Tuesday, February 27, 2007

New books for the stack

I'm delighted to be hosting the library's copy of The Story of French, by the authors of Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French. Should be a good read, beginning with the roots and dialects of French -- something I never learned in seven years of French study (junior high through college). I requested the library buy it after I listened to an interview with one of the authors on The Diane Rehm Show; got it yesterday; started it today.

Also got ahold of the library's newly acquired copy of Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon, for a second time. I had to give it up to another eager reader's request for it, but patience is rewarded. This is another chance to slowly drink in this book about the way I'm trying to eat.

Monday, February 26, 2007

A maturing boy, Scouts, and Mom's readjustment

Thank you, Cub Scouts, for helping me move to more discussion with my now 11-year-old son. Early in this first year as a Cub Scout he tackled the Readyman badge with his dad, and learned to check the oil in our car and check the tires' air pressure, as well as set up a household chemicals area and various other tasks. I began to readjust my expectations for this young man, nearly as tall as me and looking at the world around him with intelligent eyes.

Today we did a rapid study for the Citizen badge. We'd tackled some of the material before, but we covered everything today: a citizen's rights and duties (interesting conversation), what the text of the Pledge of Allegiance means (interesting again), the role of government or "what's it good for" (good talk), who pays for government (ah, lightbulb going on), why have laws and why obey laws (we even talked about other societies with a lighter/less effective "rule of law"), and some more I don't remember. A very interesting half hour!

This Citizen badge is the final thing Son1 needs to finish to earn the Webelos badge, and is also his last major hurdle for the more difficult Arrow of Light award. The Arrow of Light is supposed to be worked on over the last two years in Cub Scouts, as a Webelos I and then II. We've been told that a Scout who has earned the Arrow of Light is able to pass the Boy Scouts' Tenderfoot class and move on immediately, and that it's the one Cub Scout award or badge that can be worn on his Boy Scout uniform. It's a fairly big deal for Cub Scouts.

Son1 joined Cub Scouts in late August, barely six months ago, and is nearly done with the Arrow of Light (hurrah!!). He has to finish before crossing over into Boy Scouts, which his den is doing in April (to help the boys who got a slow or late start). He has earned the badges for Fitness, Outdoorsman, Scholar, Handyman, Engineer, Geologist, and Forester, and has done almost all of the various other requirements. He need to finish Readyman and Citizen; meet with the Scoutmaster; and complete the Faith, Honesty, and Courage "character connection" discussions with us. I think it's time to get it done, and Son1 is ready and willing (and I love that!).

At tonight's den meeting Son1's den leader will review each Scout's progress toward their goals (eg, certain badges or the big ol' Arrow of Light). I expect we'll find out how well our record matches hers, and find out for sure what Son1 needs to do in the next few weeks.

Then we'll have more discussions about topics I hadn't thought to bring up, and that is a ball!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Blow me away

It's incredibly windy today, here in the southern Great Plains. Sustained winds at 30-40 mph, gusts to 50 mph and occasionally higher.

The good:
Amazing power of the wind. The sound. The rocking water in the toilet bowls, both upstairs and down. The brownish sky and foggy look, due to so much Texas and Oklahoma dirt pulled into the air. I wonder what it looks like a thousand feet up; down here it's dimming the sunlight, which is always amazing.

In south winds our house really gets hit, because the south exposure is two stories high, perched at the top of a downward sloping landscape that extends from our back yard across the open neighborhood park and the rest of the development (we see only rooftops), and all the way to the unseen river a mile or so away. We can see the southern horizon unobstructed by houses or trees. At night we see twinkling small-town lights along the horizon. So, nothing between us and a strong south wind. In spring and fall, with a few windows open, wind literally whistles, loudly, through the house!

The bad:
Pieces of our roof shingles in the street and front yard on the north side of the house. One whole section of shingle. High sustained winds expected to continue at least all day. The shingles on the small south-facing part of the roof are really being whomped and lifted up by this intense south wind with even higher gusts.

The ugly:
We called our handyman and will check our homeowner's insurance policy too. The roof is just old enough that we only got 50 percent coverage. After our nonmortgage debt is fully paid off this year, we will start saving for a new roof. For now, we hope repair will be enough.

The wind isn't nearly as exciting now, sigh.

Current reading

Thanks to the book meme, I figured it's about time to mention what I'm currently reading.

Euclid's Window: The story of geometry from parallel lines to hyperspace, by Leonard Mlodinow. A very readable book, and the explanations of the geometry are easy and interesting so far; I'm about to learn about the Romans' role in the story. What I expected was a well-written overview of the development of mathematics from the perspective of geometry.

I didn't expect that I would also gain a better understanding of the relative contributions of the Sumerians and Mesopotamians (quite a lot of number theory and calculation; little to no creativity), the ancient Egyptians (a little calculation, very little creativity), and the ancient and classical Greeks (creativity galore!). I've learned a whole lot more about the major mathematical figures of the ancient world. I understand much better the tragedy of the destruction of the library of Alexandria.

It was very cool to be able to mention to Son1 yesterday during his math lesson on the area of a triangle, "the ancient Greeks were the first to think that a shape that exactly matches another shape really is the same." That was an essential concept for the way his textbook was presenting his lesson, though we weren't thinking twice about assuming it. Cool!

Er, I'm reading other stuff too. Because I'm thinking about how to get the boys ready for April's baseball practices, I picked up Parenting Young Athletes the Ripken Way, by Cal Ripken, Jr.

Most of the book was interesting; the rest was a peek into the late-teen sports world and the world of high-pressure parents (and how to get grounded and think of your kid first). Now I want to find some resources on baseball skill-building for my 7 and 11 year olds, since I have not a clue about this stuff. I hope to get a baseball glove in March and start playing catch with the boys and throwing grounders to them (which will require practice on my part!).

The other book I've started working on is a thick one, Chester Starr's A History of the Ancient World. It's remarkably readable for, at least physically, appearing such an academic, heavy book.

A couple of nights ago I read the first chapters, about prehistory (paleolithic, neolithic, etc.), the rise of civilization in various places (and how he defines that), and ancient Egypt. I'm really tired of Egypt nowadays, so I'm happy to be on the verge of other cultures in this book, and well past the Egyptians in Euclid's Window. The boys and I did our Egyptian study last fall and moved into Greece; I'm ready to pick it up again with Greece and then move into Rome. A History of the Ancient World is a library book and I want to get a good sense of the book before the due date to decide whether to renew it (or request it again later), or not. So far it's really interesting.

For my nonfiction book club in January we read The Price of Motherhood: Why the most important job in the world is still the least valued, by Ann Crittenden. I tried to finish the last two chapters, but I took a break because the hard truths in the book were very hard to read and made me angry. Kind of like James Kunstler's The Long Emergency last spring, but closer to home, because it's about the financial consequences of women choosing to have children, not only stay-at-home moms who never work full-time or who take a break from working full-time, though that's what hit close for me. Grrrr. I'm taking a break from finishing The Price of Motherhood.

A book meme

I wonder, what was the source of this list? It's an interesting collection of books. I'm simply not interested in reading Ayn Rand or Stephen King, The Celestine Prophesy or Ulysses. There are a lot of books here that I really would like to read, and I'm curious what the books are that I've never heard of. Maybe this will spur me to a reading kick like the summer I read American authors I'd never read: Willa Cather and Anne Tyler (what a combination!).

From Jessica's Trivium Academy

Look at the list of books below.
+ Put a cross in front of the ones on your book shelf

Bold the ones you’ve read
Italicize the ones you want to read
(Put parenthesis around the book if undecided)

Cross out the ones you won’t touch with a 10 foot pole
* Asterisk the ones you’ve never heard of

1. The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown)
2. +Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
3. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
5. +The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien)
6. +The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)
7. +The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien)
8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
9. +Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
10. *A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry)
11. +Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling)
12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)
13. +Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling)
14. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
16. +Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Rowling)
17. *Fall on Your Knees (Ann-Marie MacDonald)
18. The Stand (Stephen King)
19. +Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Rowling)
20. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
21. +The Hobbit (Tolkien)
22. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
23. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
24. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
25. Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
26. +The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
27. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
28. +The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)
(29. +East of Eden (John Steinbeck))
30. Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom)
31. +Dune (Frank Herbert)
32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks)
33. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
34. 1984 (Orwell)
35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
36. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
37. * The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay)
38. * I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb)
39. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)
40. * The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
(41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel))
42. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
(43. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella))
(44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom))
45. +The Bible
46. Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)
47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
(48. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt))
49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
50. * She’s Come Undone (Wally Lamb)
51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
52. A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens)
53. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
54. Great Expectations (Dickens)
(55. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald))
56. * The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence)
57. +Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling)
(58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough))
59. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
60. * The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrew Niffenegger)
(61. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky))
62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
(63. War and Peace (Tolstoy))
(64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice))
65. * Fifth Business (Robertson Davis)
66. One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
(67. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (Ann Brashares))
68. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
69. Les Miserables (Hugo)
+70. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
(71. Bridget Jones’ Diary (Fielding))
72. Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez)
73. +Shogun (James Clavell)
74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
+75. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
76. * The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)
77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)
78. The World According To Garp (John Irving)
79. * The Diviners (Margaret Laurence)
80. +Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)
81. *Not Wanted On The Voyage (Timothy Findley)
(82. +Of Mice and Men (Steinbeck))
(83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier))
84. Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind)
85. Emma (Jane Austen)
(86. Watership Down (Richard Adams))
(87. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley))
88. *The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
89. *Blindness (Jose Saramago)
90. *Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer)
91. *In the Skin of a Lion (Ondaatje)
92. Lord of the Flies (Golding)
93. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)
94. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
(95. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum))
96. *The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)
97. *White Oleander (Janet Fitch)
98. *A Woman of Substance (Barbara Taylor Bradford)
99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)
100. Ulysses (James Joyce)

Try it yourself!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Friday Five - Companions on the Way

As we take the beginning steps of our journey through Lent, who would we take as a companion? Name five people, real or imaginary, you might like to have with you as guide or guardian or simply good friend.

I'm going with my first thoughts here.

My dear friend J and my once dear friend S, in opposite corners of the country, for our deep, utterly inexplicable connectedness despite time, difficulties, and distance.

My good friend C, who is a companion in knitting, very thoughtful discussion, and laughter.

My friend T, whom I'm still getting to know; we never seem to have enough time to finish our conversations.

Frederica Mathews-Green, for her thoughtful experience of Orthodoxy, which intrigues and challenges me.

I think it's time to write some letters, make some phone calls, and plan some coffee dates. And pick up FMG's book on my bookshelf, At the Corner of East and Now.

How to deal with living in Tornado Alley

It's unusually warm this week and we're expecting thunderstorms and possibly even a bit of tornado action overnight tonight. This afternoon my MOMS Club email list discussed how to deal with living in Tornado Alley, because one of the new members is new to our area and was really stressed over the talk about possible tornadoes. Here's what I wrote.

The spring after we moved here my husband wanted to storm chase and I had a two-month old baby at the start of spring chase season. I was kind of freaked about tornadoes, too. Here are some tips:

Usually we have fantastic, tremendous, amazing thunderstorms in spring, summer (some), and fall... lightning, hail, wind, rain (and no tornadoes). On occasion a tornado might develop, and few tornadoes are strong enough to do much damage. Not all tornadoes even touch down onto the ground.

The overwhelming majority of tornadoes are weak, rated F0 through F3. The tornadoes that do a lot of damage, F4s and F5s, are rare. Really rare. An F4, if I remember correctly, is the lift-the-roof-off type (yay safe room, closet, bathroom). An F5 is super rare, and is the nothing-left-but-foundation type (yay storm cellar).

Also, tornadoes are really skinny compared to the storm they're in, or compared to an ice storm, tropical storm, hurricane, etc. And they don't last long.

The powerful, mile-wide, and/or long-lasting tornadoes are imprinted on people's memory because they are rare (and awful), not because they are common. I found it helped me a lot to learn that.

The great thing about being in the heart of Tornado Alley in tornado season is that all the weather folks LOVE severe weather and are chomping at the bit to cover it.

So... if there's even a hint of a good possibility, the news media go All Storm Watching All The Time, and you'll have more info than you'd ever want. On local TV they dump ad time for weather updates, and they run little maps of the state with the watches (=pay attention) and the warnings (=go to your safe place).

If a tornado is sighted anywhere in our part of the state, the local TV and associated radio stations are Live For Hours with every possible detail. Each local TV station is carried live on a local radio station as well. The weather media track the tornadoes live by rural towns and roads, and even by suburban/urban street intersections! You will not need to worry that they don't know where a tornado is or might be -- they're all over that like white on rice!

Our town is blanketed with sirens to alert us to danger even if we have no idea. And those puppies are LOUD!

If a tornado is actually in our county, a tornado warning is issued and the neighborhood sirens sound. Head to your safe place. Oh, and Do Not Freak Out when the weather radio runs its weekly test and the neighborhood sirens run their weekly test; they are both at noon, one on Wednesdays and the other on Fridays. They only do the tests when there is NO possibility of severe weather. If it's a cloudy or thunderstormy day, the sirens and alerts are real, not tests.

I've only heard sirens go off for tornado warnings (in our county) maybe twice in 7 1/2 years.

Get a NOAA weather radio, preferably one that is programmable.

It will alert you to any weather watches or warnings. If it's programmable you can narrow down the counties whose alerts it notifies you about (you especially want counties west and southwest of ours, plus ours, but not distant counties). Put the weather radio where you can hear it in your sleep, so you can sleep easy even if storms are expected overnight. The weather radio made a huge difference in my comfort level, as did the media coverage (at first; then it became sort of annoying unless the weather might hit our town!).

Learn what part of your home is the best protection from tornadoes.

It is usually a ground-floor closet or bathroom, a small room with no walls joined to the exterior house walls. Or, if you have a storm cellar/shelter, that's your safe place. Plan to go there with a radio if possible if the siren sounds or the weather folks ever say about your area, "go to your safe place now."

Make a mini-plan of what to do if you're at home, and what to do if you're in your car.

Then you'll be (or I was, anyway) less panicky when the weather media start ramping up because you've already made those decisions.

You could also pick up the severe weather safety info that becomes commonly available in the newspaper, at McDonalds, etc. at the beginning of March.

Or go to the National Weather Service Web site, or the local American Red Cross chapter. Most people don't think of the preparedness stuff, but it might help you feel more comfortable with this new thing.

I've written a book, and that's everything I can think of! Breathe, deeply breathe, slowly breathe...

And now I try to remember this stuff the first time this spring we have a seriously amazing severe weather day where lots of fun stuff is heading toward our town. Gulp.