I'm not particularly aware of what parents and teachers worry about these days, having long passed that stage of life, but I know that for a long time, parents have been concerned that kids are not doing the things that concerned my generation's parents and teachers because we were actually doing them. Case in point: Reading.

For decades, schools have found it necessary to push children to read books. And I can see why, given the number of adults who simply don't read books, once they are done with school. They weren't reading for pleasure back when they were captive students, but rather because books were assigned—so it's hardly surprising that they don't read now that they are free.

I hear responsible parents these days admonishing their children, "Put down your phone/iPad/Nintendo and go read a book!" Or so I'm told; maybe they've given up by now. But I'm sure the schools are still telling kids to read. Pretty sure, at least.

That's not what I heard growing up. My parents were both avid readers, but I was more likely to hear, "Put down that book and go outside!" That wasn't exactly onerous, at least not when we lived in Upstate New York with a large, undeveloped section of land just across the street from our house. I spent nearly as many happy hours exploring the woods and fields as I spent exploring the worlds of my books. "Put down that book and get your chores done" was not quite as welcome a call.

Side Note: Our parents may have had a point.  Here's something my dad wrote after I visited the eye doctor for a yet stronger glasses prescription.

Dr. O’Keefe never offers any advice for arresting Linda’s rapidly increasing near-sightedness except to make her get outdoors more and not let her bury her nose in a book.  I think that we really need some advice that is better thought out. [More than 20 years later, the doctors could do no better than this when our eldest daughter was experiencing the same problem.]

Teachers and parents these days (where by "these days" I'm referring to anything after about 1980) have been so desperate to get kids to read that they have lowered their standards and expectations almost as if this were a limbo contest. "I don't care what he reads, as long as he's reading."

Contrast this with my mother, who tried to enlist the help of our elementary school librarian to get me to read something more challenging than the horse stories and science fiction I was devouring. Or my sixth grade teacher, who solemnly advised my father that "Linda should improve the quality of her reading." I'm certain that he was correct; I'm equally certain that my father's attempts to encourage me in that direction, beginning with bringing home from the library a Jules Verne compendium, were not a resounding success.

Reading has always been my passion, and in my eighth decade I have not yet outgrown horse stories and science fiction. However, I think even my sixth grade teacher would be pleased with my much-expanded selections. It's possible that the most credit for my habit of reading should go to the fact that we did not have a television in the house until I was seven years old, nor a computer till after I was married.

One thing I know for sure: there will always be an X, a Y, and parents and teachers who will exhort their children, "Stop doing X and go do Y."

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, April 28, 2024 at 6:03 am | Edit
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It's been a while since a Grace update, but the news is good, as the family is settling back into life together. Here's what the Daleys wrote—for pictures you can check out their blog.

As they say, no news is good news. Not much exciting has been going on lately. Grace is eating a fairly regular diet at meals, which has always been pretty small. Yesterday, she drank a lot, which hasn't been common for her, so we give her 600ml of water via her NG tube, 50ml every hour throughout the day. She gets 2 bottles of baby formula 50ml/hour throughout the day, which means she doesn't have to be on the pump at night, which is nice for everyone involved.

We thought she had c-diff last week, as the symptoms returned shortly after getting off the antibiotic, but the test came back negative, and her symptoms have mostly resolved, so perhaps it was just related to a switch from magnesium sulfate to magnesium oxide for a few days due to it being impossible to get from a pharmacy within an hour of us. Heather had to crush up the pills and make a solution herself, which you would have thought a pharmacy could do... But, she is back on her regular magnesium sulfate now, and we just have to remember to schedule and pickup a few medications at the Dana Farber pharmacy when we go for weekly clinic visits.

Jon has returned to work, with mostly regular hours. The family is happy to be back together and enjoying conversation and games and just regular life together.

Grace has a bone marrow aspirate scheduled for tomorrow, to verify that everything is working as it should, and we expect those results to be good. She'll get another one around day 100 and that is the next milestone we are looking forward to, as she should be able to get off cyclosporine at that point, which causes lots of side-effects, so the other medications can stop soon after that.

One such side effect that we had heard about but she had not experienced until this week is that she is growing hair on her face and ears, so think of a combination of teenager peach fuzz and old man hairy ears and eyebrows, and you'll have a good idea of what it looks like.

Grace often asks if the baby is awake and likes to feel its kicks. Heather has been feeling pretty big, and measurements confirm it and there is a question if there are any tests to do (glucose or an ultrasound). We've been joking about whether there is a hidden twin, but we're pretty sure there isn't. Laughing

The BMA mentioned for "tomorrow" was yesterday. She's never minded them before, but this time they had to poke her twice, so she's a little sore. The hair-in-unwanted-places story reminds me of the well-known fact that a dieting woman will lose weight from her bust sooner and faster than from her hips....

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 25, 2024 at 6:28 am | Edit
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Porter usually knows better than to read me sports articles, but he knew my writer side wouldn't want to miss this.  Either that or he was feeling in a particularly sadistic mood, and as I happen to know that he was still elated from a great run this morning, I'm sure that wasn't the case.

Porter doesn't usually read "Wrestling News 365" any more than I do, but it came up in his phone's news feed.  The headline was "LeBron James Stuns NBA World, Walks Away from $162 Million Deal!" and the author Olivia Smith.  I'm not including the link because I could be accused of spreading mis-, dis-, mal-, or at the very least, obscene-information, but Mr. Google will show it to you easily enough.

"Obscene?" you say.  "How is it obscene?"  Well, I challenge the writers among my readers to peruse the excerpts below without experiencing the same stomach-turning revulsion a normal person might feel having accidentally encountered a pornographic website.  For openers,

Yet again LeBron James, the notorious figure in b-ball, has turned into the point of convergence of conversations as the Los Angeles Lakers explore the uneven waters of vulnerability. With the customary season creeping towards its decision, the Lakers end up wrestling with a horde of inquiries, the most squeezing of which rotates around the fate of their supernatural chief, LeBron James

Ah, so that's why it was included in a wrestling news site.

LeBron James without a doubt remains as one of the NBA’s chief gifts, even as he moves toward the nightfall of his famous lifetime at 39 years old. His simple presence can change a group, infusing importance and title yearnings into their DNA. Notwithstanding, LeBron’s impact stretches out past the hardwood, pervading into the unpredictable texture of group the board choices. Named ‘LeGM’ for his penchant to impact faculty moves, LeBron’s inclusion frequently requires a fragile equilibrium for front workplaces, possibly smothering their independence.

LeBron’s propelling age adds one more layer of intricacy to the situation. With the ways of the world running slight, LeBron’s window to fight for titles limits with each passing season. The Lakers’ reliance on prompt accomplishment under LeBron’s stewardship takes a chance with leaving the establishment in confusion should their undertakings miss the mark. Besides, the possibility of LeBron’s potential retirement poses a potential threat, abandoning a void that the Lakers might battle to fill, both on and off the court.

Okay, that's enough.  I don't want to stretch the "fair use" copyright concept too far, and besides, I don't think I can take anymore.

Still, in the end, it's funny.  Ya'll know how much I dislike mockery, but I'm not attacking Olivia Smith the person.  If she is a person.  I'm sure that such stunning prose could only have been generated by AI, and Automated Idiocy is fair game as far as I am concerned.  Yesterday my phone's Autocorrect unilaterally replaced "Wind" with "Eindhoven."  If this is what it wants to be when it grows up, I think I'll pass.

In case you're wondering, and checking up on Ms. Smith yourself, the "Olivia Smith" pictured on the article's byline does not look like the Olivia Smith Google shows me, who is an actual, award-winning journalist.  But who knows?  Ms. Smith, if you are a real person who really wrote this article, you deserve a better editor.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, April 21, 2024 at 8:46 am | Edit
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Not long ago, I ran down an interesting rabbit hole.

As a genealogy researcher, i have both an interest in and a knack for finding people and stories. Today a friend's casual comment on a completely unrelated subject led me eventually this meme on Facebook:

It caught my eye, both because it speaks an important truth and even more because I knew a friend who would especially appreciate it. But I'm also researcher enough not to pass something like this along without knowing more about the context. So I did a Google image search for the picture.

That turned out to be so much easier than most of the image searches I do. I've mentioned before that I'm organizing my father's journals, and also the old photographs from the same time period. Since most of the labelling on the photos is missing or minimal, Google Lens has been of immeasurable assistance, though a good deal of detective work is still necessary.

The context of this photo popped up immediately. (Well, almost—I'll get to that caveat in a moment.) Wikipedia has the exact picture, and helpfully explains that it is a photo of "Polish Jews being loaded into trains at Umschlagplatz of the Warsaw Ghetto, 1942." On this, I think Wikipedia can be trusted. So it's legit.

But I mentioned that the search wasn't exactly as easy as I had implied. That's where this rabbit hole got especially interesting.

Google refused, at first, to show me any results, as they were likely to be "explicit." I don't know about you, but to me, that designation implies that the results would show me pornography or graphic violence or other obscenity. Granted, the ideas and actions represented by that photo are obscene enough, but not the photo itself, which legitimately documents an important and dangerous time period.

In order to see it, I had to turn off Chrome's "Safe Search" feature, which I had heretofore assumed was there to filter out graphic sex and violence. The feature manages to discern the difference between pornography and the naked ladies featured in art museums; why is historical data a problem? Some day I may get curious enough to check out other browsers. Anyone here have experiences to share?

On top of that, I learned that what I was seeing was someone's second attempt at sharing this meme, Facebook having taken down the first. What Facebook found offensive I do not know. I'm tempted to post it directly myself and see what they do, but I'll try cross-posting this first. I generally just post links to Lift Up Your Hearts! when I want to share them on Facebook, and I doubt the FB censors will dig that deep. We'll see.

Here's why it matters: Knowledge of history is essential. My 15-year-old self would have choked on that, as of all the history classes I endured, there was only one I thought worthwhile. (I take that back; there was also the unit on Native Americans back in fourth grade, which was pretty cool.) Nonetheless, one of the lessons I remember best from all my years in school is that one of the clearest characteristics of a totalitarian régime is its attempts to cut its people off from their own history, whether by re-writing it (à la the novel 1984) or by changing the language (whatever the benefits of simplified Chinese, it has greatly limited the people's ability to read historical Chinese documents), or by simply encouraging an atmosphere of ignorance.

The meme, it turns out, is as much about the First Amendment as the Second.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 18, 2024 at 7:50 am | Edit
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I'm putting this in the "Just for Fun" category, because laughing at small annoyances is like removing the stone from your shoe before it has a chance to raise a blister.

This just in from Porter's Spectrum news feed, emphasis mine:

With interest rates in the 7% range, home buyers, and even sellers, are seeing a change in the housing market.

I told you weird things are happening these days. Why, next thing you know, we'll be hearing about hikers whose health apps indicate that they change elevation both going up and going down a hill! Or that despite the best efforts of government, academia, Hollywood, and Big Tech, Newton's Third Law is still in effect. 

(I tried to work Pharma and Factory Farming into the list, but it seemed like overkill. Oops—I mean it seemed a bit too much. Despite the banned four-letter word "k--l" embedded in the term, that was not a call for violence.)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 16, 2024 at 7:50 am | Edit
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Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine by Sarah Lohman (Simon & Schuster, 2016)

This was not the Sarah Lohman book that first caught my eye. That honor belongs to Endangered Eating: America's Vanishing Foods, which was published in October of last year. But I make extensive use of eReaderIQ to find good prices for Kindle books, and Eight Flavors came up first.

Lohman tells the stories of eight quintessentially American flavors: where they came from, how they get to us, how they became "American" from their widely divergent sources. This is a book my father would have loved, and so, I believe would my sister-in-law, who has in the past given us several similar books.

Eight Flavors is easy and delightful reading. My main complaint is that Lohman is thoroughly immersed in her modern, urban culture, in which heretofore objectionable language is casually used, and worse, historical events cannot be presented without pointing out how oppressive and racist the people were back then. A simple example: In the chapter on garlic, she quotes a 1939 magazine article that remarks on the cultural assimilation of Italian-American baseball superstar Joe DiMaggio with, “He never reeks of garlic and prefers chicken chow mein to spaghetti.” Lohman dubs it "first-class casual racism," even though her chapter clearly explains that garlic, a hallmark of Italian cooking, was still a foreign taste to many Americans. I remember that when we lived just outside of Boston, the train would pass a set of apartments that were popular among people from India; the scent of Indian spices was distinctive and pervasive, even from the train. I'll grant that there's no subtlety in that observation—for all I could tell, the residents might have been Bengali or Pakistani rather than Indian—but there's nothing evil about it.  Noting that one can often tell by sense of smell what food a person has recently eaten is not racist—especially when the flavor is as strong as garlic.

She also reveals her (sometimes understandable) contempt for people who don't recognize that "chemical additives" are sometimes identical to the chemicals present in totally natural products. She acknowledges that the flavors found in nature are much more complex than the primary flavor molecule (e.g. vanilla versus vanillin) but at the same time dismisses the point.

All that aside, it's an enjoyable book. I'll share Lohman's list of delightful flavors to whet your appetite.

  1. black pepper
  2. vanilla
  3. chili powder
  4. curry powder
  5. soy sauce
  6. garlic
  7. monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  8. sriracha
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, April 15, 2024 at 1:52 pm | Edit
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One of my favorite books is Peter Drucker's Adventures of a Bystander. In "The Monster and the Lamb," one of the many page-turning essays about the people and events that shaped his life, Drucker reveals the actions he took in 1933 to assure that he could not back out of his determination to leave his promising and comfortable life in Germany, should Hitler come to power.

I also made up my mind to make sure that I could not waver and stay. ... I began to write a book that would make it impossible for the Nazis to have anything to do with me, and equally impossible for me to have anything to do with them. It was a short book, hardly more than a pamphlet. Its subject was Germany's only Conservative political philosopher, Friedrich Julius Stahl—a prominent Prussian politician and Conservative parliamentarian of the period before Bismarck, the philosopher of freedom under the law, and the leader of the philosophical reaction against Hegel as well as Hegel's successor as professor of philosophy at Berlin. And Stahl had been a Jew! A monograph on Stahl, which in the name of conservatism and patriotism put him forth as the exemplar and preceptor for the turbulence of the 1930s, represented a frontal attack on Nazism. It took me only a few weeks to write the monograph. I sent it off to Germany's best-known publisher in political science and political history.... The book, I am happy to say, was understood by the Nazis exactly as I had intended; it was immediately banned and publicly burned. Of course it had no inmpact. I did not expect any. But it made it crystal-clear where I stood; and I knew I had to make sure for my own sake that I would be counted, even if no one else cared.

That passage has been on my mind lately. I have a strong feeling that I need to follow his example, albeit in my own, minor way. Whether big actions or small, doing the right thing is still doing the right thing. I don't have a well-known publisher ready to print whatever I might send them, but I have the internet, and a blog platform that is not subject to the censors of YouTube, Facebook, or any other Big Tech platform.

I have a duty to stand for the truth. For Truth. 

Not my truth, but the truth as I see it. The former implies that there are many personal truths, but no real, independent, objective Truth that can be sought, found, and trusted. "The truth as I see it" instead means that I leave open the possibility that I might be wrong, or—as in the story of the blind men and the elephant—at least not seeing the whole truth. In fact, I'd say it's pretty much guaranteed that I'm not seeing the whole truth. But what I do see, from over seven decades of experience, and a reasonable amount of both intelligence and education, I will say.

Because the world has been turned upside down, and an astonishing number of people either don't see what is happening, or don't have the time and the resources to care, or truly believe that the inversion is finally putting the world to rights.

If the whole world says that war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength, I'm going to reply, No, it isn't. Fortunately, it's not the whole world that's saying such things, just those with the biggest megaphones. More and more people are noticing the emperor en déshabillé, and are speaking up, and when I find someone who makes a point better than I can, I'll share it.

I don't expect this blog to change much; I've never been known for keeping silent when I have an opinion. But now these thoughts have their own category: Here I Stand. It is related to my Last Battle series, which I tried to start in 2018; it finally got off the ground in 2020, but is still struggling. I don't usually have trouble putting my thoughts into words, but this category makes me think there might be something to Stephen Pressfield's idea that there is an active force (he calls it "Resistance") that opposes creative activity. All too often, the more important I think an idea is, the harder I find writing about it. If this one works out, maybe I'll merge the two categories, or connect them somehow. But first things first.

I see my mission as to seek and speak the truth. I'm not going to argue, I'm not going to debate, I'm not going to insist. I must speak, but no one is required to listen.

If you have read C. S. Lewis's story, The Silver Chair, you may recall that after the Prince is freed from his enchantment, the Witch attempts to get him and his liberators to deny all they know about the world they came from, and what they remember from their former lives. (It's in Chapter 12, and you can read that here.) If my writing smells like burnt marsh-wiggle to some, I hope that others will find it helps to clear away some of the enchanting smoke. If nothing else, I want to be able to say with Drucker, "Of course it had no inmpact. I did not expect any. But it made it crystal-clear where I stood; and I knew I had to make sure for my own sake that I would be counted, even if no one else cared."

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, April 14, 2024 at 6:47 am | Edit
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For those of you waiting to hear about Grace's return to her home in New Hampshire after more than two months of exile in Boston, I'll quote Heather's post in its entirety (emphasis mine).

Happy, Happy, Happy!

Grace sings this little Happy song at least once a day. She sang it in the hallway as we were leaving the apartment to go home. I have not yet managed to get a video of her singing it.

Everybody is doing better now that we're all together.

It's good to be home; it's good to not have to try to get a bunch of stuff done before leaving again. We are still adjusting to the routine, and still unpacking, but the overall feeling is good.

There is a lot of laughter in the house with Grace around. She is such a blessing.

Please continue to pray for her complete healing and protection from germs.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 11, 2024 at 7:28 am | Edit
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As spring begins to make its welcome way into the Northeast, here's a reminder to those of you who love winter of how nice it can be.  Can you beat riding out a snowstorm in an off-grid cabin you built yourself?

I love this guy's videos. I don't know why, but I find them so relaxing, almost meditative. So when I need a little de-stressing, they're a good break.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, April 10, 2024 at 7:04 am | Edit
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Category Everyday Life: [first] [previous] [newest]

If you are not among those of our family and friends who are travelling to view the solar eclipse, or who are lucky enough to live in the path of totality, you can still enjoy this facsimile. (Image found on Facebook.)

Here in Florida we are a lot further away from the path of totality than on March 7, 1970, when I lived in Philadelphia and the path was just off the coast. Here's how my father described it then:

On Saturday we watched the eclipse by focussing the light from the sun on a piece of paper through half of our binoculars. It worked well, and the progress of the moon was very clear. At the darkest, it looked like a heavily overcast day outside, so it was not really impressive for this time of the year, but what we didn't see here we did see on television.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, April 8, 2024 at 6:38 am | Edit
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All continuing to go well, Grace will return to her New Hampshire home on Monday! This is huge for her and for the whole family.

She will need to return to Boston once or twice each week for clinic visits. At some point, the Dartmouth hospital should be able to handle some of the appointments, but for now, they've decided it's worth the long drives to be able to have the family all together. After all, they've been driving almost that much going the other direction while living in Boston.

Grace has had less nausea, has gotten her formula intake down to 16 ounces per day, is eating more on her own, and is steadily gaining weight. Thanks be to God and all your prayers!

Please pray for:

  • Continued progress for Grace
  • A smooth transition back to being a family all together.
  • Wisdom for Heather, Jon, and the doctors as they figure out the best way to keep Grace healthy while reintegrating her into normal family life.
  • Strength for Heather as she handles the normally-exhausting late stages of pregnancy.
  • The birth and the baby. I'm rooting for a girl, and in my mind I've already named her "Hope"—but I have a less-than-stellar batting average when it comes to baby guesses.

Grace's next milestone will be the three-month mark (May 8), where if all things continue to go well, her transplant will be considered to be successful. It's only the next of many more steps, but it's an important one.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, April 6, 2024 at 2:29 pm | Edit
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You need to get out of your comfort zone.

How often have you heard that advice? Or given it?

It sounds good, as do most dangerous ideas that contain a bit of truth. 

Doing hard things can lead to physical, mental, and spiritual growth. But it can also break you. Children grow best when we give them plenty of opportunity to stretch their abilities—not by subjecting them to the rack. That goes for adults, too.

Here's the thing: For many people, living ordinary, daily life is out of their comfort zone, and they get all the growth opportunities they need just making it through the day. Let me say that again.

For many, daily life is out of their comfort zone.

I guarantee that you know people for whom that is true. It may very well be true for you; if not all the time, at least on occasion. The catch is, none of us knows where someone else is in this. We have no idea how hard someone may be working to make it seem as if his life is easy—or even bearable. And that's okay. Life is hard, and growth comes out of the struggle. As long as we remember that it's not our job to push someone else out of his own comfort zone. I know a woman who learned to swim by being thrown out of a boat in the middle of a lake. A lake with alligators. She lived, but I don't recommend the method.

In my experience, when someone tells another person, "You need to get out of your comfort zone," he's less interested in helping that person grow than in getting a particular job done. And hoping that a combination of guilt and the prospect of personal growth will push the reluctant victim to accept. Don't do that.

Push yourself? That's great. Reaching, stretching, working hard, and overcoming difficulties can be good for you and for the world—and it usually feels fantastic (in the end; not always in the middle). But when someone else insists you need to get out of your comfort zone, take it with a grain of salt. Sometimes pain can indeed lead to gain, but it is more likely to lead to injury. And for sure, don't say such a thing to others.

Comfort zone? Comfort zone? Where does that idea come from, anyway? I'll take a poll: Who here are feeling relaxed and comfortable with their lives? Raise your hands. I didn't think so.

There's work to be done in this world, and duty calls us all. Difficult tasks and decisions come to us every day, nolens volens. This is not a call to shirk our responsibilities, but to know ourselves and to respect the needs of our fellow-strugglers.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, April 3, 2024 at 10:44 am | Edit
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