Contempt is the sulfuric acid of love.

This observation by John Gottman—from "The Calculus of Love", Science News, Vol 165, No. 9, 28 Feb 2004, p. 142—is what leapt to my mind when I read Michael Hyatt's essay, Why Speaking Well of Your Spouse Is So Important. It's a short article, in which he briefly fleshes out the following points:

  • You Get More of What You Affirm
  • Affirmation Shifts Your Attitude
  • Affirmation Strengthens Your Spouse’s Best Qualities
  • Affirmation Wards off Temptation
  • Affirmation Provides a Model to Those You Lead

Simple, powerful, difficult, and important in much more than the marital relationship. With our children, on the job, with our neighbors, in politics, on social media. Contempt is the sulfuric acid of love.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, September 3, 2017 at 11:25 am | Edit
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altThis wise, and heartbreaking, letter appeared in this morning's Hartford Courant. If you wade through to page A7, you can see it online here. (Click the image to see it larger.)

The writer is 99 years old, and his grandfather fought for the Union side in the Civil War, with the 62nd Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers. My own great-grandfather was a sergeant with the 16th Pennsylvania Cavalry and participated in all the principal battles fought by the Army of the Potomac, including Gettysburg, where there is a monument to his regiment that Porter has seen, though I have not yet had the pleasure. Nathan Smith died six years before the 50th anniversary reenactment in 1913, but I have little doubt that he would have been one of those veterans who "respected what each had done for his cause."  In the words of President Woodrow Wilson on that occasion,

We have found one another again as brothers and comrades in arms, enemies no longer, generous friends rather, our battles long past, the quarrel forgotten—except that we shall not forget the splendid valor. 

That caused me to remember a line in C. S. Lewis' The Last Battle: “Has not one of the poets said that a noble friend is the best gift and a noble enemy the next best?”

One hundred years later, for all its progress in other areas, America has regressed in its ability to recognize valor and goodness in the opposition. After World War II, we quickly made peace with the Germans and the Japanese (were we ever seriously against the Italians?) and have much respect for them today, if not for some of their past actions. But we can't seem to make peace with our own history and people. God help us.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, September 2, 2017 at 9:09 am | Edit
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The Great Courses presented a contest this morning on Facebook: You're stuck on an island with the full Great Courses library and a way to enjoy them. Would you go with engineering/ homesteading to try to get off the island, or would you take advantage of the free time and enjoy your favorite subject?

I love this sort of challenge, and you all know how I try to get double duty out of my writing when I can, so I'm posting my answer here as well:

This is a fantasy, so I will dispense with all the worries about necessities, assuming that food, water, shelter, and whatever else might be needful—such as the equipment, power, and connection necessary for enjoying the Great Courses—will be readily at hand. I will assume that I am stranded, but not lost, and that I can anticipate rescue in a year. I will call this my Sabbatical Year—a time for learning and growing in preparation for living a more full and useful life upon my return.

Even with no distractions, a year is not long enough to experience all the Great Courses, nor even all that I would be interested in. But it would be sufficient for acquiring a great education, and one of the blessings of this fantasy would be not feeling the pressure I do now to make the most of limited time and money. I would not rule out any subject, but would attempt to sample broadly. Who visits a buffet and eats of only one food?

Perhaps I would start with astronomy, because this would be my best opportunity ever to gaze at a sky unburdened by light pollution. Then something from biology, geology, and oceanography, so as to understand my surroundings better. At that point, I would probably be in the mood for some health and exercise courses, to supplement my exploratory walks around the island. Those walks would also be a great opportunity for pondering the questions raised in the philosophy and religion courses. I would choose math and physics to keep my brain sharp, and music, art, and literature for my soul. Interspersed with all that I'd probably include a foreign language or two, and some lighter courses like cooking and travel.

Wait. Is this really a fantasy? In degree, yes, but not in kind. In real life, I do have to be concerned with food, shelter, power, and above all, time. Distractions abound. But the choice is still mine: the Great Courses are available, and I can take my Sabbatical Year one hour at a time. Learning and growing in preparation for living a more full and useful life can still be mine, even here, even now.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, August 31, 2017 at 10:34 am | Edit
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From The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien:

Do not despise the lore that has come down from distant years; for oft it may chance that old wives keep in memory word of things that once were needful for the wise to know.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, August 30, 2017 at 7:50 am | Edit
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altShadowed Paradise by Blair Bancroft (Kone Enterprises, 2011)

Those who know me well will be surprised, not to say shocked, to find me reviewing a romance novel. It is a genre I have never, ever liked. You could say that I never outgrew my opinion that the "mushy stuff" spoils a good story. In the Romance genre, the mushy stuff is the story.

Blair Bancroft is the successful author of more than 30 Romance novels, in a variety of sub-genres. Why did I decide to take the plunge into Romance and read her Shadowed Paradise?

  • I sing with her in choir. It seemed rude to claim to be her friend while ignoring the works of her heart.
  • I discovered through reading her blog posts that I like the way she writes.
  • I decided it was unkind to openly condemn a whole genre without reading at least one representative book.
  • The novel is set in Florida.
  • The protagonist's name is Claire Langdon.
  • The author hooked me by making the first chapter of Shadowed Paradise available on her blog.
  • The book is available for only $2.99 in Kindle format, a low-risk investment.
  • I've never bought into the "beach read" idea, but hey, I was going to be at the beach. Never mind that I was at the beach with 10 grandchildren, ages 2, 2.5, 4, 4.5, 5.5, 6.5, 7, 9, 11, and 13, putting reading low on the priority list, even for me.

Despite all the destractions, I did manage to start and finish Shadowed Paradise.

Enjoyed

  • Being set in a familiar location always makes a book more fun for me. I loathed the book Catcher in the Rye and didn't think much of the movie, Taps, but the fact that they are set in one of my home towns—Wayne, Pennsylvania—gives them a special place in my heart. Shadowed Paradise was much more fun than either of those. I don't know a lot about the West Coast of Florida in particular, but in many ways, Florida is Florida. I especially liked the inclusion of the more historical parts of Florida. Until I moved here, I had no idea how important the cattle industry has been to the state.
  • There's the Langdon factor, of course. I don't like Claire much (see below), but Jamie is a good kid.
  • Unlike most modern stories (in all media), the sex here includes reference to pregnancy as a possible consequence, which I count a good thing.
  • Most important of all is that Blair Bancroft can write. No doubt about that. I find all too many modern publications almost physically painful to read because of poor grammar and worse style. I noted only a few—very few—proofreading errors in Shadowed Paradise; it was a pleasure to be able to enjoy the story without being distracted by the writing.
  • Another thing Bancroft does well is revealing her characters through their thoughts. The thought pattern of each is distinct, and the madman's way of thinking is especially chilling.
  • The mystery is a good one. It bothers me not in the least that I guessed the murderer (albeit after briefly following a red herring), because there were plenty of fun twists along the way. I'm not a fan of horror stories, and have a not-so-cordial dislike for suspense, but there are some good scenes here. The snake story was especially delightful, and I have it on good authority that it's largely true....

Annoyed

  • The profanity. Really, what is it that makes people these days unable to talk without swearing? My parents never cursed, ever. And if their friends did, it was not in my hearing. We grew up, enjoyed books, watched movies, and lived full lives with vocabularies that found no need for such language. So many writers now appear to find the inclusion of profanity necessary for "realism."  However, as a reader, I long for the days of, "Aaron gently opened the tattered satchel, peered inside, and swore softly to himself," instead of "... and muttered, 'Oh, shit.'" I get the picture quite clearly with the former (I have both experience and imagination), and the latter causes me to wince. I will make occasional exceptions, but books that cause me pain are not high on my reading list.
  • Sex with a near stranger, one with a reputation for frequent sexual encounters with multiple partners, and you don't even think about sexually-transmitted diseases? This makes the responsible attitude toward pregnancy (see above) less impressive.
  • The book's attitude toward guns does not ring true. With a murdering manic preying on real estate agents, the agency forbids them to carry guns on the job, even in remote locations. News reporting is suppressed in order to avoid "the whole town stampeding to the gun shops."  In my experience, the only thing that sends Floridians stampeding to the gun shops is the threat of further restrictions on the availability of firearms and ammunition. I'd be shocked if many of the people in such a real estate agency didn't already own guns; those who did would certainly put up a good deal of resistance to being asked not to carry them. A murderer won't be much fazed by a cell phone, and a water moccasin not at all.
  • Bancroft is too hard on Florida's natural wildlife. Yes, there is the occasional report of an alligator that decides to visit someone's swimming pool, and I did once almost hit one that was crossing the road in front of my car. But our kids grew up camping in the woods and handled without a second thought armadillos wandering through camp, scorpions in their shoes (Florida scorpion bites are painful, but not dangerous), and once a pygmy rattlesnake sunning himself on top of the tent. Given how strong and resourceful a woman the story's protagonist has shown herself to be, having her flee in terror at the sight of a spider (albeit a large one) seemed odd.
  • She's a bit hard on Langdons, too. I'm no more happy here with the use of the name than I was when I discovered that Dan Brown's detective was named Robert Langdon. Finding one's name in a book is a special kind of thrill (though maybe the Smiths would disagree), but it's less so when you can in no way identify with the character. Claire is nothing like any Langdon I know. But of course she is who she is because of the genre of the book.
  • And that's the main problem. I really do not like Romance novels. The idea is entirely foreign to me of someone being so sex-starved that she would throw herself into bed with a man she's barely met—even if he did save her life. Even without the sex scenes, which fill my mind with images I'd rather be able to forget, the idea of a story driven by romantic love sounds nothing but boring to me. I make exceptions: George MacDonald wrote a number of romantic-in-that-sense stories (the ones C. S. Lewis liked the least), but his philosophies and his love for Scotland make up for his use of the vehicle that put bread into the mouths of his eleven children. Also, one of my favorite Dorothy Sayers stories is Gaudy Night, in which a love story is prominent—saved, again, by the mystery and by Sayers' incredible skill. It is the best compliment I can pay to Shadowed Paradise that some of the scenes reminded me of Gaudy Night.

Shadowed Paradise did not make me think any better of the Romance genre, though I'm very glad I read the book and confess that reading it was an enjoyable experience.  I can't see myself seeking out any other Romance novel; it's just not my style.

However ... sometime ... in a weak moment ... maybe. It appears Shadowed Paradise is the first novel in a series....

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, August 29, 2017 at 7:27 pm | Edit
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Our first chair sousaphone player wasn't able to play with the Greater Geneva Grande Award Marching Band in this year's Independence Day parade in Geneva, Florida, so he played the video cameral instead. Be sure to stay for the credits.

I think Geneva, Switzerland needs us, too; maybe this could be our audition tape. What fun we have! What total lack of self-respect we exhibit!

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, August 23, 2017 at 6:51 am | Edit
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I can't help it. In the 60's we were taught to "question authority," but I think I was born to question popular opinion. Hence my probably foolish need to wonder how we who aspire to be tolerant and understanding choose to apportion those qualities of mercy.

When someone commits a hateful, despicable act, we usually respond by asking what it was in that person's life that drove him to such desperate measuresWas the school shooter the victim of bullies? Did the man attack his former workplace because he had recently been firedWas the Islamic terrorist driven over the edge by his coutry's repressive policies and grinding poverty, or by American bombings, or by Hollywood's aggressive immoralityWas the abuser himself abused as a childWhy do they hate usWithout justifying ill behavior, collectively we seem to feel a need to understand, to mitigate, even to excuse the otherwise inexplicable actions of our fellow human beings.

Except.

I'll admit to have been having far too much fun with our 10 grandchildren to catch more than a few, fleeting references to recent newsWhat I hear disturbs me almost as much as the events themselvesSuddenly there seems to be a class of actions and ideologies—and a thousand times worse, of people—from whom we are withholding any attempt at understanding.

That the ideologies of white supremacy and Nazism are heinous I will heartily agreeBut I will not, I cannot, condemn them more than a hundred other appalling ideologies that our society seems much less anxious to repudiateIt isn't honest, it isn't fair, and it isn't right.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, August 22, 2017 at 3:18 pm | Edit
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Supposedly—I add the qualifier because I have so little trust remaining for news stories, even from multiple sources—supposedly, Arnold Schwarzenegger said this: If you choose to march with the flag that symbolizes the slaughter of millions of people, there are not two sides to that.

I suppose we can grant him a little leeway for artistic license. It's hard to be nuanced in a sound bite. But the ignorance of history represented by such a statement is frightening. If you're going to ban flags that have overseen mass slaughter, you need to take a much more thorough view. The U.S. flag cannot be excepted. According to Dante, even the flag of peaceful, neutral Switzerland, which I proudly wear this morning, bears its share of guilt.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, August 21, 2017 at 8:01 am | Edit
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From The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien:

Works fair and wonderful, while still they endure for eyes to see, are their own record, and only when they are in peril or broken for ever do they pass into song.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, August 20, 2017 at 6:14 am | Edit
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Here's a warning for those travelling to Canada:

I was prepared for the border agent to ask if we were bringing firearms with us into Canada. I was surprised, but not unduly so, when he asked if we had any alcohol. (Oops. I neglected to tell him about the 2 ounces we had in the first aid kit.) But I was flabbergasted when he asked if we had any knives, including jackknives. It's a good thing we weren't planning a picnic. I'm also glad I had left my larger jackknife behind (prescience?). Fortunately, my Swiss Army keychain with its one-inch blade (which the TSA thinks is dangerous) was allowed to pass the border, but he did examine it thoroughly. I was shocked.

Does the Second Amendment cover knives? Not that those who wrote it would have dreamed anyone would object to a knife, which in their day even small boys carried with impunity. (Before you jump on me, I KNOW our Constitution doesn't matter in Canada. But if the Canadians are freaking out over knives, can the U.S. be far behind?)

I had expected more hassles crossing back into U.S., but it was a piece of cake. She looked at our passports, asked us where we were coming from, where we were going, and how long we had been in Canada, then wished us well.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, August 8, 2017 at 10:10 am | Edit
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The New York Times story begins like this:

There is a story in the Hebrew Bible that tells of God’s call for the annihilation of the Canaanites, a people who lived in what are now Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Israel and the Palestinian territories thousands of years ago.

“You shall not leave alive anything that breathes,” God said in the passage. “But you shall utterly destroy them.”

But a genetic analysis published on Thursday has found that the ancient population survived that divine call for their extinction, and their descendants live in modern Lebanon.

It's an interesting article. What's frustrating is the implication that there should be anything suprising about the discovery the Canaanites did not die out.

Even a cursory reading of the Old Testament shows that if there is one thing the Israelites did not do, it was wipe out the Canaanites. Some they couldn't defeat, some they deliberately let live, some they were tricked into not destroying. They intermarried freely, despite prohibitions. So if there was a point in bringing up the out-of-context quotation, it's beyond me.

However, it does give me a plot idea for a behind-the-scenes fantasy story, with angels and archangels and "all the company of heaven" working in realms humans know not of, in which it is discovered that among the Canaanites there is a genetic mutation that will lead inevitably to some future, horrific disaster. The Israelites, a small and apparently unimportant tribe, are chosen as earthly agents to be groomed and trained for the job of making sure the mutation dies out, that no trace of that particular DNA is left to be passed into the future. But they fail, and disaster is hurtling towards us....

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, August 7, 2017 at 6:17 pm | Edit
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alt

Happy Birthday to my country-in-law!

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, August 1, 2017 at 7:29 am | Edit
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altThe Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin, 1977)

The Silmarillion had been sitting, unread, on my bookshelves for years, even decades. There's really no excuse. I've been a deeply-committed fan of Tolkien's work ever since high school, when my father's unusually prescient sister and her family gave me the Lord of the Rings trilogy one Christmas. If I had the words to explain how much those stories mean to me, I'd be a paid writer myself.

Since then I've read and loved others of Tolkien's works. The Hobbit is also one of my favorites, of course, and I have a special love for Leaf by Niggle. So why did I avoid The Silmarillion? Probably because it is a posthumous work, created by his son, Christopher Tolkien, from unpublished writings. Posthumus and unpublished works always make me nervous, because, like uncut gems, they lack the beauty and wonder that come from the artist's later efforts. I wonder, too: Would the author be pleased to see his ideas come to light after his death, or would he blush and feel his nakedness exposed?

Be that as it may, I knew I had to dust off this book when I discovered that our 13-year-old grandson had read it before me. I'm glad I did. I think Christopher Tolkien did an admirable job, and I loved learning more of the story that occurs before and around the Lord of the Rings books.

I don't recommend The Silmarillion to everyone, however. Those who have told me they just couldn't get past all the names in LOTR haven't seen anything yet. My head is still spinning. What's more, what I dislike most about the LOTR movies—the emphasis on endless battle scenes, and the lack of the amazing character development present in the books—is in full force here. The Silmarillion reads very much like The Iliad, or some of the Old Testament: lots of names, dry historical facts, and battle after battle, with just enough story to keep you going. It's a treasure trove of gems, but they're uncut, and how I wish Tolkien the elder had been able to give them the polish only he could have done.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, July 28, 2017 at 6:08 am | Edit
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— Glad I learned how to sing harmony. Thanks, Mom, for all those choruses of "Found a Peanut" in three parts when I was a kid!

— We had fun singing in the car, didn't we, sweetie? "Found a Peanut," "Make New Friends,"  "Thou Poor Bird" .... happy memories.

— Lots more than these, too ... dozens and dozens ... you would sing the harmony and I would sing the melody ... it trained my mind for hearing the parts and eventually we could switch.

This exchange between a professional backup singer friend and her choir director mother inspired me to write about a question that has been troubling me: Where do today's young children learn to sing in harmony?  They are surrounded by music (of a sort, anyway) in a way my generation never was, whether by choice on their phones or by chance in the shopping mall. But it's passive; where do they learn to sing?

Many of my elementary school classrooms had pianos. (And bless the teachers, we occasionally were allowed to fiddle on them before and after school.) Sometimes the music teacher came in and sang with us, and sometimes the teacher herself led us in singing. Later, but still in elementary school, we could choose to participate in a chorus, where we learned two- and three-part harmony. By the time we were in eighth grade, there were enough boys whose voices had changed to make that four-part.

Does that sound like a swanky private school to you?  It was actually four different public schools in a very small town in upstate New York. (Even back then districts were fond of moving students around.)

My own children had an absolutely fantastic music teacher in elementary school, and she gave them many experiences I never dreamed of. But when it comes to harmony, I had the better deal. They also had a far more amazing high school chorus experience than I did, but I'm talking about younger children: few high school students chose chorus as an option, fewer still if they had not had a great musical experience earlier on.

Our children also gained an incomparable musical education in church, thanks to a choir director who was both a great musician and a great teacher. But for congregational singing, I was much better off than children in most churches since then.

The church we attended when I was young was not, generally, an enlightening experience, and I was glad when we stopped going and I had my Sunday mornings free. But it, too, deserves a lot of credit in my musical education. We sang from the wonderful red Hymnbook published by a group of Reformed and Presbyterian denominations, a hymnbook complete with time and key signatures and four-part harmony for every hymn. Congregational singing was not as peaked in those days as it often is today, and that experience was foundational for my musical life.

Granted, I'm shy enough that I didn't feel at all secure in my singing until after many years of choir experience, and learning to improvise harmony came almost too late. I wish I'd learned more as a child. But I'm beginning to be convinced that, between school and church, I gained a better musical foundation in my tiny New York town than most children receive today.

What has been your musical experience?  Convince me that I'm wrong!

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017 at 6:38 am | Edit
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I found these adorable Ariel swim fins at Toys R Us, and couldn't resist them for our mermaid-obsessed granddaughter. They were on sale, and I thought $14 wasn't unreasonable, because—well, because I am a grandmother, I suppose.

At the same time, we needed an auto booster seat for our grandson. I found this cool seat at Walmart. The cost: $13.

A seat designed to keep a child safe costs less than a pair of child's swim fins?  More than 13% less, actually, since there was no sales tax on the car seat.

It could mean that the fins are vastly overpriced, but I prefer to think that the manufacturer and the state are conspiring to put travel safety within everyone's reach. You can spend multiple hundreds of dollars for a child's car seat—but you don't need to.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, July 23, 2017 at 2:48 pm | Edit
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