It's time for my annual compilation of books read during the past year.

  • Total books: 85
  • Fiction: 66
  • Non-fiction: 19
  • Months with most books: a tie between July and September (12)
  • Month with fewest books: April (2)
  • Most frequent authors: Randall Garrett (19), Lois Lenski (16), Tony Hillerman (10), Brandon Sanderson (7). Hillerman is the only author to make the top four both last year and this, as his excellent Leaphorn & Chee books spanned the two years. Garrett and Lenski made such a strong showing because they were each the subject of a particular focus, and their books are generally short. Sanderson, on the other hand, though he's only represented by seven books, is the runaway leader in number of pages.

Here's the list, grouped by author; links are to reviews. The different colors only reflect whether or not you've followed a hyperlink. The ratings (★) and warnings (☢) are on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest/mildest. Warnings, like the ratings,  are highly subjective and reflect context, perceived intended audience, and my own biases. Nor are they completely consistent. They may be for sexual content, language, violence, worldview, or anything else that I find objectionable. Your mileage may vary.

Title Author Rating/Warning
Matthew Wolfe 2: The Adventures Begin Blair Bancroft (Grace Kone) ★★★ ☢
Matthew Wolfe 3: Revelations Blair Bancroft (Grace Kone) ★★★
The Art of Evil Blair Bancroft (Grace Kone) ★★★★ ☢
Mistborn 1: The Final Empire Brandon Sanderson ★★★
Mistborn 2: The Well of Ascension Brandon Sanderson ★★★
Mistborn 3: The Hero of Ages Brandon Sanderson ★★★
Stormlight 1: The Way of Kings Brandon Sanderson ★★★
Stormlight 2: Words of Radiance Brandon Sanderson ★★★★
Stormlight 2.5: Edgedancer Brandon Sanderson ★★★★★
Warbreaker Brandon Sanderson ★★★★
Deep Work Cal Newport ★★★★★
So Good They Can't Ignore You Cal Newport ★★★★★
Rosefire Carolyn Clare Givens ★★★
A Child's History of England Charles Dickens ★★★ ☢
The Light in the Forest Conrad Richter ★★
Just David (aka North to Freedom) Eleanor Porter ★★★★
Just David (read a second time to check for differences between the original and the modern editions) Eleanor Porter ★★★★
Brian's Saga 1: Hatchet Gary Paulsen ★★★ ☢
Brian's Saga 2: The River Gary Paulsen ★★★ ☢
Brian's Saga 3: Brian's Winter Gary Paulsen ★★★ ☢
Brian's Saga 4: Brian's Hunt Gary Paulsen ★★ ☢☢
Brian's Saga 4: Brian's Return Gary Paulsen ★★ ☢
Why Good Arguments Often Fail James W. Sire ★★★★
Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual Jocko Willink
Extending the Table: A World Community Cookbook Joetta Handrich Schlabach ★★
Greenglass House Kate Milford ★★★
Kisses from Katie Katie Davis with Beth Clark ★★★
Bayou Suzette Lois Lenski ★★★★
Blue Ridge Billy Lois Lenski ★★★★
Boom Town Boy Lois Lenski ★★★★
Coal Camp Girl Lois Lenski ★★★★
Corn Farm Boy Lois Lenski ★★★★
Deer Valley Girl Lois Lenski ★★★
Flood Friday Lois Lenski ★★★★
Houseboat Girl Lois Lenski ★★★★
Indian Captive Lois Lenski ★★★★
Judy's Journey Lois Lenski ★★★★
Mama Hattie's Girl Lois Lenski ★★★★
Prairie School Lois Lenski ★★★★
San Francisco Boy Lois Lenski ★★★★
Shoo-Fly Girl Lois Lenski ★★★
Strawberry Girl Lois Lenski ★★★★
Texas Tomboy Lois Lenski ★★★★
Out of This World Lowell Thomas, Jr. ★★★★
Talking to Strangers Malcolm Gladwell ★★★★
Humble Pi Matt Parker ★★★★
In the Heart of the Sea Nathaniel Philbrick ★★★ ☢
The Wild Robot Peter Brown ★★★★
The Wild Robot Escapes Peter Brown ★★★★
A Spaceship Named McGuire Randall Garrett ★★★
Anything You Can Do Randall Garrett ★★★
But, I Don't Think Randall Garrett
By Proxy Randall Garrett ★★★
Cum Grano Salis Randall Garrett ★★★★
Damned If You Don't Randall Garrett ★★★
Despoilers of the Golden Empire Randall Garrett ★★★
His Master's Voice Randall Garrett ★★★
Nor Iron Bars a Cage Randall Garrett ★★★
Or Your Money Back Randall Garrett ★★★
Pagan Passions Randall Garrett ★★ ☢☢
Psi-Power 1: Brain Twister Randall Garrett ★★★
Psi-Power 2: The Impossibles Randall Garrett ★★★
Psi-Power 3: Supermind Randall Garrett ★★
Quest of the Golden Ape Randall Garrett ★★
The Eyes Have It Randall Garrett ★★★★
The Foreign Hand-Tie Randall Garrett ★★★
The Highest Treason Randall Garrett ★★★
The Penal Cluster Randall Garrett ★★
Loserthink Scott Adams ★★★
Life of Fred: Pre-Algebra 0 with Physics Stanley F. Schmidt ★★★★
Life of Fred: Australia Stanley F. Schmidt ★★★★
Life of Fred: Pre-Algebra 2 with Economics Stanley F. Schmidt ★★★★
Life of Fred: Trigonometry Expanded Edition Stanley F. Schmidt ★★★★
Coyote Waits Tony Hillerman ★★★
Hunting Badger Tony Hillerman ★★★
Sacred Clowns Tony Hillerman ★★★
Skeleton Man Tony Hillerman ★★★
Skinwalkers Tony Hillerman ★★★
The Dark Wind Tony Hillerman ★★★
The Ghostway Tony Hillerman ★★★
The  People  of  Darkness Tony Hillerman ★★★
The Shape Shifter Tony Hillerman ★★★
The Wailing Wind Tony Hillerman ★★★
The  Bible  (English  Standard  Version,  canonical)   ★★★★★
The  New  Testament  (King  James  Version,  canonical)   ★★★★★

 

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, January 9, 2022 at 5:08 am | Edit
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It is January 6.

"Chalking the door" is done.

At our crêche, the Wise Men have completed their journey.

Christmas (all 12 days) is officially over, and it's time to put away the decorations.

Alas, we have no Epiphany service at church today, though in true Episcopalian compromise fashion we gave it a nod last Sunday and will do so again in three days. Indeed, the Chalking of the Door wasn't even mentioned this year, but we have long memories and still have our chalk that was blessed years ago—most of the time it lives in the January folder of my Tickler file.

A few days before Christmas, I was returning home in the dusk and saw an incredibly bright object in the sky, directly in front of me. My first thought was that it was an airplane flying directly towards me; I'm accustomed to that sight as I sit on our back porch swing during the early morning or late evening hours. But even though it continued to reappear as my path homeward twisted and turned, it did not move, and remained in the same part of the sky. I later confirmed my hunch that it was the planet Venus, familiar to me in both the evening and the morning skies—but never had I seen it so bright!

There are many theories as to the identity of the "star" that guided the Wise Men to Bethlehem, and I'm not saying it was Venus. But that sight brought home to me in a way few things have done just how impressive an object like Venus at near it's maximum magnitude can be, and how it can look like something that might both lead a traveller and even "come to rest" over a particular place.

It was a wonderful anticipation of the coming Epiphany.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, January 6, 2022 at 3:19 pm | Edit
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It's amazing how uplifting a little light and beauty can be when the world has gone mad. Take a few minutes and get 2022 off to a pleasant start with the latest two episodes of Chateau  Love.

The December 27 episode (21 minutes) features a private tour of the Christmas decorations at Château Gaillard Amboise (not to be confused with the Château Gaillard built by Richard the Lionheart). This castle is historical as well as beautiful, and I felt as if I were walking through a famous European museum.  Unfortunately, YouTube is not allowing me to embed this video, but you can watch it directly on YouTube here.

For New Year's Eve, the show is twice as long (41 minutes) but much more personal, including a flashback visit to Tuscany, with a guest appearance of Vivienne's sister Ashley. Visit a magical European Christmas market and accompany Vivienne and Simon as they shop, create, and decorate in preparation for Christmas at their own château. Best of all, Vivienne's amazing artistry shines in this episode. Christmas decorations from citrus slices. Stunning hand-painted bird plates. Amazing food, artistic table settings, and indescribably beautiful decorations gilding an already beautiful home.

I was swept right back to our own magical Easter visit, nearly 15 years ago, to Simon and Vivienne's previous French château.


Easter  2007

I hope you enjoy this delightful break from all the troubles of the world, and head into 2022 with a lighter heart.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, January 3, 2022 at 5:11 am | Edit
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In the second week of Advent, my true love gave to me:

  • Five days of company
  • Four choir rehearsals
  • Three restaurant meals
  • Two Christmas parties
  • And a service of Lessons and Carols.


(Photo credit Tim Hanes)

It was fantastic—and today I slept all afternoon.

We now resume our regular life.  (Hah!)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, December 14, 2021 at 6:52 pm | Edit
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I know I'm a little late for this Thanksgiving wish, since we're now well into Advent and the rest of the country is singing Christmas carols and concentrating on commerce. But on the real Thanksgiving Day we were far too busy indulging in our family's week-long celebration (my grandson's "favorite holiday of the year") to write at that time. (If it looks as if managed to keep up my blogging schedule, that's largely because I had a backlog of posts stored up for the purpose.)

Our missing persons list (always honored on the tablecloth participants sign every year) was longer than usual, but we still numbered over 30 people, and it was SO GOOD to get back to a reasonably normal life again. (If you don't count as abnormal spending most of a day trying to get a COVID-19 test when every source less than a two-hour drive away seemed to be out of stock.)

Holidays rarely retain much of their original purpose, so it's not surprising that Thanksgiving, too, has strayed far from its origins. But no amount of debunking and grinchiness will stop me from recognizing that this year marks the 400th anniversary of the First Thanksgiving. I know that that occasion was hardly unique in being a harvest festival celebration of thanksgiving to God. I know that many descendants of the original Native Americans at that feast wish that their ancestors had been a little less friendly with the Pilgrims. I know that the original looked far different from what is re-enacted in American elementary schools. I know that Thanksgiving didn't become a national holiday till Abraham Lincoln made it so.

So what? That doesn't change the fact that 400 years ago the Pilgrims, having suffered through a tremendously difficult year, gave a feast to return thanks to God for their survival, and shared that meal with their neighbors. We feast in memory of that festival, even if we don't always acknowledge it. And I want our grandchildren to know that if certain of that company had not been among those First Thanksgiving celebrants, they themselves would not be here today.

There were no decorated evergreens in Bethlehem. George Washington didn't refuse to lie to his father about a cherry tree incident. The first Easter had nothing to do with rabbits or eggs or candy. How many people really think about the birth of America on Independence Day, or about workers on Labor Day? Holidays take on a life and spirit of their own, and the alternative to enjoying them for what they are tends to be unhelpful grumbling. I will celebrate all that is good in our modern celebrations, and I will celebrate all that is good about what inspired them.

Happy 400th birthday, Thanksgiving!

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, December 3, 2021 at 6:14 pm | Edit
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I read a lot.

Now, "a lot" is pretty much a meaningless term. Since I started keeping track in 2010, I have averaged 72.2 books per year (5.85 per month). For a scholar, that would not be much, but a pitifully smallnumber. However, compared with that mythical being, the average American, it's impressive, since for him it would be 12/year (mean) or 4/year (median). (I'm using the gender-neutral sense of "him," as I almost always do, but it is worth noting that women, as a group, read significantly more books than men: 14 vs. 9, 5 vs. 3 annually.)

Whatever. The point is that I like to read, and since 2010 I have kept a few statistics. The advantage of data is that it can surprise you. For example, 60% of my reading since that year has been fiction, although it feels as if that percentage is much lower. Partly that is because I like to read books recommended by or for our grandchildren, and often those books are shorter and quickly read. That's changing some now due to their growing taste for books like the one I just finished: Brandon Sanderson's 1000-page The Way of Kings.

Most likely the reason it feels as if I've read more non-fiction than I actually have is that I find it difficult to read a non-fiction book without writing a review of it, which can easily take longer than reading the book in the first place.

Take my current non-fiction book, for example: Loserthink, by Scott Adams. I have just finished reading Chapter 1, and already there are seven sticky notes festooning the pages, marking quotations I would want to include in a review. This is not a sustainable pace. Too many quotes and it becomes burdensome to copy them, even from an e-book. Moreover, I've learned that the more I include, the fewer people actually read, making it a waste of time for all of us. Often I include many of them anyway, for my own reference. But sometimes it reduces my review to little more than "read/don't read this book."

Still looking for the via media.

In the meantime, I'll get back to enjoying Loserthink. I don't like the negativity of the title, but Adams carefully explains its purpose. In short: it's not a label for people, but for unproductive ways of thinking, and short, negative labels make it easier to avoid bad things. I know from the interview with Scott Adams that I included in my Hallowe'en post that his personality can be abrasive, and I occasionally have doubts about listening to someone with well-developed skills in the art of persuasion. None of that means, however, that what he has to say won't be of much value.

 


*I'm aware that "scholar" is also a somewhat fuzzy term. And that in many fields, those who read in great quantity may still not read many books, since most of their reading would be in a narrow field and consist primarily of articles. By the time cutting-edge research is published in a scholarly article, it can be more than a year out of date; for books this is much worse.
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, November 9, 2021 at 6:00 am | Edit
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There was no reason the day should have been unusual.

It began with a phone conversation with a good friend, and ended with choir practice. In between, I ran errands: to Jo-Ann's for a new sweatshirt, to the library for a couple of books, one by Brandon Sanderson and the other by Scott Adams. Finally, I ended up at the grocery store, for—well, for all those things you can get at a grocery store. Nothing unusual.

Errands don't generally put me in a good mood. Perhaps these should have, because they were 100% successful for a change, but that's not why I came home euphoric.

People were smiling. They were laughing. They were joking with one another. Just as we used to do before masks covered our faces and suspicion darkened our hearts.

This battle isn't over yet. But it was a good day.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, November 6, 2021 at 7:20 am | Edit
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Grace Victoria Daley
Born Sunday, October 24, 2021, 12:25 p.m.
Weight: 9 pounds, 9 ounces
Length: 20.5 inches

Mom, baby, and the whole family are doing well and are rejoicing with exceeding great joy over this delightful gift from God.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, October 25, 2021 at 9:23 am | Edit
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My readers from Florida will recognize that even the best citrus juice you can buy in a grocery store is a pale imitation of the Real Thing. Standardization and pasteurization may make for a consistent product that can be safely transported all over the country, but what it does to the taste is almost unconscionable.

I'm here to tell you that the same thing is true of apple juice, and apple cider.

These days, what is sold as apple juice is slightly flavored sugar water. Process it just slightly less and give it the label "cider" and it's drinkable. Several years ago, when new regulations made it nearly impossible to get unpasteurized cider, this became true not only in Florida but for most of the rest of the United States as well. But I spent my childhood in upstate New York, where fresh apple cider was one of the greatest autumn joys. Unpasteurized, unfiltered, the flavor varying with the variety of apples pressed.

No one who has not experienced the difference can understand how much harm pasteurization does to flavor, be it of orange juice, cider, or milk. In the Live Free or Die state the orange juice is as bland as anywhere, but I've been enjoying fresh-from-the-farm milk, as I do in Switzerland.

And recently we made our own cider.

Picking.

Prepping.

Pressing.

Put it into the refrigerator straight from the press and you get an incredibly refreshing drink that explodes with the taste of fresh-picked apples. Let it sit on the counter for a day first and you get a slightly carbonated, slightly fermented drink reminiscent of Swiss apple cider.

I'm certain that letting it ferment longer would eventually give hard cider, then vinegar. But it always disappears before it can get to that point, even if we wanted to. :)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, October 18, 2021 at 5:46 am | Edit
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Happy Columbus Day!

(On my calendar it is October 12, no matter what the USPS says.)

If you don't celebrate Columbus Day, have a happy day anyway.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, October 12, 2021 at 11:30 am | Edit
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Last Sunday we might almost have been on vacation, with visits to one church, two art museums, and a restaurant. Double or triple the number of churches and museums and we could have been back in Rome. Even the temperature was about right.

The church was our own Episcopal Church of the Resurrection. It has no great art masterpieces, but the building is really beautiful and we get to sing there. :)

The first museum was the Mennello Museum of American Art. It's one of our favorite little museums, perfect for a quick cultural break. This time we stayed a lot longer than we had expected. The current special exhibit (through November 7) is "Floating Beauty: Women in the Art of Ukiyo-e." I've learned through experience that art exhibits that make political statements are likely to be annoying, and worse, boring. That's what I expected here and I couldn't have been more wrong.

Here's the description of the exhibit, taken from the museum's website:

Examines historical perspectives on women and their depiction in art in Edo Period Japan (1615 – 1858). Made up entirely of woodblock prints created in the ukiyo-e style, this exhibition highlights female characters in literature, kabuki theatre, and poetry; the courtesans and geisha of the Yoshiwara district; and wives and mothers from different social classes performing the duties of their station, in order to gain some insight into the lives of women in pre-modern Japan.

The prints, on loan from the Reading Public Museum, were beautiful, and educational. Several were by Utagawa Hiroshige, recognizable because of the book of his art I created for our grandchildren back in 2015. Even though it does not depict women, the exhibit included one of the many prints of Katsushika Hokusai's The Great Wave off Kanagawa. This is from the artist's series, Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, and immediately brought to mind our visit to Janet in Japan, where we took a long walk to another small museum with great richness of art, including the Thirty-six Views.

[Pandemic note: the website said we'd have to have our temperatures taken to enter the museum, but that wasn't true. They did, however, require masks inside.]

Our next visit was to the Orlando Museum of Art, across the street. Having been brought up on the Philadelphia Museum of Art, it has taken me a while to appreciate Orlando's, which, I'm sorry to say, tends toward art that is modern, infused with politics, and—as I said—boring. But every once in a while they have a major success in my book, and this was one of those times.

Two new exhibits opened September 25. There is no ending date posted on the museum site—it merely says "ongoing"—but both are on loan from elsewhere, and excellent, so be sure to check them out if you can.

The first exhibit we saw at the OMA was Treasures from the Museum & Gallery at Bob Jones University: Five Centuries of Old Master Painting. I had no idea Bob Jones had such treasure. This is such a change from what OMA usually has to offer! Another big plus for me was the excellence of the descriptions that accompany the paintings. All too often in American museums I find these commentaries to be poorly written: filled with spelling, grammatical, and compositional errors; sometimes, when it's a subject I know something about, even errors of fact. These were all I could want in that respect, and provided accurate explananations of both the Biblical/Classical context of the paintings, and the symbolism so often present in such works.

Van Dyke, Rubens, and Tintoretto are among those represented here. And also this, Carlo Dolci's Madonna and Child.

I wonder if anyone else in my family will do a double-take at Mary, as I did. You might want to click on the image to enlarge it.

The second special exhibit is Connoisseurship & Collecting: Masterworks of European Painting from the Muscarelle Museum of Art.  More great masters, more excellent descriptions, definitely worth seeing. We could have spent more time with it, but we were tired out from the first two exhibits and hungry because it was now going on three o'clock. As we walked out of the museum, we paused to pay homage to their excellent collection of Louis Dewis works, now featured in a better place than the last time we were there.

[Pandemic note:  "Face masks are encouraged but not required." As usually seems to happen in these situations, people's mask use and non-use were regulated by some pretty good common sense.]

The final work of art? Avocado egg rolls at the Cheesecake Factory.

[Pandemic note: It's a restaurant; we were eating. The servers wore masks, and we didn't.]

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, October 6, 2021 at 8:10 am | Edit
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Subsequent events have shown that we—as a country and individually—are not much more prepared to have our world turned upside down in an instant than we were on September 11, 2001, and I include myself as chief of sinners. (Five-minute video. Warning: some language, and it will probaby tear you apart.)

Somehow, we must do better.

Living unprepared is foolish. Living in fear is faithless.

Somehow, we must do better. 

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, September 20, 2021 at 8:19 am | Edit
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It was our eight-year-old grandson's first solo sail. He had passed all his dad's tests the day before, and was eager to go solo, despite the strong wind and tide, which were at least pushing him into the cove, rather than out into Long Island Sound. So off he went.

It was, indeed, a strong wind, which made the small boat difficult to control. He capsized twice, gamely righting the boat and climbing back in each time. After a while, however, his lack of ability to make progress toward home began to frustrate and frighten him. I would not have handled that situation at all well.

Instead of giving in to panic, however, he assessed the situation, and discovered a patch of reeds he could head for with full assistance of the wind and tide. That's where he went, planning to pull the boat up on land and walk back to the cottage for help. He grounded in the reeds, lowered the sail, removed the daggerboard and rudder, and began pulling the boat up onto the land.

He didn't quite get the chance to finish. Watching from the shore, determined not to interfere with his very own adventure, but ready to render assistance as needed, we finally decided that a "rescue party" might be of some use. When they arrived (by land) he had already done all that was necessary except for securing the boat. Mission (nearly) accomplished, both boy and boat safe and sound—then, and only then, did he give in to tears.

Kudos to the security guard who had stopped by to see what was going on: he could have said so many wrong things, but merely commended the boy for his courage and clear head, telling him he had done exactly the right things.

It was a much more satisfactory reaction than that of my own sailing adventure six years earlier: the panicked onlooker who called 911, the fire boat officials who told me they were under orders to "take me in," and the ambulance crew persistently ready to pounce on me as soon as I set foot on shore (but I outwaited them).

Don't panic; keep your head; make a plan and execute it. Save your emotional reaction for when the job is done. If an eight-year-old can do it, so can we.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 2, 2021 at 7:09 pm | Edit
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Ever since our ursine visitor came, I've been a little more cautious when investigating noises in the dark. Especially since I discovered how quietly a bear can move through the vegetation.

It was a different morning visitor this time, however. Forgive the less-than-ideal production values, as I tried to juggle phone and flashlight, to illumine without blinding.  (6.5 minutes)

He's rummaging around for bugs and grubs in our garden, and he's welcome to them. The best part wasn't caught on camera, however. He had caught one of our nasty, humongous grasshoppers, the kind that will easily devour an entire plant by itself, and was playing with it as a cat will play with a mouse. Teasing it, catching it and letting it go, putting it in his mouth multiple times—but if he ever actually ate it, I didn't see. I have no love for these destructive insects, but did start to feel a little sorry for it and couldn't help thinking, "Just swallow it already!" But it was funny to watch.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, July 30, 2021 at 12:48 pm | Edit
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Our grandchildren's community/elementary school playground was recently updated. There was nothing obviously wrong with the old playground, which was not very old. The only obvious improvement was the addition of some equipment that could be more easily used by children with certain disabilities, which is a good thing but surely could have been accomplished without re-doing the whole thing at horrendous taxpayer expense.

Still, a playground is a playground, and this one being within walking distance for our grandchildren is a favorite destination when school is out. Everyone enjoys it, albeit on his own terms.

The first thing every one of them determined was that it was important to break every rule whenever possible. (Click to enlarge.) Beginning, of course, with the one that is not shown here: Adult supervision recommended. After all, it's only a recommendation, and we know what happened when the COVID-19 "rules" changed to "recommendations."

That gotten out of the way, it was time to notice some other interesting things about the equipment. It appears that the students at this school may grow up at a disadvantage in mathematics, at least when it comes to measurement.

I am not under five feet tall, and this is no trick of perspective. For all the money spent on this playground, couldn't they have placed the sign correctly?

On the other hand, I expect the students to have an advantage when it comes to music. How many playgrounds feature chimes in the Locrian scale?

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, July 20, 2021 at 8:12 am | Edit
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