Empty Shelf: The Cost of Truth

This post is not an normal Empty Shelf post, and it contains affiliated links.

gaudy night

The other day, someone posted a link to Dorothy Sayers Gaudy Night for Kindle for only $1.99. And of course, I had to get it, even though I already own the paperback. Don’t judge me! (Oh, look! It still is! Get it!)

First: What’s a gaudy? As near as I can tell,  it’s an English college reunionish sort of thing, but not exactly. Basically, it’s a school function that alumni are invited to. I think. The English are weird.

Okay, to the book review-ish!

Title: Gaudy Night

Author: Dorothy Sayers

What’s it about: Sayers wrote mystery novels, and her main hero is Lord Peter Wimsey. Wimsey’s love interest is Harriet Vane, also the subject of one of his investigations. I won’t go into the details of their relationship because “Spoilers!”, but suffice it to say that the boy gets the girl in the end. Because of course he does, this is popular fiction. But in addition to the surface mystery and the resolution of the long-term story line of the Wimsey/Vane relationship, this book is another chapter in the deeper theme of all of her mysteries: the cost of truth. Here the setting is a woman’s college at Oxford, and the principle characters are the dons, i.e. the professors.

What I thought: Seeing as I’ve read this multiple times and I bought the Kindle version when I already own the paper back, I think it’s safe to say I like it. I like mysteries in general and Sayers in particular. She’s a smarter, more interesting Agatha Christie (and I like Christie.) One good thing about re-(re-re-re)-reading a book, is that you pick up on things you missed the first dozen times. This time I was struck by the theme of the necessity, the cost, and the difficulty of intellectual truth. A couple of quotes found throughout:

“I entirely agree that a historian ought to be precise in detail; but unless you take all the characters and circumstances concerned into account, you are reckoning without the facts. The proportions and relations of things are just as much facts as the things themselves; and if you get those wrong, you falsify the picture really seriously.”

“To suppress a fact is to publish a falsehood.”

“But if it ever occurs to people to value the honor of the mind equally with the honor of the body, we shall get a social revolution of a quite unparalleled sort–and very different from the kind that is being made at the moment.” (blogger’s note: We seem to have decided on dishonoring both, rather than honoring either.)

“Like you and every member of this Common Room, I admit the principle and the consequences must follow.”

In fact it is the consequences of following a principle that sets up the conflict and the mystery. And that’s all I’m going to say about that, lest I spoil it for you. But the principle, although set in “dry and solemn halls of academia”, plays out among very messy people. And that’s one of the things I like about all Sayers mysteries: even if the circumstances are contrived, the people are real–really messy, really both brilliant and stupid simultaneously, really interesting, and really, in some cases, tragic. And that makes (what I see as) her overarching theme interesting: a commitment to truth, no matter what the consequences of that truth may be. It’s a natural, and interesting, principle for a mystery writer to assume. In fact, it’s one of the things that disappointed me about A Presumption of Death by Jill Paton Walsh, based on Sayers work. It was a fun mystery and had the feel of the Wimsey/Vane stories, but in the end isn’t quite the real deal. And one of the reason it fails to capture Sayers magic is Walsh’s inability to let the chips fall where they may. There’s a semi (although not entirely) deux ex machina at the end that I don’t think Sayers would have succumbed to.

Speaking of deux ex machina, Sayers often leaves Latin and French quotes untranslated. You can understand the story line without the translation–mostly–but it may irk you. Here are the translations for Gaudy Night, but read them as they come, as they contain spoilers.

Anyway, I found the idea of the importance and cost of truth interesting because of how unimportant it seems to be particularly in popular discourse and in education. Facts and truth are embraced or disregarded to advance or attack political or philosophical agendas. The Neil Degrasse Tyson kerfuffle is one example. The whole “fake but accurate” idea, and especially the battles surrounding how we teach young people history. Particularly with history, we tend to leave out or minimize the facts that don’t jive with our underlying beliefs and assumptions. (And it works on all sides in every culture on every topic, so take a gander at your own planks before you start pointing out other people’s specks. M’kay?) Basically, we can’t handle the idea that people and life and history is messy, so we think we need to do the truth a favor and clean it up. That’s no way to live, and in the end your house built on a faulty foundation will crash.

All that and ripping good mystery to boot!

Where You Can Get it: Here! But wait, there’s more! You don’t have to start at the beginning to enjoy Sayers mysteries, but I highly recommend you do. Whose Body? is the first introduction to Lord Peter. One of my favorites that can be read alone is Murder Must Advertise. The Wimsey/Vane novels are Strong Poison, Have His Carcasse, Gaudy Night, and Busman’s Honeymoon (which was first written as a play.) As I mentioned, Jill Patton Walsh has continued the Wimsey/Vane storyline with solid, yet not quite Sayers mysteries. They’re still good fun–at least the two that I’ve read. (These should all be available at your public library, by the way.)

Please do remember that these novels are written in a time and culture quite different from our own, and particularly some of the descriptions of race and class are …awkward for us to read. But I think if you read them in the context that they were written, you’ll find that Sayers is fair to every character she writes–as fair as her time and cultural experience can allow.

(Like many homeschoolers, I discovered Sayers through her essay/speech “The Lost Tools of Learning,” a fascinating read for anyone who has ever asked, “What the heck has happened to our education system?”)

Terrible Tuesday: Finally Fall!

The temperature has finally dropped below 70, the (male) church musicians have pulled out their flannel shirts, and the leaves are … still as green as ever.

It’s a Texas fall, y’all!

Go to sleep, people!  Maps of average bedtimes and hours of sleep indicate we are not a well-rested country.

I want this for camping, but want is not a need: Wonderbag, the powerless slow cooker. (affiliated link.)

About that mom who’s not bragging about her kid.


txrex baby

Exciting developments in medicine: poop pills! No, seriously, this is big.

The day they changed the gauge. A rather impressive feat of engineering and coordination.

12 scenes from literature recreated in Legos.

Everyone needs a personalized flowchart for solving problems. Here’s Gandalf’s.


Trading wisdom for youth


This year we’re studying ancient history and literature. In my opinion, combining the subjects is the only way to study any history or most literature: It gives you context for your literature and heart for your history. Now you only need a brain and your all set. Who needs courage? I digress. We are currently reading The Iliad after finishing David Ferry’s Gilgamesh.  (I also read Gilgamesh the Hero to the boys, and we’ll read either Black Ships Before Troy or The Children’s Homer when we get to that point in their history. It’s fun being the mom!)

Something that stuck out to me in both these works is a value that our culture has almost completely lost. When Gilgamesh retrieves the Plant of Life (er, spoiler!), instead of eating some for himself immediately, he wants to take some back to Uruk for the old men so that their wisdom and experience can benefit his city.

In the Iliad, we read this of Nestor:

Thus the old man wise in fighting from of old encouraged them.
Agamemnon the lord of men was glad when he looked at him
and he spoke aloud to him and addressed him in winged words:
‘Aged sir, if only, as the spirit is in you bosom,
so might your knees be also and the strength stay steady within you;
but age weakens you which comes to all; if only some other
of the fighters had your age and you were one of the young men!’

Now, two anecdotes does not a data set make, but there are other examples–many in the Bible, for example–about the value of the wisdom that comes with age. And I don’t think the desire to marry the wisdom of age and the strength of youth is found only in these two isolated instances. But the emphasis in these examples is that the strength of youth would serve the wisdom of age. Would that Nestor was in a young body so that his wisdom could be combined with strength to aid the Greeks. Gilgamesh wanted to return the elders of Uruk to young bodies so that their wisdom wouldn’t be lost to the city. The emphasis here is that youthful strength is in service to the wisdom acquired by age.

In our culture, however, the wisdom that comes as we grow old is an afterthought, and certainly not elevated to a higher position than the benefits of youth. We  elevate the voices and opinions of the young. If the old want to be young again (and boy do they), they want not only the strength but also the perspective of youth. It’s not good enough to look young and feel strong, you have to be “hip,” too. Your tastes and opinions need to match those of 20 somethings, or at least need to be as cool as theirs. Isn’t that why the Rolling Stones still tour?

Youth, beauty, and strength have always been valued, of course. But that has been seen in contrast to the wisdom and experience of age. The trade off has always be thus: “Sure you’re young and pretty, but your still foolish. Don’t worry, you’ll get less foolish, but you’ll lose your youth in the process.”

We have more elderly people alive than ever before, but we are also more segregated by age than ever before. Our tendency is to shut older people away in their own conclaves. The number of octogenerians and even nonagenerians in our society is growing daily. But rather than be glad that we are gaining their accumulated wisdom, we have a man who has the president’s ear on matters of healthcare saying that we should all knock off at 75, and ads painting older people as the villains who vote.

The Voyage of Life dictates that each season has it’s own gifts. The beauty of community and family is that we are all at different stages in our voyage, and can render aid or receive it as needed. The ceaseless grasping to remain or regain the one specific season almost guarantees that we lose the gifts of the others.

Sunday filler

I have a post bouncing around in my head–actually even a bit it saved to draft–that I had intended to finish and post. But first a killer headache due to my fun new jaw grinding habit, and then a t0-do list that’s gotten uppity have knocked it back to. . . whenever. I hope I actually do get to it, because I think it’ll be a decent post, but from long experience I know the longer it is from the idea to the writing, the less likely it will be written at all.

The trials of a blogger.

Anyway, in place of that and so as not to break the chain, some fun and fluff!

humans geeks

By the webcomic Abustruse Goose.  Or that’s the name of the strip and the artist part is a bit vague. Whatever. That’s the origin.


Kitty stories

A 10 year old Keaggy, very patiently accepting love from a 10 month old Satchmo. The face says it all.

Sweet Keaggy is gone, and MTG has very kindly put away all the cat paraphernalia. The house feels rather empty without that small, inactive cat, but we still have the memories. So here is a Keaggy story for you.

In the summer of 1999, I lived in a townhouse with 3 other girls and my two cats who were then about two years old. Keaggy’s favorite toy was a q-tip, and he was forever digging them out of the trash or knocking them off of counters to play with. One Saturday morning, I was the only one up and sitting on the living room couch watching Keaggy play with what I thought was a q-tip. After a few minutes, I realized that it was not q-tip shaped. A little more investigation revealed that it was a mouse. A live mouse. Keaggy was tossing up, pouncing on, and tossing up again a live mouse in my living room not five feet from where I sat.

Obviously I did the only rational thing I could do: I ran up the stairs, into my roommates room, and jumped on her bed seeking shelter from the tiny, half-dead mouse. I know she appreciated the early morning heart attack.

Armed with reinforcements, we returned to the field of carnage. We managed to separate the cat from the mouse, used the fireplace shovel to scoop up the barely living mouse, and tossed him over the fence into an empty lot. Could we have been more humane? Probably, but we were far too wigged out. Besides, the idea of mercy-killing a mouse still makes me shudder. Keaggy was rather put-out by the theft of his toy/snack, but he seemed mollified by a gift of q-tips.

Keaggy’s gone, my roommates in a nunnery (literally: she entered a convent that fall), and I’m a 1300 miles from that house with a completely different life. But I’m grateful for the memories.

*I promise, this is the last of the Keaggy posts. Most likely. Here’s a little video in thanks for your patience.


It was hard when my cat Keaggy was diagnosed with cancer.

It’s been hard to take care of him after his leg ulcerated: rebandaging every two days, weekly vet visits.

It’s been hard to see my normally cuddly cat eschew laps and snuggles for the warmth of the refrigerator vent.

It’s been hard knowing if we’ve done all we can do and if we can, or should do more.

But it was really hard to call the vet and tell them we need to bring him in one last time.

I have three more hours. You’ll find me in front of the refrigerator.

keaggy 4.jpg


We had a boys day with our homeschool group today, and I was in charge of crafts. Generally, that’s a bad idea, as I’m neither artsy or crafty. But boys usually don’t care a great deal about artsy, so … catapults?

catapult 3





catapult 1

Perhaps the best part is the ammunition: mini-marshmallows!


catapult 2

The directions for this very simple catapult are here. For more elaborate designs with more dangerous missiles (candy corn!), check out these beauties.

Does this little girl make housecalls?

I know I’ve posted this before, but seriously, this is a message my kids need to hear.


With four kids in different grades, I like to combine lessons when I can to keep me sane-ish. Even when they aren’t combined, they are generally doing the same thing in a subject like math. For example, we use Math-U-See, so Mondays are worksheet A with mom, B on your own. But after that, they can skip to D if they have the concept or do C for more practice. Bulldozer did C yesterday while Satchmo did E. Today we have teary, “But he’s ahead of me!”, even though they’re not even in the same book or on the same lesson number.

Then Satchmo got upset that Bulldozer was ahead of him in handwriting, and Bulldozer got upset that Satchmo wanted to catch up. And I got upset that the coffee pot was empty.

I think a lot of this stems from the human tendency to be competitive, and I understand it. Sometimes I even use it to my advantage. (Mwahahaha!) Sometimes it comes from jealousy or envy or pride. It’s about measuring themselves against each other rather than measuring their own efforts and growth. Far too frequently, they spend more time obsessing over what their brother has or hasn’t done than doing their own work.

The balance between academics and character formation–and how those two things intertwine–is always a challenge. Celebrate Calm posted this status today:

“We spend so much time teaching our kids academics. We fight over homework and get stressed over bad grades. School is important. It is. But it’s not the most important thing. I know a lot of very bright people with good jobs, but their relationships with their spouse or kids isn’t healthy…and they are absolutely miserable.

Are you slowing down life enough to teach and show your kids how to have healthy relationships? Relationships characterized by respect, healthy boundaries, emotional vulnerability, honesty and trust.

Your kids can google the periodic table. But they can’t use technology to handle conflict, show empathy or demonstrate self-respect. They can’t memorize how to solve problems creatively or work through messy situations with wisdom. Realign your priorities to focus on what’s most important.”

It’s a good reminder and a challenge to me to remember I’m not educating my kids so they’ll pass a test, but so they’ll be strong, loving men and women who live their lives boldly for the glory of God.

But seriously, they need to worry about themselves.

How do you deal with inappropriate competitiveness between your kids? Is duct tape a viable solution?


Terrible Tuesday: I desire bread

My eldest daughter and I are doing yet another sugar detox. I want bread. I want a croissant. And some cereal. And a bagel. And a cookie.

But noooooo, it’s all sugary and not on the list. Honestly, if my kid didn’t do this with me, I’d have fallen of the wagon on day 2. I’m a pillar of strength.

Sugar craving links!

Spaced out challenge: very cool lunar eclipse/blood moon/selenelion. It will be visible at 5:30 in the morning at our house. The kids are going to love getting up! Mwahahahaha!

One of the fun things about the recent (highly recommended!) geography program we did was some of the fun/weird laws she listed. Now someone’s compiled a list of examples for all 50 states. I’d like to know the back-story behind some of these loony laws.

From the amusing Stuff Christians Like Pinterest board. Be amused!


not manna

The end of an era: no more Saturday morning cartoons. Of course, we watch almost no live television, and my kids won’t notice at all, but it’s one more bit of my childhood that’s dead. Sniff.

Mom calls out Target for their girl’s clothing problem. She focuses on tiny girls, but let me assure you that it applies to bigger girls, too. Although I’ve been more likely to find appropriate clothing at Target than most other stores. So there’s that.

52 meatless meals to slash your grocery bill. Nice to have options with beef at an all-time high. (Chicken’s not too cheap, either. Or pork.)

Senior Snippets! These couple (the real couple having the conversations and their mini-mes) make me smile every time.



Too many priorities

I finally got around to getting Little Miss in for her well-child check up, although at 14 she’s not really a child. It’s probably time to switch to a family doctor for her, but eh, we like her pediatrician, even if she is a bit skittish. Has anyone met a non-afraid pediatrician? I’m pretty sure she would be happy if my kids were in booster seats til 12, and bubble wrap until 20.

Anyway, while we were there, I asked for forms for my other kids for the mandatory state health screenings required because they take enrichment classes one day a week at the same private school where Little Miss take orchestra and biology.  The State of Texas requires “that all children enrolled for the first time in any public, private, parochial or denominational school in a Child and Family Protective Services (CFPS) child-care center or licensed day care home in Texas, or who meet certain grade criteria (specified below), must be screened or have a professional examination for possible vision and hearing problems.” There are also requirements for diabetes and scoliosis screenings for some students–which also includes some or all of my kids depending on the kid.

There is no opt out.  There is no “we see a doctor regularly, thank you” box to check or “Mind your own dang business” form. There is however, a helpful company that will come do the screenings at your school for a fee. It’s not really a high fee, but with three kids it adds up. (Four if you add the oldest, which I don’t think needs it, but the school thinks otherwise. I’m still researching. Anyway, I got the info from her regular doctor on the chance I do need it.)

For me this is a minor annoyance, a superflous buns* situation. Frankly, all the “extras” piling up is like being pecked to death by baby ducks. I feel like cooking the darling ducklings.

But it really comes down to that fact that my kids’ health is my responsibility. I make sure they have a healthy diet, plenty of physical activity, and a healthy environment. I take them for annual checkups, etc. And frankly, I don’t see how enrolling them in a private school makes any of that the state’s business, to monitor and record. I will grant that in true public health situations like communicable diseases, the state has a valid interest. I have no issue with school kids being required to be vaccinated before they congregate, the little germ spreaders. But I don’t see why the state needs to insert it’s nose into every area of life of every student in the state.

The more I think of it, the more I’m a bit irked for the individual public schools and their superfluous buns situations. Schools have already been pressed into being more than just places of education, from feeding hungry kids to being the engines for the social issue of the day (Just Say No, Earth Day/Hour/Decade, etc.)  It’s no secret teachers do more than just teach reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. The person who spends 8 hours a day with a child (or 5 hours a week) is going to have a voice  about more than the kid’s knowledge base. They’ll speak into their lives, help shape their character, and potentially be the ones to spot problems and help find solutions. By law, teachers are mandatory reporters, and must report suspected abuse. And they do all that while dealing with an often frustrating bureaucracy and sometimes without the support of parents.  (See? I’m really not anti-teacher; we just chose a different educational model for our family!)

This is just one more way schools have been subjected to “mission creep.” The state can mandate that all kids get screened, and private schools and day cares will pass that on to the students. Public schools don’t do that, they just add another responsibility to the nursing staff, add one more thing for the teachers to make time for, and add one more “priority” to an ever growing list. When everything’s a priority, nothing is.

I suspect the majority of families are in the same boat we are. They take their kids for annual check-ups where their doctors do all those screenings, probably more thoroughly, and with an eye to their history and growth. It’s a job the school isn’t designed to do, and frankly not everything about their students should fall under their purview. Are there some families for whom this screening provides a real service? Maybe. I’d like to see some actual evidence that these screenings lead to something actually beneficial. But even if there is a need for certain populations, surely there is a way to serve low-income or at-risk kids without this all or nothing, mandated from on high to all people, everywhere approach. Wouldn’t it be better to use scarce resources where they’re actually needed instead of a shotgun like approach? There was an attempt to ditch the scoliosis screening–or at least make it optional for school districts, but Perry vetoed it. I understand his reasoning, but I don’t agree with it. I don’t think the only way we serve those in need is to make public schools provide screening for everyone.  In fact, that probably hurts those who need it because it becomes a perfunctory task to check off, rather than a necessary intervention.

We ask schools to do a lot, but we ought to only ask them to do the things they are designed to do. Let’s give them a break and take out some superfluous buns.


*I stole this metaphor from Ashley Sewell and her magnificent post on her superfluous buns. 

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