June reads

Although I’m not very consistent with it, I find it helpful to blog my books, because it helps me think more clearly about them. It’s the adult version of narration, if you will.  I was going to do a full post on a couple of these books, but the best laid plans of mice, and all that.

So this is a post covering what I’ve read this month, with the exception of something I know I’m forgetting, but I can’t remember what. Which, yes, is the definition of “forgetting.” Hush.

First, a bit of pool-side summer fluff. Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International is free for Kindle. If you like action/adventure/fantasy campy fun with lots of monsters, (and I do) it’s an absolute blast. I bought the second one, and am planning on buying the next couple for the beach.

Early this month, I listened toHenrietta Lacks the audiobook of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. I remember first hearing about this on a RadioLab five years ago when the book first came out. This is an amazing story of one woman and an amazing scientific discovery.  It is equal parts fascinating and horrifying. On one hand, the HELA cells, of which Henrietta Lacks is the source, are one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the twentieth century. On the other hand, the story of Henrietta’s family after her death is heartbreaking, and the callous way science treats the sources of tissue samples is disturbing.

I was going to have my 15-year-old listen to this, but I’m going to wait a couple of years. The details of what happened to Henrietta’s children after her death are distressing, and I want to give her a few more years before exposing her to these painful realities. But it will definitely be on her reading list as a junior or senior. It’s a well-told story that combines important topics of scientific discovery, the moral and ethical limits of science, our countries struggles with institutionalized racism, and the importance of mothers.

There are a lot of “wow” moments in this book, but most impressive to me–even more than the amazing HELA cells themselves–is the strength of Henrietta and her children, particularly Deborah, in the face of intense trials. Even if you aren’t going to read or listen to the book, take ten minutes to listen to the RadioLab piece. I listen to a lot of podcasts, but I remember listening to this story even five years later.


The next book I read was also equal parts fascinating and horrifying, at least horrifying to some. Actually, I found it great fun, but for the grammatically persnickity among us, it might be troubling. In Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English John McWhorter traces the rough and tumble history of the English language.  I learned of this book from the fascinating podcast History of the English Language. If you like words and language and history, both of these resources are highly recommended.

McWhorter talks about how the intermingling of English speakers and their predecessors with all sorts of neighbors–both on friendly and unfriendly terms–shaped not only the English vocabulary, but also English grammar. We picked up odd bits here (The meaningless “do”: Do you want a drink?) and dropped a bunch of stuff there (all the endings that make learning foreign languages so…challenging.) The Viking that gave us skirt and disk, also helped us get rid of the superfluous (from our point of view) endings.

But my biggest takeaway from both the book and the podcast is that English is still–and probably always will be–in flux. And it’s always tending to ease of use, simplicity, efficiency. While grammarians may try to force English into it’s Sunday best, sit politely with it’s ankles together, and sip tea, English is born to go brawling, and maybe even slumming. So while irregardless and “I could care less” cause us Grammar Nazis to cringe, the reality is probably that these formations will be accepted language within our lifetime.


Finally, I read Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry. As I told a friend on Facebook, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that was so beautiful, uplifting, and heartbreaking at the same time. It reminds me a great deal of Home by Marilynne Robinson, which is also a lovely, bittersweet book. I have one minor quibble with the book, and that’s the chapter on war toward the end that’s a bit jarring. By itself, it is a well-written chapter with important things to say. It just seems out of place in Port William, which may be the point. But anyway, it took me some effort to get back into the flow of the rest of the book. But your mileage may vary.

While I don’t necessarily agree with the extent of Berry’s idealization of rural life, he does paint a lovely picture of a time and place that is almost completely lost. And the wisdom he shares about the Membership and belonging and accepting are for any age and any people, not just those in small farms in quiet, green valley.

Hannah Coulter

What have you read lately? What are you packing in your suitcase this summer?

100 Word Challenge: Payback


The third threat came by courier. The first was a call; the second, a letter. Now this package, addressed in the same scrawl as the letter. Jones laughed as he remembered the old lady’s angry threats when she realized her “safe investment” wasn’t.

He ripped open the package and dumped a crumpled paper into his hand. It instantly disappeared in a puff of smoke.

“Am I suppose to be scared by parlor tricks?” Jones tossed the package aside and returned to preparing for his next mark. He stopped, horrified as burning pain spread and intensified, and the flames engulfed him.



Part of the fascinating “100 Word Challenge” project by Darleen Click over at Protein Wisdom. Go read hers, and I’ll add others as I find them. And join in! (If you don’t have a blog, leave your story in the comments.)

My previous attempt here: The Rite

My friend Jimmie’s story, along with a links to several more stories.

Fine Arts Friday: A New Favorite

Isle of Skye

“Loch Coruisk, Isle of Skye Oil on canvas” Sidney Richard Percy , 1874

This month’s folk song on the Ambleside Online rotation is “The Sky Boat Song.” It is a huge hit in our family, especially with my youngest, who asks me to sing it every night.

Apparently, this song has gained new popularity because it’s the theme of a British historical/sci-fi show called Outlander. It’s historical, because it’s set in 18th century Scotland, and sci-fi because a young nurse got herself time traveled there from 1943. I haven’t seen it, because frankly, the premise makes me woozy. But great song! (The show is based on a book series.)

The hymn is “Let Us With A Gladsome Mind,” which John Milton wrote at 15. Can you imagine your 15 year-old scribblings lasting for 400 years? (Lyrics at that link. I couldn’t find a version that had lyrics with the music that I liked.)

Happy Friday! Enjoy the music.

Dinosaurs and cellos

Okay, it’s not dinosaurs exactly. But it is the theme from dinosaur movies, with cello and piano. Geez, you’re such a stickler for accuracy.

Anyway, enjoy “Jurassic World Sonata.”


I did wish they would have had a dino eating Steve at the end. That would have been fun.

In Dinosaur World related news, if you missed Chris Pratt’s hilarious pre-apology, you should really go read it.

In news related to the previous item, but not the first,

lighten up francis

This is not directed to anyone in particular, but offered to anyone who needs it. Here’s a tip: if you were offended by either the “apology” or the gif, you need it. If you’re offended at the thought that someone, somewhere may be saying gif “hard g-gif” rather than “jif” you need it. Frankly, every last one of us will probably need this at some point today, so just embrace it. Have a great day!

Summertime, and the reading is easy

Dust off your library cards (or, if you’re a homeschooler, pay up your fines!), it’s time for summer reading!


But first, some thoughts on summer reading plans, programs, and purposes. (Please note, this is just my opinion based on my own experience, not The Authoritative Method for Summer Reading.) I love to read, and one of my top educational priorities is passing on that love to my children. It hurts my heart when adults don’t like to read, and I think most of that is distaste for reading is cultivated in childhood.  If reading is always a struggle and a chore, it’s not going to be a life-long love. Summer reading is one tool I use to develop a passion for reading in my children. The goal is to make summer reading as joyful and unstressful as possible. We don’t have reading lists the kids have to work through, they’ll pick their own books to read. (And if they pick a book they just can’t get into, they get to abandon it!) We’ll make reading time an honored, important, joyful time in our home. It will be a daily fixture on the schedule where I pop some popcorn, mix up a pitcher of lemonade and toss some comfy pillows around. And yes, when they reach reading goals, they’ll be rewarded. (Do I double dip for different reading programs? You bet your sweet bippy I do!)

My favorite reading programs are those that track minutes read and not books read, because that’s less stressful for struggling readers. (Half Price Books and Scholastic both offer this option in their reading programs.)  If you have a kid who has a very difficult time reading, you might consider letting him count read alouds and audio books toward his reading goals. If you consider that reading a book really happens in your mind, then eyes are just one medium. You can read with your fingers (braille), your ears (audio books), or your eyes, and your brain is still getting the same information, albeit through different means and processed in different ways. Personally, I do count auditory “reading” for my boys.  They are required to read in the traditional manner every day for a certain number of minutes, and then they listen to a whole lot–to me, to their sisters, and to audio books. So far, they haven’t developed negative feelings about reading, even though it doesn’t come as easy to them as easy as it came to their sisters. Since my goal is for them to read throughout their lives, my focus 8 and 10 years old is to help them develop the tools and the passion. Both are important, and I don’t want one to get in the way of the other.

Anyway, the summer reading programs!

Barnes and Nobles has a read 8 books, get a book free.

Half Price Books has the best named program: Feed Your Brain. My eldest has aged out of the reading log and has to write a (short) book report on one book per month to get the reward. Getting older stinks.

Pizza Hut has Book It for summer, but the website is a little vague on the details.

The Texas grocery store HEB has a reading club that offers a free t-shirt for reading 10 books. Meh.

Scholastic has an online summer reading program. You log in minutes read and unlock rewards.

There are also probably local businesses in your community that have reading programs. Be sure to check out programs at see what your local library is offering.

And don’t forget yourself!  So far, my summer reading list includes Augustine of Hippo by Peter Brown (Thanks, Erika!), The Wright Brothers by David McCollough, Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry, and The Monster Hunter International series by Larry Correia. Right now, I’m listening to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which is fascinating and heartbreaking. I’m not sure what my reward will be for my summer reading program, maybe an adult beverages and a few hours peace and quiet.

What is your favorite summer reading program for kids? Do you have a summer reading list for yourself? What do you think would be a good reward for an adult summer reading program?

The effects of sacrifice


Memorial Day has become somewhat convoluted in our culture. Instead of maintaining its original purpose, it has become the unofficial kick-off to summer and, to a less extent, a day to honor all veterans. As much as I love a good cookout and do honor those who have served, respectfully, that’s not the purpose of the day. Memorial Day is a day to remember those who have died in service of their country. Because it’s a day to honor the dead, we try to attend a Memorial Day service every year. Sadly, those services can be hard to find. While there are a number of Memorial Day celebrations, with fireworks, concerts, hot dogs, and even ceremonies to honor veterans, those events fail to honor the true meaning of the day. But we were able to find a local event sponsored by the VFW, and the kids and I headed out into the rain to pay our respects.

At the end of the service, the M.C. asked those who had lost loved ones to war to share their names. Younger voices proclaimed names of those who fell in recent wars , and older voices shared the names of the fallen in Vietnam and Korea.  But one voice was much older and filled with tears. In a voice heavy with emotion, a man whom I couldn’t see through the crowd named his father, who killed in 1944 in World War II. This man has to be at least 71 years old, and perhaps never even knew his father, but there can be no doubt he still felt the of the impact of his father’s death.

While I have no immediate experience with the sacrifices honored on Memorial Day, I, too, feel the ripples. In 1944, my great uncle, Gorman Hardin, was killed in the early days of the Battle of Luzon. His death profoundly affected his young brother, who at 14 years old enlisted in the Navy to seek vengeance for his brother’s death. My grandfather was big for his age, but still only 14, and perhaps not prepared for the challenges of war. His loss affected my grandfather, his children, and me.

Most of us don’t realize the impact of those honored on Memorial Day. Because we don’t know the names on the headstones, we don’t understand what we’ve lost from their absence, and we don’t understand what we’ve gained from their sacrifice. But we have gained and retained much because faithful and courageous men and women laid down their lives. And it’s precisely because we have gained so much without paying the cost that we must pay attention to the meaning of this day. The summer party can wait. There will be another mattress sale. For this one day, let’s stop, remember, and be thankful.

Related: “I’m a Veteran, and I Hate ‘Happy Memorial Day’ Here’s Why”

Facts be damned

Argh! I’ve been working on this stupid blog post for a week. Then yesterday, it comes out that the researcher faked his data. Stupid scientist. (PSA: Science is a process, not a religion, not “facts.” Science is done by humans whom–whatever their academic qualifications–are just as prone to being lying jerks as the rest of humanity.) So, anyway the study is fake, but I think my thoughts on it still hold true. What do you think? And the title–which I had already written prior to the revelation of skullduggery–certainly still applies. Rotten liar.


Anyway, to the original post, bearing in mind the study is a fraud.

This American Life recently did a show called “The Incredible Rarity of Changing Your Mind.”  In a segment called “Do Ask Do Tell, ” activists canvassed neighborhoods where people opposed to their issue lived (in this case, gay marriage and legal abortion), talked with individuals, and asked them to change their minds. In statistically significant numbers, the people did change their minds.

You can listen to that here:

What’s interesting is the canvasers (new word?) didn’t report using facts or arguments to gain support, but rather merely sought to connect with the people they talked to on a personal, emotional level. You know, “Hey, I’m a nice person, and I am/did this thing you disagree with. You don’t really think I’m a bad person do you? Don’t you think you should change your mind, rather than think I’m a bad person, which you can clearly see I am not?” (Seriously, listen to the piece. Offering arguments in support of their position resulted in less success in changing opinions.) In fact, making an actual argument lead to a lower conversion rate.  (Yeah, the researcher lied.)

All manner of cliches come to mind, the most prominent are, “People like what they know, they don’t know what they like,” and “People won’t care what you know til they know that you care.” But basically it boils down to this: people are far more emotionally driven then they’d like to believe, and often we believe what we believe, not because we think it’s true, but because we like the people who say it’s true.

Conversely, we’re very often closed to hearing the case for some position we disagree with because we don’t like–or we think we don’t like–the people associated with that idea. In college, I interned for National Right to Life Committee. One weekend, my roommates and I were hanging out with my landlord’s son and a friend of his. After having a pretty nice time, she said, “You guys are great, you don’t seem like you’d bomb an abortion clinic.” We were probably the first (out) pro-lifers she’d ever met, but her image was that pro-lifers bombed buildings. So I wonder how open she was to hearing a case for protecting life? (My response, “Thanks, I guess?”)

Of course, you have to wonder how deeply held these beliefs were when a conversation with a stranger who merely held the opposing view could change them. We all have things we decry with certainty, although we haven’t really thought about at all, usually because those are the correct beliefs of the tribe with which we associate. Andrew Kern said (and I agree), “You don’t have a right to an opinion about an issue you haven’t thought about,” but that’s absolutely contrary to human experience. We have opinions about everything, even if we’re completely ignorant of the matter! And the easiest way to have an uninformed opinion is to go with what the people you like believe.

This is why so much advertisement–both in politics and the market–are appeals to celebrity. Honestly, people don’t look to mechanical engineer Bill Nye for his opinion on evolutionary science or sex education (!!!) because he has special knowledge or insight. They look to him because he had a television show. Bless their hearts.

If we know vaguely that our religion or associated political party holds a view, but not the reasoning behind that, we’re happy to spout loudly about that belief until we form an emotional attachment with someone holding the opposite belief. Then without much thought, we change our beliefs.

I don’t think the answer is “abandon logic and reason, and just go with your gut and the people you think are nicest!” But I do think that 1. we ought to be aware of the instinct to “think” with our heart, and 2. we ought to remember it’s not just the best argument that wins the day, but that we have to be likeable, as well as informed. This will be harder for some of us, because frankly it feels a bit like a high school election: one big popularity contest. To which I say, “Suck it up, buttercup, life’s not fair.” And also, “Be on your guard against charming snake-oil salesmen and politicians. But I repeat myself.”

But primarily it comes down to this: People are people. They are neither machines working on pure data, nor beasts working on pure instinct.  We are rational and relational creatures, and we would do well to remember that, whatever side of the argument we’re on.

Fine Arts Friday: My own thing

This month, I like neither the hymn nor the folk song suggested by Ambleside Online. They hymn, which is actually quite lovely, isn’t really singable for our untrained voices. And frankly, that’s the number one quality (after truth, beauty, and goodness) when it comes to picking a song. If we don’t end up adding it to our singing repertoire, what’s the point?

The folk song is “Pick a Bale of Cotton,” which is a well-known slave work-song. It’s catchy, fun to sing, and has a lot of history attached, but not happy history. I’m not opposed to teaching my kids songs with complicated histories, but somehow I’m just not up to this month.

We just finished reading The Underground Abductor, a fabulous graphic novel about Harriet Tubman. Tubman used songs in her work freeing slaves, so I thought I’d look at that. Since these are both religious and folk songs, they satisfy both requirements. (One of my favorite things about being a homeschooler: I’m the boss of the curriculum!)

Underground Abductor

So for May, I give you some of the songs American Superhero Harriet Tubman sang that were really coded messages that helped her bring so many captives to freedom.

“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” was one of her favorite songs, and was sung to let people know to be ready to leave. (We’ll call this the hymn.)

“Go Down Moses” was her song was code to warn of danger. (We’ll call this the folk song.)


This site has more songs Harriet Tubman used in her remarkable career, as well as more information about the woman herself. Enjoy the songs and the stories of a great American.

Harrison Bergeron, the prequel


“THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.”

Sixty-six years earlier:

“What we realised we needed was a way of thinking about what it was we wanted to allow parents to do for their children, and what it was that we didn’t need to allow parents to do for their children, if allowing those activities would create unfairnesses for other people’s children.”


Now I realize that these are just a couple of philosophers* tossing around “purely theoretical” ideas on how we might make a “better society,” but ideas have consequences. The “I’m just asking questions and throwing out ideas” of today becomes the culture of tomorrow and the law soon after that.

It’s telling that these gentlemen* follow the Handicapper approach: “equality of opportunity” requires not pursuing advantages for all children, but rather removing “unfair” benefits some children have. Benefits like intact families, education not controlled by the state, and an inheritance from their parents. And of course, their solution is the the state, because that’s always the solution: “What we will allow” to be legal, to be legal but regulated, or flat out forbidden, enforced at the point of the gun.

The thinkers* throw around–but ultimately reject–the idea of preventing parents from reading bedtime stories to their children. The quote, after much hand wringing over the unfair advantage implicit in bedtime stories, is “We have to allow parents to engage in bedtime story type activities.” Emphasis added. So very kind of you, gentlemen*. How, exactly, would such a law disallowing that practice be enforced? Are you familiar with the phrase “Come and Take It”?

In the end, they decide (graciously) that familial benefits ought not be touched, “‘We should accept that lots of stuff that goes on in healthy families—and that our theory defends—will confer unfair advantage,’ he (Swift) says. . . For Swift and Brighouse, the line sits shy of private schooling, inheritance and other predominantly economic ways of conferring advantage.”

So they’d forbid individuals from choosing the education they wish for their children or passing on the fruits of their labor to their children (or grandchildren, or great-grandchildren), but they’ll allow Goodnight, Moon and Sunday dinner. Such kind tyrants.

Of course, the most obscene and glossed-over premise of the entire absurd episode is the school yard whine, “That’s not fair!” To wit: the author–not the philosophers–states, “So many disputes in our liberal democratic society hinge on the tension between inequality and fairness: between groups, between sexes, between individuals, and increasingly between families.” Inequality is accepted as a problem that must be fixed at all costs. Better to have an equal outcome of collective misery than worry that someone, somewhere is making a better life for himself and his family.  The abolition of liberty and individuality is small price to pay for the noble cause of making sure that everyone is kept equally miserable, equally envious, and equally shackled.   (Fun fact: inequality is greatest in progressive strongholds. Something about a plank in your own eye.)

For these sages*, Harrison Bergeron is not a cautionary tale, but a goal.


*I’d like you to appreciate how much self-editing was done on this post, with many colorful and fitting adjectives and nouns removed.




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