearby (for the south) town. A 30 minute drive brought us to a small church where the only priest for the county says Mass twice on a weekend at the parish, and for early risers, there's mission chapel where he says 8am Mass.  The priest is from the Congo, and, unfortunately, is in the hospital with malaria after returning from a visit home.  Last weekend there was no Mass, but only a communion service.  This weekend, the local diocese sent a priest to take his place. And it was an odd experience due to the odd homily.

Now, let's leave aside the fact that his name was odd...yes, indeed, Fr. Odd*.  I looked him up just to make sure.  It was his homily that was really stunning and surprising.  You see, Fr. Odd, before he was ordained, had been married with at least one child (he spoke of his daughter).  He is divorced, and his marriage was annulled.  And since the gospel this week was from Mark 10.2-16, the topic of divorce was on his mind.  He talked a bit about annulment, about children who stray from the church and how it is not the fault of the parents, about loving ones self...lots about loving ones self.  He told people who are divorced (rightly) not to stay away from the Church.  His homily was all about love. Love, love, love, love...it went a bit over the top, and I thought he might burst into song at one point.  After all, Jesus was just giving us guidelines, and he knew we would fall short, so whatever you do is fine.  I paraphrase...but only a bit.

[NB:  The prayers of the faithful were terrific and strongly pro-life, read by a German prof from the college.  And the music was rather good this week, too.]

We came out of Mass a bit weirded out, if you know what I mean.  It is not every day one encounters a divorced priest giving a self-esteem-boosting motivational homily.

Sunday, we attended the Episcopal service so we could hear daughter number 2 sing in the University Choir.  Every time we tell folks that she chose an Episcopal University, they shrug and say, "Well, the music will be good."  And it's true.  The setting for the psalm was gorgeous, and offertory polyphony nearly made one cry.  The familiar hymns were sung by the whole congregation (parents' weekend means a full house for service).

The homily was preached by the chaplain of the college, who sounds like Al Gore (he is from TN, so that makes sense), and began by declaring that divorce has had an impact on everyone in the room.  Well, I suppose that is so.  But in a more literal way than I think is typical in a group of Christians.  One notices that there are a good number of families with infants or babies at parents' weekend.  Well, I have plenty of friends with college aged children as well as infants, and every age in between!  And there is a freshman who is the eldest of 9 who had his whole family there for the weekend.  But for the most part, the families with infants were second marriages or blended families.

The chaplain explained that the Episcopal church had struggled with the idea of divorce for years, and was now struggling with so-called "gay marriage" and the conversation about these things is ongoing and we should discuss them amongst ourselves, etc.  Essentially, he declined to admonish anyone about anything.  It was a pretty harmless sermon, as he declared he would not "beat anyone up" as he spoke on these topics.

So, both sermons left me thinking:  Is there anything right or wrong according to these churches?  Is the main mission of the Church to make folks feel good about themselves and their choices?  Wasn't this the "lukewarm" Christianity that will be spit out, according to Revelations?

One more thing.  A new study has named this college #3 for spirituality among top colleges in the US.  Numbers 1 and 2 were Georgetown and Notre Dame (I forget which came first).  That ought to tell you something about all three, yet I could not help but feel that this college was more faithful to the teachings of the Episcopal church than either Georgetown or Notre Dame is to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

And I'm sorry to say, I'd rather have her at this college than either of the other two.  As we left, my husband and I were wistfully wondering why there can't be more Catholic colleges that are more like this--academically rigorous, blissfully rural, gorgeously appointed, faithful to the teaching of the Church...

*not his real name...but it could be.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

People this Angry Shouldn't be Police Officers

Here's the scene.  In a village, a quiet village, a film crew sign appears.  It's the yellow sign on the pole at the corner.

Realizing what series was being filmed, I took out my tablet and snapped a picture.  There was no one behind me, and it took all of three seconds as I sat at the stop sign.  (These are all cropped from the same image.)

Note reverse lights on.
The police officer saw me stopped (at the stop sign, mind you) taking the photo.  He stopped and backed up through the intersection to ask me what I was doing.  I told him I was taking a photo and he BLEW UP at me, screaming that I should have pulled over, pointing out obnoxiously, at the top of his voice, that there was plenty of room for me to pull over...seriously.  "Yes, officer.  Next time I will remember."  He drove off.  Whew.  I thought he was going to call for back-up, as Nassau Police do for...well...everything.  I really wanted to ask him if he oughtn't be arresting a burglar, or looking for expired parking meters, or something.  I really REALLY wanted him to stop yelling at me.  I wanted to remind him that he had no right to scream in my face over nothing...but I was in a hurry. 

BTW, see the cool tablets on my tablet?  One of my CCD students gave me that sticker.

Can you guess what they were filming?  A yellow sign with initials and an arrow is to direct a film crew to the location.  The initials are POI, and they were filming in our village!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Why The Doc Told my Daughters to Stay off the Pill

I missed half of August, and I'm not happy about it.  This was supposed to be the last summer that all the kids were home together.  Two are in college, and Libby's in grad school AND getting married (MARRIED!!!) next June, so this was it.  And I ended up in the hospital.

So, I have this peri-menopausal hemorrhage thing going on, and with around half my blood gone, I get to the ER, white as a ghost.  The first thing they do is take my blood pressure.  My normally low BP is nearly undetectable, my pulse racing.  They take some blood for tests.  Like I hadn't lost enough already.  And...Huh.  I need more tests...ultrasound.  Oh, and this is a teaching hospital, so every intern in the place is jammed into the tiny closet of a sono room to watch.  Great.  Hey!  Look!  Call in Dr. Soandso!  Wow!  Students frantically take notes; residents consult and nod.  A voice from "upstairs" says he's seen enough.  I was being broadcast to another floor.  Was there no right to privacy?  Ha!

Diagnosis?  Pft.  Fibroid.  Whatever, I thought.  Just. Fix. Me.

I got 4 units of blood, an EKG, and a neat list of options, some surgical, some chemical.  I've had three c-sections and thought abdominal surgery should be a last resort.  I opted for a hormonal solution.  Bad move.  Badbadbad.  (After all was said and done, The Doc admitted that my aversion towards The Pill was reasonable.)

Well, to be fair, the estrogen (basically a birth control pill overload) did stop the bleeding, and I went home.  Unfortunately, within 36 hours, it stopped the blood flowing in my leg, too.  Yep.  Just like the warning label says:  DVT.  Back in the ER, a nice ultrasound technician confirmed it.  I was pretty sure I'd never walk again, unassisted, and began shopping online (I had my Samsung tablet with me) for a fancy cane.  That's how bad it was.

Since I was now a difficult-to-deal-with case--both bleeding and clotting--they recommended I get an IVC filter.  Well, that's the coolest thing.  They put a squid-like contraption in my inferior vena cava to catch any clot that might try to escape my leg and get to my important bits (heart, lungs, brain).  And I got to watch the procedure on an x-ray monitor while chatting with the surgeon about violin lessons.  It was a nice break from medical chatter.

Back in a hospital room...Heparin made my leg feel better!  They offered me morphine, but I refused.  Please--all I could think of was Jem in To Kill a Mockingbird reading to me (as he read to poor Mrs. Dubose) to take my mind off my inevitable addiction.  No morphine for me.  I'll endure...with Percacet, an opiate with a lower addiction rate.  And just one dose, thanks.

And the hemorrhage recommenced as anticipated.  Now what?  Lasers, electricity, general anesthesia!  The Doc took me off heparin long enough to do an ablation.  It sounds just as gruesome as it is.  But, hey, if successful, it would stop the bleeding without additional hormones, and hormones and I were no longer on good terms.  Best of all, because of the bleeding, The Doc and her associate would have to do the procedure blind and simply hope it worked.  And it worked perfectly.  Oh, and I got two more units of blood.

Do you give blood?  You should.

The next day The Doc met Libby and Annika, and yelled at them to never go on The Pill.   The Doc has the voice of Edie Falco, and Libby thought it was like being scolded by Nurse Jackie (not for kids).  Husband and I laughed, and The Doc explained patiently (and a bit pedantically) how teens will just go off to PP without telling us and go on The Pill, and that it can be dangerous, and that a girl died at 18 from a pulmonary embolism...Both young women assured The Doc that they would not take The Pill.  What a relief.  ;)

I asked for no visitors, but thanks to those who ignored my wishes.  Dear Annette, who was about the hospital for her own reasons, entered the ward disguised as a bag of organic grapes from Trader Joe's.  I am forever grateful for her fruit and conversation.  And Ellen...well, there's nothing like a visit from a nurse who deals with something entirely different, and can just chat as a friend.  And thanks to those who respected my wishes, too.  I really didn't want to be seen outside my natural habitat.  To all of my virtual visitors--those who posted jokes, stayed up late to chat, or offered prayers publicly or anonymously, and those who sent cards and treats or graciously offered time or rides or whatever--I am forever in your debt.  Thank you all.

I've been home for a couple of weeks now, on a common blood thinner and trying to adjust my diet to accommodate balancing the dosages.  I feel much better, walk nearly perfectly well (without a cane), and can enjoy the rest of the summer with my "only" child, Paul.  But I was around to say goodbye to Trip who drove himself to TAC, and to drive Annika to Sewanee.  Tomorrow I help Libby move into her first apartment, thanks be to God.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Hilary Rosen Offends All Female Humans

The toilet I installed was no work at all.
Did you hear?  She insulted daycare workers, plumbers, tutors, launderers, housekeepers, electricians, automotive mechanics, gas station attendants, book keepers, dog groomers, subsistence farmers, teachers, musicians, drama teachers, taxi drivers, party planners, field biologists, and, well, everyone.

When Rosen said that Mrs. Romney "never worked a day in her life" based on the fact that she has been a stay at home mother (oh, and wealthy), she said what many on the left truly believe--motherhood, and all the work that goes with it, isn't really work at all.  There is no denying it, for the left has said it over and over, on talk shows and news shows and in columns, and everywhere.  Is there a stay at home mother on the planet who is not offended by this tiresome rhetoric?

I don't know Mrs. Romney, but even if Mrs. Romney hired people to do all the things that I consider my "job" as a mom, she has to manage her employees.  Personally, the above list of jobs is a slice of a typical week for me.

I am so busy that don't have the time to sit around and think of ways to jab at my neighbors' life choices for political gain as a political consultant.  Wait.  That's not real work.  Isn't that just a form of specialized gossip?

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Inside Message is More Important

My husband and I were at a fundraiser for the Little Sisters of the Poor a few nights ago, sitting with a pair of women--sisters, about our ages--at a small table in the back of the room.  Despite the near-capacity crowd, our table for ten just had four guests, probably due to the fact that we called the night before for a reservation--typical us.  The women seated with us were great supporters of the nursing home run by the LSOP, as their uncle had been a resident for many years.   We discussed the usual things strangers discuss:  Education, family, children, parishes, and all that.  Both sisters had been educated in Catholic high schools and colleges.  One had a son, the other had a couple of kids.  We have "only four" we admitted, laughing.  And we homeschool.  I'll leave out the whole conversation that followed, as you have all heard it before.

Then, one of the women made this profound observation:  "So, you are like really Catholic, huh?"

Well, yeah.  I sensed they found real Catholicism quaint.

Which made me think of the whole HHS mandate matter from a Catholic perspective.  Yes, it's an issue that should concern all Americans, because, yes, it's about freedom, the Constitution, the First Amendment, personal responsibility, and all that.  Indeed, this should be, and is now, the message the bishops have sent to the Obama administration and HHS as well as the country.  This is simply the most important message to send to those outside the Church.

But the message to Catholics should be profoundly different.  Those of you reading who have heard a homily about the evils of contraception need read no more; you have heard what the Church teaches.  What a blessing.  See, even if you have decided that the Church is wrong (it is not, by the way), you know clearly where She stands.  How many of us have not heard the message, or have heard it framed as oppression by someone outside--or just as likely, inside--the church?  As I see it, I had an excuse.  When I was younger, I didn't know any better.  I had never--NEVER--heard that the Church forbade things like sterilization or artificial birth control.   I had not been to Catholic schools, but hey!  I had Catholic parents who sent me to a Jesuit parish at a Jesuit college for CCD.  Of course, CCD in the 70s (and now in most parishes) basically meant coloring books about nice things, being nice to each other, thinking nice thoughts, and knowing that "if you are happy, God is happy" so don't worry and follow your conscience.  Well, God must be thrilled with all those folks happily taking the pill!  Woohoo!

I was lucky--no, blessed--to find a friend (who is now my husband) who explained Church teaching to me. I figured I must have been a miserable student not to have heard this message during my faith formation.  So, of course, I was stunned when, during our pre-Cana Engaged Encounter weekend at the local seminary, the priest guiding the group told us to "follow our consciences" on the matter of birth control.  I hadn't missed the message in my youth through poor scholarship; the message wasn't there.

What?  Was there no truth?  Truth??  I wanted to hear it.  Did this priest assume that we had all had our consciences formed in the truth?  Or did he simply not care?  Was he weary of fighting a battle with neither leadership nor comrades?  Or was he neutral, taking no side for fear of alienating the dissenters?  And why wasn't anyone saying anything?

I hate to say it, but Mrs. Pelosi was right about one thing--the Church has failed to teach the truth about so-called birth control.  An entire generation has been so poorly catechized that some, like Mrs. Pelosi, can no longer be reached by the truth.  And now the Church is reaping what it has sown, and put the souls of the faithful in danger.  The message inside the Church can't be simply the same as the wider message meant for non-Catholic Americans.  While we might all agree, as Americans, that there are God-given rights outlined in the Constitution and the Bill of rights, we Catholics need to be told the whole truth plainly and clearly.  For us, it's not just about religious freedom.

Turn to us, Bishops, and teach us that Truth.  And make sure the priests get this memo, too.

For those not willing to wait, the Truth is here.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Lenten Reading, and Arrogance

One of my best friends when I was growing up was Jewish, and I recall the frantic activity in her home just before Passover.  To call it "spring cleaning" would be an understatement.  This was deep, intense cleansing.  The goal?  Eliminate every possible leavened crumb from the home before the Passover began.   Nothing could be swept under the rug.  In fact, the rugs themselves were removed for cleaning.  The end result was a home neat and tidy, and spiritually read for the celebration.

We Catholic have a holy day coming up, too, and how we prepare matters as much to us as it does to devout Jews.  This time of year, when homeschooling moms gather, and the talk turns from wine to Lent, the question always arises:  What are you reading for Lent this year?  Now, reading is not a Lenten requirement, nor a discipline, but it seems to be  common practice as we prepare spiritually for Holy Week.

Coincidentally, this video of Fr. Barron on the dumbing down of Catholics makes a good point:  If we are reading excellent books in other areas, why not excellent Catholic books?

I cannot help but recall an academically tragic event in my son's education.  Towards the end of his senior year, the students were asked to write a reflection on the religion curriculum.  My son wrote of his disappointment.  He was disappointed that an "elite" boys' high school did not require reading the works of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.  Like the student Fr. Baron mentions, these boys had hefty tomes for other subjects, but a few intellectually lightweight paperbacks for religion.  He was called to the office of the president of the high school where he was handed back his paper and told he was arrogant.  Arrogant for wanting to read the finest writings in the Catholic tradition.  Leaving aside the question of my son's natural arrogance, isn't there room in a high school religion course for some of these saints?

But if Augustine and Aquinas sound too intimidating (or merely too time-consuming for us busy homeschooling moms!), don't worry; there are other good options.  You don't need to resort to cartoon versions of sacred texts, or any of the watered down "If you are happy, God is happy" texts that fill curriculum slots in dioceses across the country.  Instead, check this out this Lent:

All Things Made New by Stratford Caldecott is much like Catholicism in general:  It can be read on many different levels, and each time one looks one can find something different--an aspect of the faith one has missed before, or the reading of a prayer in such a way that it has a new meaning.  Before you click through to the Amazon page (Note subtle disclaimer here...yes, this is an Amazon Associates link), you should know that a few people have been intimidated by the very excellent reviews of the book, which are rather heavy and even off-putting.  Be not afraid!  This is a book for everyone, even the theological beginner.  It does not have to be read in order, and for Lent I would begin with Chapter 7, which is a thoughtful reflection on the Apostles' Creed, with references to corresponding biblical texts, history, and tradition.  Similar chapters on the rosary, Lord's Prayer, and Stations of the Cross follow, and are all perfect for Lenten reading--perhaps even more perfect for a Catholic reading or prayer group.

The first part of the book is decidedly deeper, but just as compelling.  Spanning creation to revelation,  these chapters reflect heavily on the cosmic order, spiritual life, Platonism, philosophy, St. John's Gospel, and symbolism.  The opening pages may be read at Amazon, and should give you a feeling for how intense the first chapters are.  Again, I think these would be wonderful readings for a discussion group.  I found myself underlining passages, and writing notes in the margins as I read.  And while reflecting deeply on the mysteries of the faith, one finds little room is left for arrogance.  In fact, it leaves one feeling a bit unleavened...and ready.

One more thing.  See the cover?  It's wonderful.  If you are not familiar with the art of Daniel Mitsui, visit his website and take a close look--the closer, the better.  Is it possible for an artist to add more "Creation" in his sacred art?  Look for seastars, squid and skulls... www.danielmitsui.com.

Yet another thing...I am on the board of trustees of the publisher, Angelico Press, but the review is my own.  If I didn't think it worthy of a read, I wouldn't recommend it.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Deeper Nature Study: The Winogradsky Columns of Others (Video edition)

There are plenty of videos on Winogradsky columns...this one is pretty good.

Funny thing, though:  All the videos use the same procedure.  One if the great things about these columns is that there is no correct way to do it.  A variety of procedures may produce a variety of results.  Why not change it up a bit, like we did?

Seems they do them at Bronx Science, too, but again, with the same procedure.  See how this terribly easy project is made to seem so difficult.  But the girls are amusing:

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Deeper Nature Study: Winogradsky Update

Last time, we had just set up our columns, and were waiting patiently to see what would grow.  5 days into the project, and here are the before and after photos for A and P's jar:

Day 1

Day 5

As you can see, things are growing!  The muck is blacker, and the blackness has spread to the gravel just below the muck level.  Surprisingly, the egg yolk is not attracting much growth--yet--though the egg shell has a fine black mist over it.  The water at the top of the jar is a bit cloudy.

Check back in a few days for more.  Hey, and if you have a Winogradsky column of your own, send along a few shots, and I'll put them on!

And speaking of things growing in jars...I just made my first batch of cranberry/pomegranate "wine" using this kit:

 Hey, it worked!  The results are less dramatic, but much tastier.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

It Matches my Car

It's the newest Nikon...

Can't see the image?  Click here. (Amazon link).
Oh, my.

It's all about the zoom.  And the color.  

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Deeper Nature Study: Winogradsky Columns

In the great gold room there were some teenagers

and some gritty sand

and some jars full of sand

and two little boys who didn't use chairs

and some jars and a ghost

and some sprouts, but no toast!

But really, we were winding down from our Winogradsky project.  Yes, you at home can grow lovely pet bacteria in your own jar.  It's easy--so easy that when the teens finished, and the younger kids were totally interested in setting up their own columns.

Winogradsky column (with very watery top) day 1.

We started out at the beach, collecting some samples:  Shells for calcium, water for--well--water, muck for bacteria (we hope!), red sandstone for iron, and some sand for substrate.  Back at the house, Alice had boiled an egg for sulfur...but we were not quite ready to go home yet...

Oh, can't quite see the Storm Trooper.
As we were driving back from the beach, we passed a farm-stand that was closed, and a field that reeked of unharvested Brussel sprouts rotting on the stalk.  Luckily, the ever-stealthy Mr P. had his Storm Trooper Hoodie with him.  He zipped it up so no one would notice him, and stole into the field with his colorfully-dressed friends, plucking a small rotten sprout and a leaf for our nefarious purposes (will it be a better source of sulfur than an egg?).

 Back in Alice's Test Kitchen, we sorted our samples, and added a few ingredients:  Sea salt (coarse), cloves (will they inhibit growth?), fresh water, a magnet to attract magneto-bacteria, and foil for those who want to see samples grown in the dark.

The procedure is simple:

Layer all ingredients in the jar, with an ample supply of cellulose (we used the cardboard from an empty 18-egg box, torn into bits by industrious children).  We started with gravel and sand, added cellulose, egg or Brussel sprout, egg shell or sea shell (crushed), muck from the low tide zone (any black muck or topsoil will do), and odds and ends...a pocket of sea salt, a pocket of pepper, a pocket of ground cloves (anything you can think of!).  And we s-l-o-w-l-y added water, fresh or salt.  Some left lids loose, some tightened their lids.  Some covered the columns with foil for darkness, while some left them in full or dim light.

Since I was busy with the teens doing the project, most of the photos are taken with a younger bacteriologist modeling the process.  Here's Miss C's work:

Note aforementioned ghost.

Isn't it amazing how everything looks delicious in Alice's Test Kitchen, even the muck?

Mr. N and his Winogradsky column--he added a pocket of sea salt in hopes of growing a pink halophile colony.

Youngest boy found the banana a more interesting subject.

 What happens next?  We wait and see what grows.  Check back, and see!