Archive for October, 2009

“I see a mermaid riding on a unicorn…”

October 30, 2009 @ 7:16 am | Filed under: ,


Here’s something fun: the Cloud Appreciation Society. Float on over to check out some amazing photos, learn about the different types of clouds, and marvel at the Cloud of the Month. I particularly enjoyed the Society’s manifesto:

WE BELIEVE that clouds are unjustly maligned
and that life would be immeasurably poorer without them.

We think that they are Nature’s poetry,
and the most egalitarian of her displays, since
everyone can have a fantastic view of them.

We pledge to fight ‘blue-sky thinking’ wherever we find it.
Life would be dull if we had to look up at
cloudless monotony day after day.

“Fight blue-sky thinking.” Hee. Here’s the rest.

I wonder if the Society knows about the Snoopy “Clouds” song?

The pyramids of Khufu!
You too?
Seven wonders of the world…

This Week in Ancient Greece

October 29, 2009 @ 1:27 pm | Filed under: , ,

800px-Parthenon-2008The Parthenon. Photo by Kallistos (Creative Commons license).

“It was built about 2,500 years ago and stands on a white marble hill in Greece. Because it too is made of white marble, it seems to grow out of that hill as though it were a group of great trees standing in a small forest.”

—from Round Buildings, Square Buildings, Buildings that Wiggle Like a Fish by Philip M. Isaacson, a book I wrote about in this post long ago

800px-Acropolis3The Acropolis. Photo by Adam Carr, released to the public domain at Wikimedia Commons.

We’re still reading Plutarch’s Life of Pericles.

That which gave most pleasure and ornament to the city of Athens, and the greatest admiration and even astonishment to all strangers, and that which now is Greece’s only evidence that the power she boasts of and her ancient wealth are no romance or idle story, was [Pericles’s] construction of the public and sacred buildings.

The materials were stone, brass, ivory, gold, ebony, and cypress-wood; the artisans that wrought and fashioned them were smiths and carpenters, moulders, founders and braziers, stone-cutters, dyers, goldsmiths, ivory-workers, painters, embroiderers, turners; those again that conveyed them to the town for use, merchants and mariners and ship-masters by sea; and by land, cartwrights, cattle-breeders, wagoners, rope-makers, flax-workers, shoe-makers and leather-dressers, road-makers, miners. And every trade in the same nature, as a captain in an army has his particular company of soldiers under him, had its own hired company of journeymen and laborers belonging to it banded together as in array, to be as it were the instrument and body for the performance of the service of these public works distributed plenty through every age and condition.

“I’m confused,” said Rose, upon hearing (in an earlier passage) how Pericles manipulated to his own advantage a situation involving a political rival and some invading Spartans. “Is he a good guy or not?” This is a question we might ask about many, many leaders of nations throughout history, and one reason I think Plutarch is worth our time is because of the complex and relevant issues he takes on. Understanding Pericles helps us scrutinize our own leaders with sharper eyes.

This week’s Plutarch-ing took place over homemade french bread pizzas, courtesy of Rose. Afterward (yum), we took a look at the different types of Greek columns, and the kids designed their own temples at this interactive British Museum site.

Meanwhile, Athena has outfitted some swift ships and Telemachus is ready to set off in search of Odysseus—or in search of news about him, at least. That is, we finished Book II of The Odyssey. Good stuff in book two. Snarling suitors, Penelope and her loom, and for young Telemachus, a hopeful omen from Zeus:

Then from a mountain peak
far-seeing Zeus replied by sending out two eagles,
flying high up in the sky.  For some time they soared
like gusts of wind, with their wings spread out, side by side.
But when they reached the middle of the crowded meeting,
with quick beats of their wings they wheeled around,
swooping down on everyone, destruction in their eyes.
Then with their talons they attacked each other,
clawing head and neck, and flew off on the right,
past people’s homes, across the city. They were amazed
to see these birds with their own eyes.  In their hearts
they were stirred to think how everything would end.

The Achaians’ hearts weren’t the only ones stirred. Exciting stuff, that.


October 26, 2009 @ 8:14 pm | Filed under: ,

A conversation reported to me by the 14-year-old:

biscuitWonderboy (looking at book): “Biscuit is spelled B-I-S-C-U-I-T.”

Jane (hiding book): “That’s right! What does B-I-S-C-U-I-T spell?”

Wonderboy: “Biscuit!”

Jane (still hiding book): “That’s right! How do you spell Biscuit?”

Wonderboy: “With letters!”

Good Listener

October 22, 2009 @ 7:02 am | Filed under: , ,

During yesterday’s evening tidy, Jane asked Wonderboy to put a pair of shoes away in the cubby.

Wonderboy, as many of you know, is hard of hearing. Even with his hearing aids in, he cannot pick up soft unvoiced consonant sounds such as those made by the letters C and T.

Which may explain why, this morning, we discovered that pair of shoes in the kids’ bathroom—in the tubby.

A Bright Light

October 21, 2009 @ 1:53 pm | Filed under:

“You, child. What do you know of Greece?”

Betsy had not understood much of what had passed, but she remembered her nursery night-light burning in a little pan of grease and she said, “It is a bright light.”

Uncle Ambrose leaned back in his chair and stared at her and his jaw dropped. Then an expression of great tenderness came over his face and he said, “Child, you are right. A bright light. One of the brightest the world has known. But that you should know that, a child of your age. I am astonished. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings.”

—from Linnets and Valerians by Elizabeth Goudge

One of our favorites. Beanie’s reading it now for the first delicious time. This scene popped into my head a couple of weeks ago when we were about to begin reading The Odyssey—a kind of family fun I heartily encourage everyone to try. The Iliad, The Odyssey, Beowulf,  Idylls of the King, Macbeth, Plutarch’s Lives: heavy, hard, heady college stuff, right? Not necessarily. Honestly, I’ve had better success reading some of these Great Works with my children than I’ve had with certain Newbery-winning children’s novels. (Longtime readers will recall my laments about our inability to sustain Secret of the Andes or Red Sails to Capri as read-alouds.)

I wonder if one reason the Hard Stuff works well for us is that I feel no pressure to finish the whole thing, figuring that every little morsel of Homer or Shakespeare is a boost, a blessing, a bit of nourishment for mind or soul. You know how Flylady talks about every little bit of housework, even housework done clumsily, being a blessing for the home? I guess that’s my take on reading these literary classics with young children. Our best, deepest, most affecting discussions have been sparked by small passages from big works. Some weeks I may not read more than a score of lines from The Odyssey, a single paragraph from Plutarch’s Life of Pericles, but weeks, months, years later we’re still chewing on those big ideas.

From yesterday’s Pericles passage:

“For [Pericles] was never seen to walk in any street but that which led to the market-place and the council-hall, and he avoided invitations of friends to supper, and all friendly visits and intercourse whatever; in all the time he had to do with the public, which was not a little, he was never known to have gone to any of his friends to a supper, except that once when his near kinsman Euryptolemus married, he remained present till the ceremony of the drink-offering, and then immediately rose from the table and went his way. For these friendly meetings are very quick to defeat any assumed superiority, and in intimate familiarity an exterior of gravity is hard to maintain. Real excellence, indeed, is best recognized when most openly looked into; and in really good men, nothing which meets the eyes of external observers so truly deserves their admiration, as their daily common life does that of their nearer friends.”

Food for thought there for a great many meals.

Related post: The Scent of Water.

Balboa Park Posts

October 20, 2009 @ 6:13 am | Filed under: , ,

Perusing my archives, I see the wonders of Balboa Park have inspired a good many posts. (And other creative pursuits.)


I draw (a little); she paints (a lot).

Helixes (viewing mummies at the Museum of Man; visiting the Botanical Building)

We counted koi in the long lily pond outside the Botanical Building, their splotched orange-and-cream bodies undulating beneath spiky, ladylike blossoms and the notched round leaves that reminded us of Thumbelina’s prison and Mr. Jeremy Fisher’s raft. We peered inside the deep wells of pitcher-plant blossoms, angling to see if any hapless insects lay dissolving inside. How surreal, this eager scrutiny of death, the children chattering and lively in the moist green air of this palatial greenhouse, just as they had been in the domed, echoing hush of the museum.

Got More Monet Than Time (Giverny exhibit at the art museum)

Giverny! The word is magical. It whispers: Monet, poppies, haystacks, light-streaked skies, picturesque laborers in wheat fields drenched with sun. We made a beeline for the visiting exhibit, a large collection of Impressionist works by the artists who congregated in the little French painters’ colony during the late 1800s. They took their easels out to the woods and fields in a golden frenzy of plein-air painting. All right, the wall placard describing the exhibit didn’t say anything about a frenzy per se, but it did talk a lot about plein-air painting, a term whose pronunciation I managed to fake quite passably but of whose definition I was ignorant until a kind-eyed Englishwoman explained it to Jane.

Of Fowls and Fun (another art museum visit)

Yesterday my three oldest kids went to a workshop at the San Diego Museum of Art. A docent gave a short talk about elements of art—line, shape, color, etc—and then they split into small groups and went to look at four paintings up close. Afterward, they did an art project focusing on copying details from the paintings they’d viewed. I missed most of the workshop, because I was outside with the little ones. The girls had a splendid time, and Beanie was especially impressed by the dead chicken.

Photos of the Japanese Friendship Garden (and other spots)

And this month’s photoessay (Natural History Museum, Botanical Building)


San Diego Museum of Natural History at Balboa Park.


Lily Pond and lizard shirt