Terrible Tuesday: 600 days!

Today is my 600th day of consecutive blogging. It’s not really an anniversary, it’s just a nice looking number. Very round. 600. Six hundred. DC. Well, that ruined it.

Arbitrary goals links!

Combining exercise and art. Major kudos to this guy who drew a bicycle on a map by riding 212 miles in a day.

Christmas is coming! Show the parents of the kids in your life some love by not overstuffing them. And if you’re the parents, show yourself some love. The Ultimate List of 100 Non-Toy Gift Ideas.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s original first page of The Lord of the Rings from 1937. I love his handwriting.

LOTR first page

 5 Lives saved by the exact right person randomly showing up. This is a very cool article, but it is at Cracked. It’s exceedingly mild for a Cracked article, but the standard disclaimers apply. Also, the last guy saved way more than one life, so the title is misleading.

10 clues you might be a homeschool dad. Yep to all of these, except the snake thing. No snakes!

Happiness is a big pile of leaves and a puppy dog.


Onward to the next random mark on the chain! 666 here I come!

Responsibility and Power

Way back when I was in college, I minored in psychology. I dropped that minor after a couple of years when I realized all my professors were bat-poop crazy. All, that is, except my abnormal psych prof. Go figure. (Shout out to Dr. Montgomery!) The professors that finally drove me away screaming were crazy and useless, but most were informative. I just couldn’t handle all their crazy.

One of those informative classes was industrial psych (or workplace psych, something like that. It was 20 years ago, the memory fades.) Anyway, the one thing I remember from that class was a discussion about the relationship between responsibility, authority or power, and stress. If your job had low responsibility and low authority, you have low stress. If you have low responsibility and high authority, you have low stress and we all hate you. If you have high responsibility and high authority, you have some stress. But if you have high responsibility and low authority, you have lots of stress.

I’ll give you some for instances:

Imagine a person whose job was to count the number of people who enter and exit a building each day. No other job, just count and write it down. Pretty low responsibility, no authority, low stress. (Of course, the stress of being bored out of your mind is a different matter.)

Second guy (that we all hate) is the nephew of the boss who gets his own office and is put in charge of 10 people who have to jump when he says jump. But if things go wrong, he isn’t held responsible for any of it. Low stress.

The third type is the person we normally think of when we think “high stress job”: the CEO, for example. She has a lot of responsibility, but she also has a lot of authority, so the stress is mitigated by the fact that she has power over her circumstances.

Finally, the most stressful position: high responsibility, low authority. Think of the waiter being yelled at because the kitchen messed up an order. There are a lot of these jobs in the service industry: the poor guy interfacing with the irate customer may have little or no authority to answer the complaint, but they–for the moment anyway–bear all the responsibility of that complaint. But that usually is temporary. Most often a waiter isn’t going to face any consequences for the kitchen’s mistake. But there are positions where people have high responsibility and face real consequences when things go wrong, and little to no power to address those things.

Why did I take you down that little trip down my educational memory lane? Because education is the science of relationships*, and it came to mind when I read of a news article. Students and their families have been up in arms about changes to school lunch programs, and the latest example is the case of the Oklahoma “Munchable.”  (Really? Munchable for high school students? Aren’t we a wee bit embarrassed?) I’m sympathetic with the family, but this quote from the dad has me shaking my head: “Schools are responsible for children while they’re at school,” Kaytlin’s father Vince said, “they’re responsible for feeding the children.”

First, yes, schools are responsible for the safety and well-being of the students while in their care. But you, sir, are actually the person responsible for feeding your child. If you aren’t satisfied with the service offered, I’ve got two words for you: brown bag.

That doesn’t mean we don’t hold government officials accountable. If they are failing to do the job they’ve been charged with doing, they should be called on it. If they waste money or time or resources, they should pay a penalty. And frankly, that’s a strong argument for local government and for these decisions to be made on the smallest level possible. Citizens can hold local schools and school boards to account, but how do you hold Mrs. Obama and unelected federal regulators to account? (Pro-tip: you don’t.)

But even if the government fails miserably at its job, the responsibility for your well-being falls on you. You can’t sue the police for failing to prevent a burglar from breaking into your house. Hospitals may curse the CDC under their breath—or in televised press conferences—for inadequately preparing them for Ebola, but there is no real recourse when nurses fall ill. And whether the government’s advice is good or bad, the consequences for screw ups are the hospitals alone. And you may think the local public school offers an inadequate education, you may petition for systemic changes or lobby for specific remedies for your own child, but essentially it’s take it or leave it.

There are two facts that homeschooling highlights, but that is true for every parent and child in every educational circumstance. First, “All education is self education.”* It is the responsibility of the student to attain his or her own education. Education must be grasped, it can’t be received. That is as true for a first grader as it is for a senior, though of course it looks different for each. The second is that the responsibility for actually providing the education ultimately falls on the parent. It is my responsibility to ensure my children have access to the education I believe is necessary. Yes, there are those I delegate portions of that responsibility to for limited times: schools, specific teachers, and other institutions and individuals. But ultimately, the buck stops here.

Although parents whose children are in public school do have that responsibility (whether they acknowledge it or not), their authority is limited. In some instances they may have input into the overall school system, but the detailed decisions of a student’s educations are dictated by the school in general and teachers specifically.

Except they aren’t anymore, are they? Curriculum choices are made on a state level, scope and sequence are dictated by tests developed by a government/private enterprise consortium that individuals and teachers have very little influence on, and parents have even less.

So on the responsibility/power chart for public schools:

  • Parents have final responsibility and very little authority.
  • Teachers and schools have responsibility and limited authority.
  • State bureaucrats have a removed responsibility (although how often are they held into account?) and more authority.
  • And the “experts” who dictate what should be tested and how, and therefore what should be studied have an awful lot of authority and no responsibility. We all hate them.

One of the effects on many parents is that they have abdicated the responsibility for their kid’s education entirely. Thus the not infrequent sentiment. “It is the school’s responsibility to educate my child.” They have no power over their child’s education, so they’ll accept no responsibility. I don’t think this is the majority of parents. I think most parents are in their with their kids doing their best to ensure they get a good education. But a large enough minority believe it that it’s a real problem for schools and teachers. (Morally, I think they have that responsibility whether they accept it or not. But practically, many have surrendered it.)

It’s a problem for teachers who know they are limited without the support and backing of individual parents. But I’m not sure teachers are willing or able to surrender any of their limited authority to parents or students to get a buy-in from them.

For the other groups, state officials and national “experts”, I don’t think they particularly care about this dynamic of responsibility and authority that teachers and parents struggle with at the ground level of education. They can and do hold teachers and schools accountable; they can’t hold parents accountable, so that’s left out of the equation.

And of course the main truth is that children are persons and not widgets, and no amount of experimentation and testing will overcome the fact that education must be sought and attained by the individual. If you don’t give the student responsibility and authority, you’re only rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

And seriously, if you don’t like the school menu, write FLOTUS, show up at school board meetings, and make your kid a sandwich. Because that’s your responsibility.

*Quotes or paraphrased quotes from the wonderful Charlotte Mason.

Pssst, Browncoats!

You know how we’re all still mourning the cancellation of Firefly and the death of Wash? (Insert shinkick for Joss here.) Well, check out this really well done fan film*. Seriously, it’s very well done, and Joss could make up for killing off Wash and Book by giving this guy a call.



*This is labeled “fan film,” but is more professional than what most people (in my opinion) think of when they hear “fan film.” It’s done in conjunction with the company Loot Crate and there are 50-75 people listed in the credits. Still, it’s pretty impressive what they’ve been able to do, and I’d definitely watch more of this story.

What say you, Browncoats?

via Neal Dewing, who’s apparently good for more than drink recipes.

Tweaking traditions

The most enduring Thompson family tradition is Saturday morning chocolate chip pancakes. As long as we are home, the kids are having chocolate chip pancakes and watching cartoons. MTG, Little Miss and I will have pancakes often with a seasonal twist: pumpkin, blueberry, or the like. Or plain pancakes. Plain pancakes are yummy.

However, Little Miss and I have started doing the 21 Day Sugar Detox (af) two or three times a year, which means no grain. So for six to nine Saturdays a year, we either have to find a substitute or go without. I’m not one to easily ditch tradition, so I’ve been searching for a substitute.

Thus far, I’ve discovered this: grain free pancakes do not compare to yummy, fluffy, glutteny pancakes. Oh, pancakes, I love you so. Sorry, I digress. Most of my attempts have left me thinking I’d better off sticking with bacon and eggs. In fact, that has been my general conclusion when on the sugar detox: don’t try to substitute grain products for faux-grain products, just eat real, non-grain foods. Your eggs don’t need toast, your chili doesn’t need crackers, and your hamburger is just as tasty wrapped in a lettuce leaf. Okay, maybe not just as tasty as a real bun, but certainly better than those grainless “breads.” As for pizza, we’ve ditched trying to find a substitute altogether and instead have this spaghetti squash lasagna which is so, so good. So good.

But, I have found a pancake recipe that is actually quite good and not a pain in the butt to make.  Behold! My pancakes! Topped with apples sauteed in cinnamon and butter and topped with fresh whipped cream!

grain free pancakes

Listen, I’m not a food photographer, or any type of photographer. But some smart person somewhere said make sure you have images in your blog post to help people share via pinning, etc. So: my pancakes.


Caveats: I’m doing no sugar, not a paleo diet, so I used milk (raw, actually) and cream. I don’t know how they’d be with the coconut or almond milk. I also just use the almond flour sold in the bulk bins at sprouts. And I’m ignorant in the way of nut flours, but I don’t think it’s blanched. It works fine. I’m probably not as faithful to the diet as purists would like, but I’ve got a budget to stick to, and this stuff can get too expensive PDQ.

These are good enough that I’d eat them when I’m not doing the detox, but still looking to reduce my simple carb intake. Which I should really do, except I love bread so much I’d marry it if society weren’t so intolerant. Also: I find these more filling than regular pancakes, so adjust your portions accordingly. For more of my detox recipes, check out my Pinterest board. Disclaimer: just because it’s on the board doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve tried it and liked it.

Happy pancaking!

Fine Arts Friday: Get outside!

This post contains affiliated links and is pretty much one longish sermon to myself.

Halfway through the first semester, almost to the end of the first trimester, or just generally waist high into whatever schedule your educational plan follows, the routine is well underway.  It’s also the time when all the good intentions are buried in a shallow grave out back: We will do more reading. We will spend some time everyday on fine arts. We will keep the house tidy. (Bahahahahaha!)

One of my good intentions, perhaps my main good intention, was to get the kids (and me) outdoors everyday.

cm quote

But the calendars packed, and there are lessons to be done and appointments to keep, and if I manage to get the boys out regularly, I’m doing well. Forget about the girls. It gets overlooked, back burnered, and otherwise neglected. After all, there is math to do.

As detailed by the highly recommended book Last Child in the Woods, merely being out of doors has mental, physical, and psychological benefits. Furthermore, children especially need play–and lots of it. Not just time alone to be creative with Legos or blocks or what-have-you on their own time and in their own way, but time up side down, run and jump, climb trees, and spin ’til your dizzy play. (Adults probably could use all that, too. Although it doesn’t take much spinning before I’m dizzy.)

And I know all of this and believe all of this thoroughly. And still, math outranks a romp through the nature preserve every time.

Bless my heart.

But I am doing better, and Wednesday I sent the boys out for a half hour of exploring that expanded to a full hour. They came back refreshed and excited: they had seen baby spiders taking flight a la Charlotte’s Web.

charlotte's children

Breaks my heart, every time.

I’ve noticed the benefits to my own mind and body when I take a walk to the park or an early morning bike ride. Of course, those rides are put on hold until the government decides to put the clocks back to the way God intended. Day Light Saving Time in October is obscene, more so than usual.

My problem–and I’m guessing the problem for most people who want to spend more time outside, but don’t–is that it isn’t a real priority. It’s a priority like politicians call everything a priority. (Jobs? Priority! Crime? Priority! Education? Priority! Food Safety? Priority! Traffic? Priority! Real priority? Getting re-elected.)

Getting outside is a priority, as is math and reading and history and science and speech exercises and music practice and doing chores and and and. It’s exhausting. Even for short people, life has a lot of demands.

But the benefits of getting being in nature, of independent play, and old-fashioned air are so important that getting outside needs to be a priority for my whole family. A real priority. A “let’s read history outside” priority. A “yes, the house looks like a tornado come through, but chuck it all we’re going to the park” priority. A big Priority that supersedes other priorities. In fact, I ought to stop blogging and demonstrate the priorty-ness of it all right now.

Go outside and play. Go!

Fair Day!

As the State Fair of Texas winds down for 2014, the Thompson family took advantage of our free student and teacher tickets for our annual trek to the fried food capital of the world. Did we spend way more money than is reasonable for fried things? Yes we did. But it’s only once a year, and you have to splurge on the special stuff. We had to miss last year’s fair due to events beyond our control, so it was especially nice to be back after a break.

Of course we said, “Howdy!” to the new Big Tex, who quite frankly is a bit scary.

Big Tex 2014,

We watched the doggies do tricks and the ostriches race. We checked out the various creations in the Creative Arts Building. We pet the zebu. And did I mention we ate the fried things? We generally don’t do rides, because they’re ridiculously expensive. But we did watch a milking demonstration, talk to a bee guy, and buy some yummy barbecue sauce made not too far from us.  Nice people, too.

lowes bbq

We ended up over by the old Perot Science Museum, which we mistakenly thought was closed. It’s not, and Sprite got to hold an actual megalodon tooth. She was a little excited as you can tell. We spent a half our or so in the museum. It’s old school with it’s dioramas and non-interactive displays, but we liked it.

megalodon tooth

We wrapped up in my favorite exhibit, the greenhouse. Unfortunately, my camera was dead by that time, so you’ll have to trust me that it was lovely, and a good time was had by all. Thanks for another great experience, Tex. Sorry you’re so creepy.


dallas sunset

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.


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