This is fun

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Books Read In December

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For the Children’s Sake, a reread, this time on audible. Still really appreciate this book as a good introduction.Still really prefer Mason’s own writing for the best understanding of her methods and principles.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: I really enjoyed this book. My copy is a reader’s advance I found in our school library, so I don’t know if it’s the same as the version published.  I would use it with high school students, and with some very light editing with middle school students.  There’s nothing explicit, but there is a section on teaching about AIDS and HIV awareness, and the importance of using protection, and a reference to somebody using prostitutes. It’s really pretty discreet, however, it’s possibly discreet to the point of obscurity so that more questions are likely to come up.  There’s a heartbreaking description of a famine and deaths by starvation, including a beloved pet.  There are several “My God”s, but I did not see them as profane in context. There’s a strange story or two about witches who cut off and sell people’s private parts and who have soccer tournaments with people’s head-this happens while people are sleeping and usually the heads are returned and the people wake up okay but exhausted, but I found it all very odd and the narrator seems to believe it.  I still really loved this book.  There is a young reader’s edition that I have not read, but it might omit the (possibly) less child friendly stuff.  I also recently finished Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, about a different, but nearby country in Africa, and I thought these two books could be paired together (with older readers) for a good geographical/social studies study in high school.

The Secret Life of the Forest by Richard Ketcham- I was disappointed in this one.  I don’t mind evolutionary content but I do mind the sort that is clearly just guesses and modern mythology rather than science- you can tell by the use of words and phrases like “must have” and “perhaps,’ and “probably,’ not to mention sweeping claims made without any support offered whatsoever, “cell membranes were formed, and finally there developed reproduction.”  The first chapter is more myth than the King Arthur stories. Subsequent chapters were more interesting and dealt with actual facts, but also tended to become a dry catalog of encyclopedic facts.  This book also is mostly applicable for North America rather than any other regions.

Victory of REason, by Stark,  and hey, the Kindle version is only 1.99 right now.   At first, I wasn’t going to finish this one.  He does write well and the content was interesting, but very Catholic, but I accidentally packed it in my backpack to take with me on our week long break over Christmas (thanks to a generous gift from some supporters of our work here, who paid for the entire trip).  As I continued reading it got more interesting and less of a wholesale apologetic for Catholicisim. The premise is that the dark ages were not so very dark (most scholars now agree with that). It was fascinating to read through the technological developments in the so-called dark ages, and that ‘despotic states discourage and even prevent progress.’  I am not sure I’d assign it to high school students because it can be a bit dry at times, but if I had it, I would probably assign a couple chapters, particularlythe second chapter, and maybe 3 and 4 as well.

I Am Half Sick of shadows, another Flavia de Luce mystery. I’ve written of these before, and they are delightful if occasionally dark.

J. R. R. Tolkien, A Life Inspired by Wyatt North- this was a fairly short and easy read. I enjoyed it but I would not say it was very substantial.

1066: History in an Hour– this is part of an audible series. I have several of them, and I enjoy them.  They do, of course, cram a lot of stuff in and leave even more out, but the series is very handy when you just want a bit of a refresher or overview, and they seem even handed to me.

Jim Butcher’s Dresden series, books 1-4- Storm Front, Grave Peril, Fool Moon, The Summer Knight

I checked out a single volume, books 1-6 from Overdrive and read these on my Kindle while on vacation.  If you don’t like magic in your books, of course you will hate these.  If you are nervous, uncomfortable, or extremely selective about the sort of magic you will have in your stories, these books are not for you, either.  I probably won’t read more when i finish this set. They are fun stories, and Dresden is an engaging, sympathetic character.  I love the sympathetic treatment of people of faith (there’s an occasional appearance by a devout Catholic who has a magic sword given to him by God, and who is married to Charity, who he rescued from a dragon, and they have a large and growing family of children they love). I could do without some of the sensual details of some of Dresden’s relationships with women or vampires.  I mean, by today’s standards, Jim Butcher isn’t graphic.  By mine…. I skipped those paragraphs.

Horrible History– I picked up a couple for 20 cents at a second hand bookstore here, and it was twenty cents too much.  I am very, very unimpressed.  I am sad because these have been recommended to me by people who I expected better of. They are not clever at all, often inaccurate, always irreverent, and shallow.  They are like encyclopedia entries of history as told on bubblegum wrappers.  They are *not* a good way to learn history.  I can see they might be fun for kids with an obnoxious sense of humour (nothing wrong with that) who *already* know the fuller, richer, story.  They really are not a suitable introduction to  history for kids who don’t.  For one thing, they encourage the kind of snide, sneering, cynical approach to history that is exactly wrong for beginners and only encourages a sort of arrogance that is both unattractive and useless if you want students to be teachable.

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Fungus and Creation

“In art, either as creators or participators, we are helped to remember some of the glorious things we have forgotten, and some of the terrible things we are asked to endure, we who are children of God by adoption and grace.” Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water

“Creativity means making something for the soul out of every experience.” Thomas Moore

Found near the beach

They are signs of death, really.  They cannot live without death, in fact, and often they cause it.  But pause to look, and really take in the elements of design here- their shape, colour, the striking contrast between the fungus and the wood it grows out of, the gradations of colour, sometimes strong contrasts and sometimes quite subtle.

This might be a bracket fungus (http://www.projectnoah.org/spottings/16503057)

Or perhaps a Cinnabar Red Polypore   (http://www.projectnoah.org/spottings/1310568924)

Or maybe Pycnoporus coccineus.

All the bracket fungi are in the polypore family, and there are at least a thousand species of them.  Imagine!  They are generally hardy and live a long time, many of them have concentric bands of colour that are annual growth rings.

Their function in the web of life as we currently understand it is to be the first and foremost of the wood decayers. Some of them kill trees, others colonize already dying or dead trees and get to work on reducing the wood to a softer pulp that allows other creatures, insects and even woodpeckers, to follow and use the softened wood for their purposes while helping to further break it down, ultimately returning nutrients to the soil.

A frozen ice-age man carried two kinds of polypores in his pack.  One has medicinal purposes in many cultures, and one is useful for starting fires. Most of them are edible (although there is a highly poisonous member of the family).  Many cultures ascribe various medicinal uses to different species.  They come in dull, dun colored forms that blend in with the wood on which they grow. They come in whites, greys, brilliant oranges, reds, and chocolate browns. I’ve seen some green, although that might be algae growing on the fungus.  Some can only grow on one kind of tree, some can grow on any kind.  Some kill living trees, some only grow on already dead or dying logs.  Some are hard enough to be used in wood carvings. Some are used as an artist canvas- draw on them, and let them dry and the sketch remains, hardened.    So much beauty and intriguing variety out of a lowly, common, and fairly simple (but still too complicated for humans to be able to reproduce it) organism whose function in life is to decay wood.

Found on a log in the street near a pile of garbage

God has purpose for you, too.  What are you creating out of your experiences?
From the stars in the universe to the single celled algae and the strange world of mushrooms and everything in between,

“Oh, Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Thy Name in all the earth….When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You take thought of him and the son of man that you care for him?” Psalm 8

 

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Dawn at the Beach

This was over Christmas break.  It was actually chilly enough to me at 6 a.m. that I wrapped up in a beach towel, but I think I have acclimated a bit.  It was probably only 27 C, or around 80 F.

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The spiral of a seashell

Seashells are exoskeletons. The soft mollusk that lives inside oozes out a secret mixture of calcium carbonate, proteins, and mystery to create the shell. Scientists still do not know how the mollusks create the pigments to colour their shells.

They are dedicated home improvers, constantly expanding their living space as they grow.
“They are among the few animals on the planet that wander around carrying with them the same body armor they had as babies; the pointy tip or innermost whorl is the mollusk’s juvenile shell….
“Day by day, the mollusk shell slowly expands, making room for the soft animal growing inside.”
Spirals in Time, by Helen Scales (a book on my wishlist)

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