Chronological stories from our trip to Japan will have to wait until I have more time, but I'll try to fit in an occasionally tidbit here and there.

Many people have heard of the really fancy Japanese toilets, the ones with heated seats and more buttons than a DVD player, including Cover-Up Sound, Wash, and Blow Dry. I haven't had the opportunity to try anything but the warm seat feature (especially nice in unheated bathrooms), but we'd certainly have one if they were readily available at a reasonable price in the United States. I suppose we could special order one for an outrageous sum, but they aren't that wonderful.

It would take not money, but a societal attitude change, to make another of the great Japanese toilets available in the United States: the "squatty potty." Nearly flush with the ground (pardon the pun), these toilets are particularly great for public places, as they are much easier to keep clean than the kind we are accustomed to. They are also surprisingly easy to use. Before I tried one, I couldn't picture using it successfully, but it's really no problem at all.

My favorite Japanese toilet is the kind in Janet's apartment. It's a "normal" toilet with one fabulous feature: the tank lid is a faucet/sink arrangement. Flushing the toilet causes water to pour out of the faucet for handwashing purposes; the water drains into the toilet tank and is used for the next flush. What an economical, ecological idea!
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, March 29, 2006 at 6:22 pm | Edit
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There were any number of reasons why we shouldn't have gone to the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra's A Celtic Fantasy concert last night. We have a huge deadline looming, and delightful out of town company as well. However, a commitment to a friend kept us from taking the logical course and giving away our tickets, and are we glad we didn't miss the performance!

When the OPO brought renowned flutist James Galway to town we enjoyed that concert tremendously. Last night’s Celtic Fantasy, featuring OPO principal flutist Aaron Goldman was every bit as delightful, if not more so. As Galway had done, Aaron played both flute and pennywhistle with grace and beauty and skill. Memo to the Orlando Philharmonic: James Galway is no doubt a very busy and expensive performer. Forget the big names: give us more Aaron Goldman! (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, March 19, 2006 at 11:53 am | Edit
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Forget the green beer. After having discovered genuine Irish ancestors in my heritage, I'm even more convinced that any good celebration of St. Patrick's Day must include singing his very own hymn, usually called St. Patrick's Breastplate or I Bind unto Myself Today. The words are attributed to St. Patrick himself, with the modern, metrical version provided by Cecil Frances Alexander.

The challenge in St. Patrick's for first time singers is finding the flow; the first verse is shorter than the rest, one or two verses (depending on the version) are sung to a different tune, and usually you must turn the page to complete this hymn. (In my favorite hymnal it covers four pages!)

The tunes are Irish and easily singable, however, and the words packed with theology, beauty, and joy. Do yourself and St. Patrick a favor, and honor him on this day by becoming acquainted with this grand and glorious expression of ancient Celtic Christian faith.

The Oremus Hymnal includes the commonly sung verses and page numbers for St. Patrick's Breastplate in a large collection of hymnals.

The Cyber Hymnal includes two additional verses that are rarely sung but give even more of a feel for the ancient Celtic culture out of which which it arose.

This Irish Culture and Customs site has a non-metrical translation of the poem.
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, March 17, 2006 at 6:31 am | Edit
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We should visit restaurants more often when they are closed! My post about the Sake Moon tells how we discovered that fine restaurant because the one at which we had intended to eat was not open. Ironically, our next great discovery came because the Sake Moon was closed when Porter was in the mood for pho(More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, March 14, 2006 at 10:00 pm | Edit
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For many years before he died, my father would come visit us for a month each year around February (usually a good month to exchange Pennsylvania for Florida temporarily). Once a week he would take us to lunch at the Sakura, the best Japanese restaurant in our experience, including the time when all the restaurants of Boston were at hand.

Alas, when we returned from Massachusetts we were able to enjoy only one more meal at the Sakura before it closed. We've spent the last three years searching for a substitute, to no avail. The Asian restaurant that took its place isn't bad, however, and that's where we headed last Monday night. We remembered too late that it is closed on Mondays, but that disappointment quickly turned into a blessing. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, March 14, 2006 at 4:08 pm | Edit
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Affluenza, by John de Graaf, David Wann, and Thomas H. Naylor (Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, 2001)

affluenza, n. a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more

Many years ago I was walking through downtown Wayne, Pennsylvania with my father, and we stepped into the Encore bookstore. While browsing, I came upon The Plug-In Drug, Marie Winn’s indictment of television. It was a life-changing book. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, February 22, 2006 at 1:31 pm | Edit
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I haven't yet managed to post my review of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but I'll let End of the Spear sneak in ahead while it's fresh in my mind, because I'm afraid if you don't see it soon, you'll have to wait for the DVD. Not that we had a hard time finding a showing yesterday, but it had already come and gone at our first choice theater.

Half a lifetime ago I read Elizabeth Elliot's Through Gates of Splendor. Subsequently I lost track of the story of the five American missionaries who were killed in Ecuador, but I could never totally forget it, especially since we have several friends in Ecuador—including some who were there at the time—and even sang in choir for a while with one of the children of the slain men.

Despite these connections, the story seemed "long ago and far away," so it was almost shocking to have an opportunity to learn "the rest of the story." Particularly because at last I could hear it from the other side. As I sat in the theater, the movie critic in the back of my mind starting saying things like, "That's all speculation; they don't know what really happened on the beach [where the killings occurred]." Suddenly I realized I was wrong: At the end of Through Gates of Splendor they didn't know—but they do now. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, February 6, 2006 at 2:03 pm | Edit
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The Giver, by Lois Lowry (Dell Laurel-Leaf, New York, 1993)

I doubt I would have found The Giver had it not been required reading for two of my nephews. One read it as a class assignment in seventh grade; for the other it was read aloud in fifth grade. Intrigued, I borrowed the book from our library.

The Giver makes me wish I belonged to a literary discussion group. Without a doubt there is plenty here to discuss, and I can see why teachers might be eager to share this Newbery Award winner with their classes. I would love to talk about it in a group, to toss about various interpretations and implications. And yet, despite the "young adult" designation, despite the fact that the main character has not yet reached his teens, I question the value of such a book in the elementary or middle school curriculum. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, January 7, 2006 at 11:09 am | Edit
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The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home, by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise (W.W. Norton and Company, New York, 2004)

I heard so many homeschoolers raving about The Well-Trained Mind that I had to read it for myself. Then the question became not why so many people love it, but why do I? One reviewer called this approach “ultra school-at-home”—which should have been enough to send me fleeing as from a thousand devils. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, November 11, 2005 at 12:40 pm | Edit
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A friend alerted me to a Wall Street Journal Opinion Journal column by Peggy Noonan, in which she reveals her impression that our society is fundamentally broken, a trolley off the tracks and hurtling toward an unknown destination, and her concern that few people are willing to think about the problems, much less take action. My friend added this: "No one wants to talk about the cracks in the bridge when you're walking over it." Naturally, I had to comment. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, November 3, 2005 at 1:48 pm | Edit
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What’s Going On in There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life, by Lise Eliot (Bantam Books, New York, 1999)

I don’t have time to do justice to this wonderful book, only to say that every mother, grandmother, mother-to-be, and potential mother should read it—and that goes for fathers, too. When Eliot expresses her opinions on the data she presents, I don’t always agree, but as a collection of clear, readable reports on the latest research on brain development, this book is invaluable. I’d love to post large quantities of this amazing information, but will content myself with a few more or less random samples. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, October 28, 2005 at 4:45 pm | Edit
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The Real War Against America, by Brett Kingstone (Specialty Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL, 2005)

Our local library has a subscription to Ancestry.com, the genealogical research site. Unfortunately the response time is slow, and one day a couple of months ago I was working near enough the “New Releases” shelf to do some browsing during the otherwise interminable wait between entering my request and the return of the results.

The bright cover of Brett Kingstone’s book caught my eye. I was not impressed by the title, which sounded Limbaugh-esque and evoked images of conspiracy theorists. I brought the book home, thinking Porter might enjoy it, but did not expect to read it myself. It didn’t sound like my kind of book.

Never judge a book by its title. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, October 26, 2005 at 10:37 pm | Edit
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Nobody's Fool, by Richard Russo (Random House, New York, 1993)

I can't say as I recommend Nobody's Fool, since it's the kind of book that makes me want to wash my brain out with soap afterwards. However, I will admit that his characters are somehow so human (if not humane) that the sleaziness seems essential to their characters and not gratuitous.

The incentive for reading a book that would not otherwise have attracted me was learning that its fictional town of North Bath is based on Ballston Spa, New York, which is not far from where I grew up. It was easy to recognize Schuyler Springs as the real-life Saratoga Springs, and other places that I know (Albany, the Northway, the Adirondacks) are not disguised. Unfortunately, all I know about Ballston Spa itself comprises one family, one home, and one church, none of which is evident in this story, for which they all should be deeply grateful.

My experience reminded me of another time I read a book solely for its setting: Catcher in the Rye is set in Wayne, Pennsylvania, another of my home towns. That book was no better, though probably no worse, than this one. It's been a long time since I read it, and I have no intention of doing so again, setting or no setting, so I can't say for sure.
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, August 15, 2005 at 3:38 pm | Edit
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This cannot be a detailed review, as too many of the people who read this blog have not yet read the book. But I will say that Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince did not disappoint me. The fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I had found tedious, and I was disappointed in that I thought J. K. Rowling had set herself up for a great ending which never came.

Not so with the sixth book. It held my attention from beginning to end, not easy to do when the competition is an adorable 20-month old grandson, a flock of other wonderful family members and friends, and a lovely converted houseboat on the Connecticut shoreline. It did help that I found Harry's behavior less obnoxious this time. There were a few annoying points—I never did care to read about the tribulations of adolescent love—but they were minor.

Grace, sacrificial love, and persistent hope for the salvation even of one's enemies show more clearly here than in previous books. As always, Rowling's great contribution to children's literature is that she does not sugarcoat evil, nor minimize the cost of the battle, yet still manages to produce a book full of goodness, hope, and fun.
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, July 25, 2005 at 7:05 pm | Edit
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I've never read Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them:  A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, and frankly I doubt it will ever rise far enough up on my "must read" list to see the light of day.  For all I know, it's a great book full of interesting and useful information that would do me good to read.  But if so, why does it have a title that sounds like a pre-adolescent playground taunt?  That alone makes it hard to take the content seriously.  Someone needs a ghost title-writer.
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, June 3, 2005 at 6:58 pm | Edit
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