War stories and adventure tales

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Aeneas flight from Troy by Federico Barrocci, 1598


I just finished reading The Aeneid with my daughters. Previously, we had read (well, listened to) The Iliad and The Odyssey. These three epics are arguably three pillars of all Western Literature. (A fourth being the Bible.)

Of the three, I had only read The Iliad previously, although I was familiar with the stories of all three. But familiarity with the the tale of Odysseus and the Cyclops is nothing like reading the original. There is a reason these stories have withstood the rise and fall of so many empires and cultures. The stories and the characters are timeless, profound, and powerful.

Of the three epics, I like The Aeneid the best. It was less gory than The Iliad (although it had its share of bloody battle scenes), and it is culturally more accessible. Especially when we read The Odyssey, the differences in what is considered admirable is great. It’s easy to see why the Romans didn’t think old Ulysses was much of a hero. Even though there is still a great gap in ancient Roman culture and our own, there are a lot more commonalities.  Aeneas, in particular, is a hero that I can relate to. Andrew Kern’s “should” questions are much more interesting and debatable when applied to The Aeneid than Homer’s works. “Should Achilles have returned to the battle?” Well, duh. (“Never leave a man behind/Never abandon your friends/Suck it up, Buttercup.”) “Should Aeneid have left Dido?” Well…maybe?

(Yes, I could come up with a decent argument for Achilles actions if I put some thought into it. But it takes a greater effort for me to “reach” Achilles, so to speak. But of course, that’s one of the blessings of great literature–that reaching that comes from the effort.)

Another reason I think I enjoyed The Aeneid more is that is moved at a much faster pace. In twelve books, it covered the same territory that The Iliad and The Odyssey covered at twenty-four books each. Of course, that’s not necessarily good that my cultural preference is for fast-paced, cut to the action, stories. But it is true that The Iliad would be half the length if every gory kill wasn’t accompanied by a lengthy speech taunting the defeated foe, and The Odyssey is a smidge repetitive.

Even though I’ve finished these three epics, I’m not finished with them. I want to re-read them slowly, as in a book a month for the next few years. I want to ruminate on them and let them work on me. I want to be thinking of them as we continue reading through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and modern times. These stories–like all great stories–aren’t ones you read and check off a list. They are the ones that stay with you, that you find yourself thinking of at the weirdest times, and that you making connections that may seem tenuous to less enlightened folks. (“No, April, I don’t think that children are like Harpies befouling or consuming everything in their sight. Perhaps you need a nap.”)

Have you read any of these three epics? Which is your favorite?





Fine Arts Friday: Tony Danza*

Degas-dancer 2

Edgar Degas (1834-1917) is the artist for the third term on the Ambleside rotation. Most people are familiar with Degas’s paintings and sculptures, especially of dancers. His sculpture “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen” has an interesting story. From the National Gallery of Art website:

The sculpture was not so warmly received when she first appeared. The critics protested almost unanimously that she was ugly, but had to acknowledge the work’s astonishing realism as well as its revolutionary nature. The mixed media of the Little Dancer, basically a wax statuette dressed in real clothes, was very innovative, most of all because she was considered a modern subject—a student dancer of the Paris Opera Ballet. Marie van Goethem, the model for the figure, was the daughter of a Belgian tailor and a laundress; her working–class background was typical of the Paris Opera school’s ballerinas. These dancers were known as “petits rats de l’opéra,” literally opera rats, presumably because of their scurrying around the opera stage in tiny, fast–moving steps. But the derogatory association of the name with dirt and poverty was also intentional. Young, pretty, and poor, the ballet students also were potential targets of male “protectors.” Degas understood the predicament of the Little Dancer—what the contemporary reviewer Joris–Karl Huysmans called her “terrible reality.” The Little Dancer is a very poignant, deeply felt work of art in which a little girl of fourteen, in spite of the difficult position in which she is placed, both physically and psychologically, struggles for a measure of dignity: her head is held high, though her arms and hands are uncomfortably stretched behind her back.

The works suggested by Ambleside Online are:

1. The Belleli Family, 1862
2. A Cotton Office in New Orleans 1873
3. The Dance Class, 1873-75
4. Place de la Concorde, 1875
5. The Little Dancer, sculpture; executed ca. 1880 or 1881; cast in 1922 (another view)
6. Before the Race, 1882-84
Further Interest: The Crucifixion, 1861

(Links to image sources at Ambleside.)

A good biography for younger kids can be found at this great website (which I plan to explore more when/if I every have time.) For older students, this is a helpful background (note: there is a small image of a nude toward the bottom of the article.)


* For those who didn’t get the post title, here’s the reference. What can I say, you came to a website named, “Oddly Said.”

Striving for rest

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weary and heavy laden

This year, I have been wanting to have a more restful, peaceful year and paradoxically (or not incoincidentally, depending on your point of view) have been having the most stressful year that I’ve had in a long time.

Part of it is just the way the ball has bounced this year–stuff happened, and we’ve had to deal with it. But a big part of it is that I fell into the trap that homeschoolers in particular are susceptible to: not wanting my kids to miss out on important things. This is my oldest daughter’s first year in high school, and like homeschool moms everywhere I panicked. (Note to self: Chill. Out.)

(True story, I was working through the very helpful book Tell Your Time (af), and I started hyperventilating when I realized that my “non-negotiable” completely filled–and overfilled–my schedule. That’s when I realized that my current schedule is not only unsustainable, but impossible. There is no way for me to do the stuff I have put on my “non-negotiable” list. No wonder I’m stressed.)

In the mad, mad month of February, I decided to go to the Great Homeschool Convention. There were a couple of speakers I wanted to see, and I needed to buy new math workbooks and look at a few other things. But mainly, I needed to see if I could find a life-line to pull me out of the morass I was (am?) caught in. I found it in the Classical-Christian track offered, and I’m still sorting through the wisdom and resources I discovered there. But the big thing–the life-saver–was Sarah Mackenzie’s lovely little book Teaching from Rest.

Mackenzie is the proprietor of the blog Amongst Lovely Things and the host of the excellent podcast The Read Aloud Revival. If you have children, whether they are homeschooled or not, I urge you to listen to that podcast.

Teaching from Rest was truly balm for my soul. The first half was encouragement and wisdom, the second was instruction and practical application. It really helped me look objectively at our life and our goals, and to repent of some unwise and fear-of-man driven choices I’ve made. Primarily, it led me to re-focus on three things critical for every homeschooler: Who I am, what I am called to do, and most importantly, who God is, which forms and informs the first two. It’s full of nuggets of wisdom that resonate with my soul, like:

“He’s called me to be faithful, yet I’m hell-bent on being successful.”


“We are weary because we forget about grace. We act as though God showing up is the miracle. But guess what? God showing up is the given. Grace is a fact.”

Preach, sister!

You can get Teaching from Rest from Amazon, but you can get a package  from the Amongst Lovely Things website with a Companion Journal and audio extras for just a few dollars more. The Companion Journal, in particular, was very useful in helping me make an honest assessment of what went wrong this past year. I’ll be looking at that more in a future post, but for now, I highly recommend this little book for anyone looking to find peace and purpose in their homeschool.

The Rite


Her knees quaked as the clouds rushed at her.

Bracing herself against the bare rock, she breathed, “I can do this. Withstand the storm; stand in the assembly.”

A too-close crack of lightning shattered a tree in the valley below. Cowering, her wide eyes fell on an arrow, made visible in the bright flash. It pointed to an opening in the cliff.

“Forget this,” she ran.

She lit her now protected torch and gasped.

Hundreds of names covered the wall: Parents, elder brother… grandmother? Under the faded name of the tribe’s founder, her finger traced, “Brave doesn’t mean stupid.” She grabbed a rock and began to carve.


Snagged from Jimmie’s great story, who snagged the idea from from Darleen at protein wisdom and Smitty at The Other McCain.  Mine is 106 words, but whatever. Don’t judge me! Or actually do. What do you think? Join in with your own story!



Fine Arts Friday: Sing in the spring!

A month ago, we were cold and miserable and wondering if spring would ever arrive. But spring is finally here, and we shall sing! (Okay, we sang in March, too, huddled under our blankets.)

I didn’t like the folk song on the Ambleside rotation, so I picked “Mairzy Doats,” a song that my mom and grandma sang to me when I was a child. While not technically a folk song, it is (possibly) based on an English nursery rhyme. And it’s ridiculously fun to sing.


Lyrics (because you’ll need them!):

Mairzy doats and dozy doats
And liddle lamzy divey
A kiddley divey too, wouldn’t you?
Yes! Mairzy doats and dozy doats
and liddle lamzy divey
A kiddley divey too, wouldn’t you?

If the words sound queer
And funny to your ear,
A little bit jumbled and jivey
Sing “Mares eat oats
And does eat oats
And little lambs eat ivy”

Oh! Mairzy doats and dozy doats
And liddle lamzy divey
A kiddley divey too, wouldn’t you?
A kiddley divey too, wouldn’t you?

The hymn for the month is “Hallelujah, What a Savior.” There are many modern versions of this hymn, and of course, traditional versions with full choir and pipe organ. I found this version blends the best of both worlds for singing in our living room. It maintains the traditional form, but is very singable. And they have a banjo.

Finally, the composer for the month is Sergei Rachmaninoff. This is a nice, brief biography from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Just a warning, we’ve already found that this playlist is mesmerizing to young kids. Don’t play it if you need little ones to put on their shoes and move!

Happy spring!

Let’s Kill Hitler?

lets kill hitler

A madman and a box.


A study has found that if given the choice to travel back in time and kill Hitler, men are more likely to do so than women.

And I asked myself, “Self, would you kill Hitler?” And Self said, “It depends.”

Oh, Self. It’s Hitler! Explain yourself, Self.

Okay, here’s my thinking:

If it were not a matter of traveling back in time–that is if I were a person living in the 1930s and 1940s–and in a position to kill Hitler, then absolutely I’d do that in a hot minute.

But go back in time? Do you people not read or watch any science fiction? These things always backfire!

Some what if:

  • What if killing Hitler allowed a better commander to step into the vacuum and Germany won, or at least didn’t lose (a la WWI)?
  • What if killing Hitler benefited Stalin, who was even more of a mass murderer than Hitler?
  • And why not kill Stalin or Mao instead? They killed more people, after all.
  • We know how World War II and all the following events turned out. The idea of avoiding that horrible war and the Holocaust are definitely appealing, but what if killing Hitler didn’t avoid either? Or made them worse? Hitler was one man–albeit an influential man–but he wasn’t the only one who pushed for war or slaughter of “undesirables.”

No, I wouldn’t “go back” and kill Hitler, because I don’t have the ability to know the consequences of that act. Changing history seems full of unknown dangerous and fueled by hubris. No, I wouldn’t change history, but I hope I will learn from it and act on that counsel in my own time.

What about you? Would you kill Hitler (Or Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc?) Why or why not?


The bluebonnets have arrived!

I’ve been watching reports of bluebonnet sightings slowly move north throughout Texas. I new when I started seeing pictures from Waco, the day would soon be here. On Sunday, I saw my first glimpse of the lovely flower on my way to church. Today, we visited the local nature preserve with MTG’s family who are in town visiting and behold! Bluebonnets!

bluebonnets arrive

Lupinus texensis!

Lupinus texensis

A couple of years ago, I heard that bluebonnets blossoms change color from white to red when they’re pollinated. Bees can’t see red and are drawn to white, so the bees are drawn to the unpollinated blossoms and leave the others alone. But I was wrong about bees changing the color of the blossom, which is a pity because we were going to do experiments to try to figure out how this magic happened.

bluebonnets 2

The children would dress as bees and see who could make the blossoms change colors. That’s how science works, right?


The truth is that the white blossoms are newer and the red blossoms are older, and therefore have less fresh pollen. In fact, bees can collect up to 150 times the pollen on white blossoms than on red (purple/scarlet) ones.  Anyway, the blossoms turn red on the fifth day, regardless of whether they’ve been pollinated or not. Oh, well. Bluebonnets are still cool and lovely.

Enjoy your bluebonnets, Texans! (Sorry, non-Texans. I’m sure your state flower is lovely, too.)

I’m going to break the chain, y’all

Since March 1, 2013, I have posted something on my blog every day.  From lengthy rants, to regular features, to weirdness, to place fillers, I’ve followed Jerry Seinfeld’s advice on writing: Don’t break the chain.

But now I’m going to break it, deliberately.

Breaking the Chain

Sorry, Jerry. I just don’t think this is going to work.

Why would I want to break a two year streak on purpose?

Mainly because I’ve lost focus of my purpose. I’m actually realizing this is true  in many areas of my life this past year. In pursuit of a lot of good things, I’ve lost site of what’s best for my family and for myself. Actually, pursuit is in the wrong place in that sentence. In latching on to every good thing that’s come down the road, we’ve been hindered from pursuing the path that’s best for us. (I’ll be writing more on that later; I’m still processing what happened, how it happened, and what’s next.)

While blogging every day has been an undoubtedly good thing for me as a blogger, it’s starting to get in the way of what would be best. Blogging every day has helped me to develop discipline,to prioritize my writing, and to be less wordy. Relatively speaking. The challenge has made me a better blogger, but now I find it to be a hindrance. In the urgency to get something–anything–up everyday, I’ve not had time to polish my craft. And I’ve skipped writing about things that I thought important because I was spending my blogging time punching the proverbial clock. I do have limited time and attention to devote to blogging, and I’ve been asking myself if I’m spending those limited resources wisely in putting the focus on daily blogging.

It’s becoming more clear that I am not. My time and energies are not producing the best content that I could. I know I’ve got a better blog in me if I try. In fact, I don’t intend to spend less time blogging. I’ll probably keep the “don’t break the chain” thing going when it comes to writing every day. But I’ll be posting less. I’d rather spend three or four days polishing a piece I’m satisfied with, or be comfortable in deleting a post that’s awful, than feel compelled to put something up every day regardless of the quality.

What will this look like practically?

I won’t be posting every day, but I’ll try to post a few times a week. I don’t want to say X times, because I don’t know, and I’m not trying to set a similar goal: like every day, but less. I’ll probably keep the “Fine Arts Friday” feature, but won’t kill myself making it an every Friday feature. Terrible Tuesdays, however, are going the way of the Dodo, and I’ll probably use my Facebook page more to share those things that were linked in those posts. Some of those things I kept in reserve for Terrible Tuesday will probably become brief blog posts–no more than a paragraph. I was always reluctant to do that in the past, because I might need that post to be a link in the chain. But if the chain is already broken, it doesn’t matter if I post 3 things on Monday and nothing again til Friday.

I’m breaking the chain and moving on to (hopefully) better things.  So I’ll see you soon. But not tomorrow.

Easter hope for the Persecuted Church

empty tomb

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;

if we endure, we will also reign with him;

if we deny him, he also will deny us;

if we are faithless, he remains faithful—

for he cannot deny himself.

(2 Timothy 2:8-13 ESV)


Lenten Focus: Reflecting


Over the past 6 weeks, I’ve highlighted 30 of the 50 countries on Open Doors’ World Watch List. I’ve looked at countries with severe and horrific oppression like North Korea and Sudan. I’ve highlighted the plight of refugees and women. Thursday another massive attack on Christians happened in Kenya–a country that is mostly Christian. Muslim extremist from Somalia crossed the Kenya border and attacked Garissa University. 147 students were killed in the attack which began at an early morning Christian prayer service.

We’re seeing this more and more: violence spilling over borders, attacks and persecution on Christians in countries where they are not a minority population oppressed by their government. Most likely, today will bring more attacks on Christians because the enemies of Christ revel in hitting the Church on her holy days. From war in Yemen to the almost certain coming nuclear arms race in the Middle East, the area of the greatest concentration of Christian persecution is becoming more and more unstable, a situation that leads to even more persecution. Likewise, it seems that there will be more instability in East Asia.

Frankly, I’ve had to battle against the tendency to despair in writing these blog posts. (And then against guilt because I’m just reading and writing about distressing events, I don’t actually have to live it. Suck it up, April!) We are called to “Remember those in chains” and to think on “whatever is lovely, whatever is holy, whatever is of good report.” Sometimes it seems impossible to do both.

But I think my sin of despair in this area points to the wider sin of the church and the reason we do not speak much of the Persecuted Church: we have no faith. We don’t really believe in the prayer is effective. From human perspective, the situation looks dire for the Church in many places. Article after article announces the all but complete extermination of the Church in places where it has been established for hundreds and hundreds of years. This events we see and hear about are more convincing to us than the promises of the Word of God. Oh, we of little faith. We are told to pray in faith, not in despair. We are to pray in faith believing that what God has said about his Church is true.

What have I learned during this Lent as I’ve prayed for the Persecuted Church? I’ve learned that life of millions of Christians is difficult and dangerous and becoming more-so every day. And I’ve learned that my faith is very small. Although I say “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church” and “God will preserve his Bride,” I think . . . maybe not. Maybe the Church is going extinct in certain areas of the world, and there is nothing that can be done to stop that. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

Where do I go from here. Well, I think I’m going to try that praying in faith thing. I’m going to continue to pray for the Church, believing that God is faithful to his people and is working though I may not see it. I’m also going to be praying for material ways to help the Persecuted Church, and there are a lot of great ministries out there through which I can do that. Below are the tools I’m going to use from some of the ministries that I have found helpful over the course of this series.

A monthly prayer calendar from Open Doors.

Voice of the Martyrs has a smart phone app with a daily prayer focus.

International Christian Concern sends out a weekly email of prayer points.

If you know of an organization helping the Persecuted Church or a resource to help Christians pray, please post it in the comments. And don’t despair, Easter is coming.

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