I know bears like this one

“The Bear Who Let It Alone”: A Fable by James Thurber
“In the woods of the Far West there once lived a brown bear who could take it or let it alone. He would go into a bar where they sold mead, a fermented drink made of honey, and he would have just two drinks. Then he would put some money on the bar and say, ‘See what the bears in the back room will have,’ and he would go home. But finally he took to drinking by himself most of the day. He would reel home at night, kick over the umbrella stand, knock down the bridge lamps, and ram his elbows through the windows. Then he would collapse on the floor and lie there until he went to sleep. His wife was greatly distressed and his children were very frightened.

“At length the bear saw the error of his ways and began to reform. In the end he became a famous teetotaler and a persistent temperance lecturer. He would tell everybody that came to his house about the awful effects of drink, and he would boast about how strong and well he had become since he gave up touching the stuff. To demonstrate this, he would stand on his head and on his hands and he would turn cartwheels in the house, kicking over the umbrella stand, knocking down the bridge lamps, and ramming his elbows through the windows. Then he would lie down on the floor, tired by his healthful exercise, and go to sleep. His wife was greatly distressed and his children were very frightened.

“Moral: You might as well fall flat on your face as lean over too far backward.”
(James Thurber, “The Bear Who Let It Alone.” Fables for Our Time, 1940)

You know them, too, right? They are the people who once agreed with you about something- members of your church, your club, your email discussion group, your homeschool group or your PTA or political party- it doesn’t matter. You were on the same side of some given issue, for lack of a better way to put it. But every once in a while, or fairly often, or every day, you found yourself cringing. They were bombastic, harsh, hasty to judge people and jump on them for things that weren’t worth twitching, let alone pouncing. They came across too strong, they seemed to relish cutting people down to size. Possibly they even came after you once or twice for not being orthodox on whatever the issue was, or not being orthodox enough, or not, somehow, being quite the person they thought you ought to be in the cause of whatever it was you were travelling companions of a sort.

And then they took a detour, had a conversion, saw the light, reversed themselves and found themselves on the opposite side of whatever it was you had once shared similar notions about- and everything was completely different. Now, everything having changed due to their complete reversal in opinion, you found yourself cringing. They were bombastic, harsh, hasty to judge people and jump on them for things that weren’t worth twitching, let alone pouncing. They came across too strong, they seemed to relish cutting people down to size.

And now they would add to that arsenal, “I know exactly what _____ is like/is thinking/believes, because I used to be just like them. Now I know better, but I used to be one of them so I have inside knowledge about….”

And you haven’t really the heart to tell them, “No. You don’t. You were kind of a harsh, rude, unfair jerk at times before and it made me uncomfortable, and you’re still the same, it’s just the issue that has changed- not your personality. And your personality was never the thing we shared in common, or at least, i hope it wasn’t.”

The mean, jerk pro-lifer becomes a mean, jerk pro=abort and vice versa. The mean, jerk young earth creationist becomes a mean, jerk atheist or theistic evolutionist, or whatever, and vice versa.

A reversal in opinions is not a conversion of the soul.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tricky Story Problem

Student I tutor has trouble with story problems.  Part of it is the language issue (English not being her first language), and part of it is a learning disability. We’ve been doing a few practice story problems in between readings.  They easy problems, mathematically, because right now I am just trying to get her confidence up and help her establish some firmer basics than she previously had.

A couple days ago I was really, really tired and I accidentally asked her:

“If you have 3 leaves and there are 5 bugs on each leaf, how many leaves do you have altogether?”

She said zero.

We stared at each other a moment, and then I realized I’d asked how many leaves there were, not how many bugs, but her answer still didn’t make sense.  I looked at her and asked, “I have three leaves and five bugs on each of them, how do I get zero leaves from that?”

“Because,” she said sensibly, “the bugs would eat up those leaves.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Response

Chesterton on social maladies

Chesterton on curing social diseases, said we go about it backward. We focus on the problem first and then go after a cure, which is the proper course for physical health, but not really the right approach (he says) for spiritual or social maladies” it is the whole definition and dignity of man that in social matters we must actually find the cure before we find the disease .”  He explains that when it comes to physical health, we all pretty much are agreed on what that looks like.  There may be some disagreement as to scale, but we generally have the same ideas about physical health:

“ow we do talk first about the disease in cases of bodily breakdown; and that for an excellent reason. Because, though there may be doubt about the way in which the body broke down, there is no doubt at all about the shape in which it should be built up again. No doctor proposes to produce a new kind of man, with a new arrangement of eyes or limbs. The hospital, by necessity, may send a man home with one leg less: but it will not (in a creative rapture) send him home with one leg extra. Medical science is content with the normal human body, and only seeks to restore it.”

One may believe veganism or paleo are the best ways to optimum health, and the two are quite different, but we don’t really mean something so very different by ‘optimum health.’

“But exactly the whole difficulty in our public problems is that some men are aiming at cures which other men would regard as worse maladies; are offering ultimate conditions as states of health which others would uncompromisingly call states of disease. ”

This makes me think of so many issues- gun control for just one.  Most of the ‘solutions’ people offer as ‘common sense gun control’ have one of two problems.  They either are already the law (so many gun control advocates seem to no clue what the current laws are), or… the are a solution which I believe offers an even worse malady.  And, of course, aside from the inexcusable failure to investigate and education themselves on what our current laws already are, quite often the solutions that 2A advocates offer are solutions that gun control advocates feel are a worse malady.

You cannot take it for granted that your ‘common sense’ offer is common sense at all to everybody else and this difference of opinion is not because your opponents hate children or are Marxists.


Or at least, never the first, and sometimes not the second, because,  to be honest, I have known many gun control advocates who are Marxists, self-avowed, even.  And although the gun control advocates often rage against those who disagree with them by calling them child murderers who hate kids and have blood on their hands, in fact, I have never met a 2A advocate who hated children  or who was a murderer.

I really wish the nasty, spiteful, irrational, and vicious name-calling would stop.

But I also wish the 2A crowd would go one stop further than “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”  That is totally true.   It is also totally true that back in the day, and not so very long ago at that, kids brought guns and knives to school and it wasn’t an issue. My highschool, lots of kids had frog-stickers in sheathes on their belts. Plenty of kids had gun racks in their pick up trucks parked outside and nobody shot anybody else up.  We actually had a gang problem- several of my classmates were in jail for murder within five years of graduation. We had a kid in a wheelchair because of a bullet in a gang fight. We nearly lost one of our jocks because he got in a fight with a couple gang members and they carved up his abdomen (all involved were hispanic, for what it’s worth).  But those fights happened off-campus.  My mother taught high school there and she said that the gang members were some of her most respectful students.

So in discussing gun violence, 2A people all agree that the culture has changed, that it’s not the guns it’s ht epeople- but there we seem to stop.  It *is* the people.  Something has changed.  But it’s not enough to acknowledge that- since it has changed, shouldn’t we do something about it?  What?

I don’t know.  I do not know how to put the evil genies back in their bottles- the evil djinns of broken homes, kids who have never seemingly attached or bonded to anybody, fatherless kids, unapologetic bullying, hateful rhetoric in place of reasoned discourse, emotion over reason, victim culture, identity politics and all the rest.  Well, I do know, from my perspective, we all need Jesus and we need Him a lot more.  But how to get there from here, I don’t know.

Posted in Culture and Counterculture | Leave a comment

Frozen Coffee Parfait


One pint of cream

one cupful of cold coffee

three fourths of a cupful of sugar

one tablespoonful of vanilla

Whip the cream quite stiff, add gradually the cup of coffee, then the sugar and vanilla, beating with an egg beater all the ingredients thoroughly together.

Prepare your ice cream freezer as you would for freezing ice cream but leaving out the dasher. Pour the coffee mixture into your can and leave packed in ice and salt three hours.

From an 1897 cookbook

I think I’d just mix coffee and whipped cream, freeze it to slushy stage and then blend it and maybe freeze again, Or I’d just mix the coffee and whipped cream and drink it.

Posted in cookery | Leave a comment

Art, Beauty, and Meaning

Nudity in art (and elsewhere)… teaching art appreciation to students, and related random ramblings:
To some people, this is a no-brainer and only neanderthols and tightly repressed puritans take issue with it. To others, this is a no-brainer, and no Christian ever lets their children see nudity in art and anybody who thinks otherwise just doesn’t know their Bible or is a hedonist.
To a lot of others there is a huge area of in between. Plenty of people have quite decided opinions about all the mistakes the people on the other side are making.

In our case, we were totally relaxed and laissez faire about nudity until the time a certain 3 year old paused, looked at her father and made an embarrassing and humiliating observation and he looked at me and said, “Yah, I am done being a hippy.” or something to that effect. So he was more careful about being dressed in front of the kids, but I didn’t worry about it one way or the other. And I still didn’t make any sort of an issue of it (nor did he) when it came to art in books and museums. However, in spite of all the people with firm opinions along the lines of ‘if you don’t make a big deal out of it, the kids won’t either,’ my kids did make a big deal out of it. They tittered and giggled and pointed and stage whispered “Mommy, he’s NAKED,” or “Mommy, they are showing their bottoms!” and they wouldn’t stop.

And I began to think that maybe, just maybe, not every example of nudity in art was necessarily neutral, and not every single work needed to be seen by my tittering brood at just that point in time.
AS for the neutrality…
The Fouquet Madonna ( mistress to Charles VII of Francis,  and woman who scandalized the court with her revealing dress)

Francis Schaeffer discusses that
one in _How Should We Then Live_.
He says, “The girl was shown with one breast exposed, and everybody who
knew the situration knew that this was apicture of the king’s mistress,
Agnes Sorel. Was this the Madonna about to feed her baby? No, the painting
might be titled The REd Virgin, but the girl was the king’s mistress; and
when one looked at the painting one could see what the king’s mistress’s
breast looked like….
“When in the Renaissance Mary was painted as a real person, this was an
advance over the representations of Mary in the earlier age, because the
Bible tells us that Mary was a real girl and that the baby Jesus was a real
baby. But now not only was the king’s mistress painted as Mary with all of
the holiness removed, but the meaning, too, was being destroyed….
“Let us now look at another aspect of art to show that humanism had taken
over. In the Academy in FLorence is Michelangelo’s great room….
[David] has few equals in the world. Michelangelo took a piece of marble so
flawed that no one thought it could be used, and out of it he carved this
overwhelming statue. But let us notice that the David was not the Jewish
David of the Bible. David was simply a title. Michelangelo knew his
Judaism, and in the statue the figure is not circumsized….
“The David was the statement of what the humanistic man saw himself as being
tomorrow!” page 68-72

The REd Virgin is a technically lovely painting. It shows talent, skill,
and beauty. But just because something can be done, and done very well
indeed, that is not a good enough argument that it should be done, or that I
should look at it.
The Red Virgin was a known person, and a known immoral one at that (the king she consorted with was worse
Everybody knew that. Everybody knew who she was and what she did. I’m not
sure one could creditably argue that the painter or the viewers saw this as
some glorified, mystical sort of beautiful human body thing apart from
usual, ordinary, sometimes sordid way people view human bodies, especially
of mistresses.

Consider Manet’s Le Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe (the one with two women, one nude, one scantily clad having a picnic at the park with two fully dressed, modern young men). This
painting wasn’t intended to show the beauty of the human figure- to show
some idealized version of the metaphysical beauty of a nude human body
devoid of any earthy, physical meaning. It was intended to shock, and it
did! This painter’s contemporaries knew exactly what he intended by his painting, and it wasn’t just to demonstrate the beauty of the human body on
a level with, say, the beauty of a good apple or a sleek cat or a lovely

On the other hand, nudity in art is a fact of life. If I ever wanted to go to
a museum with my children, they were going to have to get over it. So I covered
the pics up at home, telling them they were being silly, or making a big deal
out of nothing, and they needed to learn to walk past the nekkid people in a
painting at a museum without giggling and pointing. That’s part of being a
grown-up, and they would, God willing, be grown up some day. (and they are!)

Until they quit the silliness over it, in my own books I sometimes used white-out, which I preferred to markers, because it doesn’t bleed through, and when it came to library books I preferred stamp hinges and a bit of paper over everything else except maybe stick-it notes. Stamp
hinges are small bits of wax paper looking things that stamp collectors use.
You moisten it and stick it the page, and then you dampen the top and stick a
bit of paper to that. The virtue of these is that they are intended at some
date to be removable (in case the stamp collector wants to trade or sell his
stamp) so they do NO damage to the book. Then I could tell my children that I might be able to take off the little cover up piece of paper some day, or they could do it themselves whenever they grew up enough to stop the giggling and pointing.
So then I only felt like a temporary vandal=)

One day we happened to go the library and my then 16 y.o. picked out
a *lot* of art books. One of them she got was a little jewel, and it appears
to be part of a series.
It is called _Degas by Degas_, edited by Rachel Barnes, and the series is “Artists by Themselves.” IT was published by Knopf in 1990, although it was
originally published in Great Britain by Webb and Bower, Limited. ISBN is

Every other page is a print of Degas’ work, either a sketch or a finished
painting, and one or two photos of his statues. Opposite each illustration
is a quote of Degas’, sometimes from his journal, sometimes from letters,
sometimes from conversations he had that others wrote down. It is like a
little window into the painter’s thoughts.

So, I was greedily reading through it, telling my daughter to wait, wait,
wait, I’ll be done in a minute, and I came across this quote about his
painting “Woman Leaving Her bath:”

“See how different the times are for us; two centuries ago, I would have
painted ‘Susannah Bathing,’ now I just paint ‘Woman in a Tub.’

I thought that a very apt illustration of Francis Schaeffer’s point about
art and meaning. Or there’s this one:

“What use is my mind? granted that it enables me to hail a bus and pay my
fare. But once I am inside my studio, what use is my mind? I have my
model, my pencil, my paper, my paints. My mind doesn’t interest me.”

Oh, this was interesting, too,

” Oh! Women can never forgive me; they hate me, they can feel that I am
disarming them. I show them without their coquetry, in the state of animals
cleaning themselves!”

*Well!* I must say!!! Hmmph! ..>grin<

OTOH, I thought this quote a very good illustration of a CM concept,

“It is all very well to copy what you see, but is much better to draw only
what you still see in your memory. This is a transformation in which
imagination collaborates with memory. Then you only reproduce what has
struck you, that is to say the essential, and so your memories and your
fantasy are freed from the tyranny which nature holds over them. That is
why pictures made in this way by a man who has cultivated his memory,
knowing both the old masters and his craft well, are practically Always
remarkable. Look at Delacroix.”

For the younger children, it’s enough just to introduce them to artists briefly- a few outlines of their lives and time period, a look at at least six paintings in a row by those artists- the easy CM way- look at it, turn it over and describe it from memory.  Leave it around to look at again, and a week later introduce the next one, and repeat.  Over time they notice what they like and don’t like and what artists have in common.

For older students you can go more in dept into art history and criticism.

For a good course of art history and art appreciation in high school, I don’t think you
could do better than to get Francis Schaeffer’s _How Should We Then Live?_
IT is fantastic, especially in the earlier time periods. I feel it gets a
little weak or shallow from about the Impressionists on, but it’s an
excellent resource. There is a book and a video set. The book is great,
and has more information than the videos, but of course, the videos have
more visual oomph. We had both. A very effective approach would be to have your student (and you!)
watch a video, read the corresponding chapter(s) in the book, narrate, then
watch the next one. It would take an entire school year to do this properly, but it will be very deep.
I sometimes picked up Time Life Library of Art Books, The World of Bruegel,
Delacroix, and The World of Michelangelo. and so on.  I got mine at thrift shops for
3.00 each. I really like these because the first
third or so of the books is about other artists whose ideas and techniques
influenced that artist (does that make sense?). Of course, they do have
lots of those lewdy nudies;-P

There are other good resources to suggest- we used other things ourselves (including the Janson book), but Schaeffer’s is, IMO, the best of the lot for depth of meaning and insight.


Posted in Art | 1 Response

  • The Common Room on Facebook

  • Amazon: Buy our Kindle Books

  • Search Amazon

    Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks

  • Brainy Fridays Recommends: