This Morning…

Me, I’m just waiting for the water for my coffee to heat up. Waiting for Marty to get home from the laundry. Waiting for H.o.p. to get going (he drug a pile of books to bed with him and read late into the night). In the meanwhile I clean the bathroom which is never in danger of looking very clean no matter how clean it is because there isn’t any part of it that’s younger than 1950 except for the paint. I think about a great Philip K. Dick quote where he says something about how nothing and no one gets too old and dirty in America because Americans kill off what’s old and dirty and not plastic (reads better in context of his biography, and he didn’t mention plastic in that quote but in context he was also railing against plastic America, in particular California, while acknowledging also it was plastic and money that marked the difference between being counted as productive and allowed to live as a sane individual or shoveled under as mad). I think about how much I like Philip K. Dick despite the fact his biography reveals he beat up on a few of his wives and it’s even difficult to write, “he beat up on a few of his wives” but there it is, he did, there’s no way to get around it, there’s no excusing it, and his biographer and people interviewed didn’t excuse it but set it in context of the personality as something inexcusable but there it was and the people who loved him loved him anyway, even if they had to do it from a distance and in small doses. I’m thinking about that while I’m scrubbing the toilet. Then my mind skips to thinking about how maybe I’ll do a post on Stephen and Lucy Hawking’s “George’s Secret Key to the Universe” which we finished last week and is a decent book but not great but better than just decent I guess, but am not too enthused about posting on that. Then the coffee water is ready and I grind the coffee and flip the coffee grinder upside down as I finish grinding so all the grounds will settle in the cap and I clean the French Press and put in the coffee and water and stir it. Then Marty comes home with the laundry and surprise flowers and I put up the laundry and he puts the roses in a vase and he tells me how, as he was driving off to do laundry, he saw that some asshole had knocked over our Sentinel Snowman Knight, but on his return he saw it had been set back up. We hear the landlord and I imagine that it was the landlord who had set it back up and Marty opens the door to call up the stairs and thank him but the landlord says he saw someone walking down the street set the Snowman Sentinel back up.

Rather, the Iceman Sentinel.

When I built the Snowman Sentinel with H.o.p. we were dealing with wet snow so I packed that sucker down good during the making of it, porting bucket upon bucket of what was very wet snow, packing it all down solid, porting more buckets, packing those down solid, thinking it would have a better chance of surviving at least a couple of days if it became essentially one big ice block. So today when whoever it was knocked over the snowman, it didn’t fall apart, it stayed together, the head didn’t even come off and the branches didn’t come out.

Then some nice person came by and saw the snowman lying on its back and picked him up and put him back up on his base.

I sit down to think about something anything to write and Marty tells me that he had bad news from a friend of his, that a relative of theirs, in the process of getting a divorce, just shot his wife in the head and then killed himself. There’s more to the story than what is in the papers, just as there always is, but what matters in the end is there was an argument, there was a gun, and, no, really, that’s not the end of the story because there are those left behind.

So, H.o.p. and I sit down to do some Egyptian history. We’ve been reading and I like to supplement with videos. I had found one on Netflix that I thought would be good to watch.

H.o.p., who doesn’t mind his cartoon figures sometimes killing each other off, is pretty selective about his movies. He doesn’t like gore.

“I don’t want to study history,” he says. “People are always killing each other.”

And I give him the same old song and dance that I always give him about why history must be known.

And how it’s not all war. We learn plenty that isn’t about war.

“But it all comes around to war. History’s all about people killing each other,” he says. “I don’t like that. It’s scary.”

I read him the description at Netflix of “Egypt’s Golden Empire”.

This three-part porgram tracks the development of Egypt’s glorious New Kingdom, a majestic era marked by the rise of powerful rulers, the birth of a sophisticated civilization and advances in art, culture and politics that would influence the world for years to come. Originally broadcast on PBS, the series blends archival documents and ancient artifacts with on-location footage and expert interviews to weave a complex but compelling narrative.

“Art and culture,” I say. “How about it?”

“OK,” says H.o.p.

So, I click on the movie and up came the three episodes. The first episode is named “Warrior Pharaohs”.

“Oh, warrior pharaohs,” I say.

“War,” H.o.p. says.

“But it’s PBS. Want to try it?”

“PBS? OK,” says H.o.p., trusting it wouldn’t be so bad.

We watch “Warrior Pharaohs”.

“See, they’re all killing each other,” says H.o.p.

“Yes,” I say. “But at least it’s not bloody. They’re not showing anything…much. Wow, look at that temple,” I say, hopeful.

And they really aren’t showing anything much.

H.o.p. has me rewind the movie three times at points, twice to listen to music he likes, and once to review a sculpture.

The warring continues.

“Why did they show those kids running with the soldiers?” H.o.p. says.

“Maybe they were running away,” I say, though it didn’t look exactly like that.

“It looked instead like they were maybe going into battle,” H.o.p. says.

“It kind of looked like that,” I agree.

They show the children running again. “Maybe the kids got away,” says H.o.p. “I hope they got away,” he says.

Dead, desert-mummified soldiers lay in the sand gazing empty-eyed at the camera.

“Would they have really left them like that?” says H.o.p. “Didn’t they have museums back then they would have put them in?”

Oh, yes, all the mummies in the museums that we’ve seen. “No, they wouldn’t have put them in museums,” I say.

“Why not? We put them in museums,” says H.o.p.

Then we learn that the Egyptians didn’t have head counts of people they’d slain in war, instead they had hand counts. And they drop on the screen in front of us a bunch of severed hands.

“Oh, gross!” says H.o.p.

We take a nice long break after that.

“Why is there always war?” H.o.p. first asks.

“Empire, goods, people wanting to mark their names in history,” I say. “But history remembers more than just rulers and politicians. It remembers thinkers and artists.”

“Homer wrote about war,” H.o.p. says and runs off.

(P.S. Well, Homer didn’t “write” about war, and Homer was actually a number of people, but never mind.)


Despite my not liking The Nutcracker, I made it a point last week to sit with H.o.p. each night for Ovation’s “Battle of the Nutcrackers”.

Well, except for the first night. Missed that one.

My brain still hurts. To get me back it keeps repeating several bar snippets of Nutcracker music.

* * * * * * *

H.o.p. just proposed a new project. Remembering the Jello Man I did (my Nailing Jello to the Wall Art), and missing the Jello Man, he is proposing we make another Jello Man, then leave it out to melt, mould it into a cat and let it set, let it melt, mould it into a dog and let it set, let it melt, mould it into something else and let it set, and so on and so on and so on.

In that way, Jello Man never dies and gets to experience being many other things.

This would be an art project of H.o.p.’s.

Long Live Jello Man.

* * * * * * *

The Nutcracker is like Jello Man. Fresh stagings can’t get past the fact it’s the same ballet and same music.


Pic for the blog

A cousin H.o.p.’s age is now, after being a reluctant reader, making his way through the encyclopedia.

If H.o.p. was making his way through the encyclopedia, I’d be proud of him too. He’s not.

H.o.p. has instead discovered the joys of the comics and graphic novels alley of the second hand bookstore.

I mentioned comics to my sister. She showed me a comic she says her son enjoys, that teaches new words. I glanced at a couple of pages. Not really a comic. On each page is an after thought illustration introducing a new word and lots of text following on ways to use the new word.

H.o.p. would howl if I tried to introduce this to him as a comic. Even I recoiled and I didn’t want to recoil. I wanted to like it. A vocabulary builder!

People love Singapore Math and Singapore Science but H.o.p., from the age of five, refused to look at either. Why? Because he couldn’t stand the illustrations. Nearly every learning program to which we’ve introduced him has either failed or succeeded on the strength of its graphics, despite the fact he’s been sucked into crap like Neopets.

Marty took H.o.p. to Book Nook on Wednesday after his piano lesson (while I was waiting here for my parents) and introduced him to David Lindsay who was there. For years Marty enjoyed more being trashed by David Lindsay’s music reviews (when he was trashed) than the good reviews written by lesser talents. Lindsay knew what he was talking about, knew history, and was amusing.

We used to religiously visit Book Nook. The late night, winter stops were the best. Cold outside. Warm in. I’d sit on the floor, a tablet in hand with the numbers of comics I was missing from certain series, and start searching through everything used that had recently come in. This was before the internet and I even planned some trips to include stops at stores that were known for their comics inventories, determined to complete certain collections of mine.

Our interest in comics flagged to nothing eventually, for which reason we haven’t been frequenting Book Nook since before H.o.p. was born. But this looks like it’s about to change. H.o.p. came away from that Wednesday Book Nook excursion insisting on regular visits so he can sift for new issues. We let him in on the fact that we used to collect comics and have years of Dr. Strange, Silver Surfer and others packed away in boxes elsewhere. We promised we’d dig them up.

We’ve a lot of old alternative comics boxed away as well, but they’re too mature for him.

We located several of our old Silver Surfer graphic novels. They’re now on the table and H.o.p. is dancing happily around. “Yea! Yea!”

One reason I stopped reading comics was because of the explosion of steroidtastical physiques, the huge mammaries and the violence. We’d never been much interested in D.C. Comics, but then Marvel was changing how it was doing things. The X-Men had splintered into numerous series, too much to keep up with or spend money on. The Silver Surfer kept disappearing or dying, whatever. Artists we’d enjoyed such as John Buscema and Moebius were moved off series we appreciated also for the characters and story lines and into things in which we didn’t have much interest. Metropol, which we’d liked, was finished. Some of the alternative comic books we’d followed for quite some time had dried up (Mr. X was overrated but better than a lot of what was following and had some really fun art). First Comics had ceased publishing, and we’d read a good bit of their stuff. As far as I was concerned, Love and Rockets, which had been awesome, was pretty wrung out. Starting off with Mai, the Psychic Girl, after a couple years we had pretty well exhausted the manga that wasn’t rip-your-eyes-out gack gross and a huge turn off with the proclivity for sadistic sex involving females with underage faces. Confronting the outrageous muscles and glands on prominent Western commercial display and the gross out manga when I sat down to search through the stacks had gotten to be too much for me.

Marty reminds me that Pynchon seemed to have completely ripped off the story line from First Comic’s Whisper for his Vineland novel. I’d forgotten about that. When I was going through our books day before yesterday, rearranging some of the cases, I pulled out Vineland to look at again.

H.o.p. came home with a Silver Surfer issue and The Mice Templar. Marty had only glanced through them and missed all the violence in The Mice Templar, and I suppose he didn’t expect there to be much blood and gore in a mouse comic. But there it is.

“Yeah, it’s not Beatrix Potter,” H.o.p. had to say of it.

I looked around online and found however Mouse Guard, a comic which gets a good review and is described as not having the limb separations, and will order that…

Because H.o.p. is hooked, of course. Hooked on comics. For years he’s had an ancient Fantastic Four in his room that I’d not boxed up, that I left out for him, expecting that he’d one day be interested and wanting him to see one of the old greats first before diving into the new. I had intentionally boxed the rest, not just the mature comics, but all of them, because I had this feeling he’d fall into them wholly and didn’t want that happening when he was three, four, five, six, seven, eight years of age. I knew they’d be IT for him, but because of their themes, even the less intense ones, I didn’t want him stepping into that world until he was at least nine years of age. Which may sound odd, considering he’s been deep into animation for years.

Over the years, he returned to that Fantastic Four comic repeatedly, pulling it down from off his shelf like it’s a rare treasure, examining it like there’s something mysterious to be unraveled and brought to light. And I kept putting it on a higher shelf, staving off the inevitable.

Ant art installation on futile industry not showing much industry

“Fortunate Discoveries by Accident” described her ants as dividing themselves into morticians, executives and construction workers. Her ants, like those blogged about at Gearworks, were fully fledged up to fun not long after their arrival.

H.o.p.’s ants are nearly all executives, running around not doing much other than discussing discussing, with several racing over to look at us whenever we train the magnifying glass on them. They are curious, at least, but not diggers.

All the ants have ignored the holes we dutifully punched in the NASA-developed nutrient seaweed gel. Several explored down the side where there’s a natural gap between the gel and the casing. Only one went to digging. For hours she’s been at the bottom of the gel, on the side, far away from her fellow ants. Occasionally she stops and sits so still she looks dead. I’ll think she’s dead. Then she starts up again, digging, by her lonesome. While the rest congregate atop the gel, not doing anything but discussing and cleaning themselves, one or another climbing atop the few dead and looking ready to get industrious. Then the ant will tumble off the dead ant remains and get up and come over and look at me and my magnifying glass.

Later. The one lone ant is still down the side between the gel and container, digging, kind of. She’s not getting much of anywhere. All the other ants are up top, milling around. And once again, they are quickly aware of big alien creature standing there with magnifying glass and several come over and check it out.

No point posting a picture as it would look much the same as yesterday’s.

I keep telling myself that at some point I will derive benefit from (fill in the blank)

First Order of Business

ISP. We are in the process of switching. Earthlink has either already shut down our DSL or it’s just down. I’m on dial-up and just letting you know, FRIENZ AND RELATIVEZ, that ANY OF OUR OLD MINDSPRING EMAIL ACCOUNTS ARE DEFUNCT. Between the devil and the deep blue sea, we have switched to ATT. Yes, despite it being no respecter of privacy. When we heard that Earthlink was laying off 900 employees and closing 4 offices (AND THEIR STOCK LEAPED, INVESTORS HAPPY BEYOND WORDS AT THE NEWS OF IT, MORE MONEY MORE MONEY MORE MONEY) then, if we were already made crazy by their abysmal service, what lay down the road? Plus, Earthlink was usually so slow now that often enough we weren’t able any longer to view videos online at H.o.p.’s educational sites, and we need full access to those educational websites. Plus, though we live in the heart of the city, our television reception is nearly zero, we can only get Channel 17 and Channel 36 and a fuzzy rendition of the PBS channels (often without sound). That’s it. We decided some Discovery channel etc. would be nice to have for H.o.p. instead of ordering all the shows through Netflix. I’m ALREADY ruing the decision to get TV, it costs way too much money, but there you go. Marty said, “What do you think?” And after a month (we’ve been contemplating this for a month or longer) I said, “Sure, OK. We’ll have Discovery Channel.” The money should go elsewhere, like into essentials. Lots of essentials it should go into. But I had a moment of weakness. Marty couldn’t quite believe it. “Sure, sure,” I said. And he said, “Sure, OK.” And now I’m in a panic. Anyway, over the next couple of days we’ll be getting realigned with ATT (they’re dropping by in the AM) and I’m going to have to change our mindspring email addresses on websites and elsewhere and send out notifications. It’s going to be a chore. We were with Mindspring/Earthlink for 10 years. This is going to be a biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig chore.

Our Earthlink DSL was painfully slow but dial-up is insane. Our connection is so slow it will take 10 minutes for this to post. A last check of mail has been slowly loading in for the past 20 minutes.

Second Order of Business

Am 12 days into working on the Standing Meditation, still getting that right. I had been wondering why in the world I wasn’t feeling any tension in my thighs, considering one stands with knees bent, and I believed I was doing it just right, and then around the 9th day my knees started saying, “Something’s’ wrong here.” So I positioned myself in front of a wall and found that indeed I squatting with my knees beyond my toes, too much stress on the knees, and found more the right positioning for the legs. Two days later and that’s feeling better.

So 12 days now into the Standing Meditation, and 20 days into Qigong and I am rather uninspired. Today I was so uninspired that I stood in front of a bookcase and read book titles and examined a couple book covers. “Shouldn’t be doing this,” I told myself and eventually kind of settled into things. I suppose I’m acquiring more standing meditation stamina, at least, but I don’t feel physically improved. I’m impatient with the tedium and the thinking, “When will I stop finding this tedious because I really would like to hit a point where I find it pleasant.”

Yesterday I added the Walking Meditation, which I was really looking forward to. But I’m concentrating so much on keeping the right posture (as with the Standing Meditation still), and moving absolutely level with the knees bent, “emptying” one leg while transferring weight, that after a couple of minutes I again start thinking, “I will, at some point, derive some benefit from this, won’t I?” and feel increasingly dulled.

Which is kind of odd because the first two weeks I was feeling very positive about it all, feeling that I was certainly going to derive benefit from it, and after about two hours of the Qigong I would feel a lift that remained with me much of the rest of the day. But that lift stopped 5 days ago or so.

Having decided the needed thing to do is to learn the elementals, I just stand there doing the meditations. Bored. Angsting away. And, oh, I walk with the Walking Meditation and my right knee goes kind of “Ouch” because I stressed it by squatting too low too fast and too far over my toes with the Standing Meditation for the first week.

I will at some point derive some benefit from this, won’t I?

I keep telling myself that I will and to not even ask that question for four months.

Third Order of Business

Finally got H.o.p.’s standardized test results back. They are exactly what I was expecting, almost.

He’s great with concepts. He’s in the mastered range (75th to 99th percentile) for reading comprehension (85 to 95th percentile on the various scores), vocabulary, language expression (75th to 95th percentile on the various scores) and word analysis, but is the pits in spelling and language mechanics. No surprises there as we’re coping with dyslexia and there are certain things for which he’s just not ready. What I’ve been primarily concerned about with him is nurturing an appreciation for the written word and story.

And he is in the so-called mastered range for all math concepts (all in the 88th to 90th percentile range). He is in the partially mastered range in math computation, which does surprise me. I thought the results for math computation would be more the pits.

He was taking the test at the end of “third grade”, and most of the grade equivalents were somewhere in the 5th grade level. I was very surprised it was at 6th grade level with math concepts. Got mid 7th grade with Language Expression. I’ve got to find something that will interest him in continuing to work at least with math concepts. People always say, “Do LIVING MATH!” I’ve tried. He hates it all.

He scored real high in thinking skills. That surprised me because I can tell him, “Please put up your socks that you left next to the front door” and he looks at me like I’m speaking an incomprehensible alien tongue and wanders toward the television, scanning the ground. “I don’t see them,” he groans.

Here’s what surprised me. He got a 12th grade equivalence for science. Now, I’m not surprised in that it’s a subject he loves, the only subject he loves (in fact) outside all the art and film we do. Anyway, he was 99th in the National Percentile for science. This is actually what weakened me absolutely on the television and made me decide, well, yeah, it’d be nice to have Discovery Channel access for H.o.p. because he loves almost all videos to do with science.

It’s my anticipation that in the next couple of years he’ll make a huge leap in reading and that it will be up there near the science. My expectation with the spelling is that when he gets some mastery over writing on the computer then that will improve a great deal. I didn’t start teaching myself keyboarding until I was 10/11. He’s interested but doesn’t like to practice it. As for math, I’ve got no idea. The other day I joined yet another online homeschooling group for math hoping somewhere in there I might eventually find the holy grail for mathematics. I pulled back out Penrose the Mathematical Cat because he at least loves the stories.

There. I did it for THE STATE. We did the standardized testing for the state. I still hated doing it. And H.o.p. was in agony until the last day when he decided he liked some of it. I fulfilled my obligation.

Did I learn anything? Well, I hate to admit I did learn something on the science end (really, I hate to admit it). I’ve been over at Amazon the past few days looking for other science books he might enjoy this year because every curriculum we’ve purchased for science has been uninspiring. I came across a series of books on quantum physics done in story form for grade school to high school age. I’ll be ordering those as he was expressing interest in some of that this summer anyway. He heard about Schrodinger’s Cat and that got him started. What he understands of it, I don’t know, he will look vague but then later he’ll tell me about a storyboard he’s making and some of the things we’ve talked about will have become properties of a character. I told him about getting the books and he’s quite excited about it.

I’m also surprised how closely the results and my anticipations (based on those scores and my knowledge of how H.o.p. does things) align with Lawrence M. Rudner’s study, Scholastic Achievement and Demographic Characteristics of Home School Students in 1998

The grade equivalent score comparisons for home school students and the nation are shown in Figure 2. In grades one through four, the median ITBS/TAP composite scaled scores for home school students are a full grade above that of their public/private school peers. The gap starts to widen in grade five. By the time home school students reach grade 8, their median scores are almost 4 grade equivalents above their public/private school peers.

A Dome Full of Stars

Fernbank Planetarium
Fernbank Planetarium, 2007 Aug 16
Light box enlargement

It was a nearly empty house at the Fernbank planetarium last night. Us plus 3 other individuals made 6.

Marty reminded me of a story once told by a friend of ours. When they moved to Atlanta, many years ago, before the Braves became hot, they called to ask when the ballgame started.

“I don’t know. When can you be here?” was the answer.

The computer was down so they couldn’t take our money at the door. Afterwards we dropped the price of admission in the donation box. $11. $4 for each adult and $3 for H.o.p. I just realized today, going through the Fernbank site, that as “Friends of the Museum” events like this are free to us. We’ve been members of the Fernbank Museum of Natural History for a number of years and I’ve been through the website a number of times and we never had any idea that things such as the planetarium show are free to members.

The show was “Oceans in Space”, on the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe, which was thrilling for H.o.p., and taught me a few things about Mars and Europa that I didn’t know. If I’ve one complaint it’s the New Agey synth music used throughout which is about as innocuous as it comes.

I find several websites that give the “Science Education Content” of the show:

The origin and evolution of the solar system; characteristics of Earth; characteristics of Mars, evolution of Mars surface; comparative planetology between Earth, Mars, and Europa; Earth’s oceans, their formation and effect on life, climate, and geological processes; Martian meteorite analyses; characteristics of Europa; the formation of other stars and planetary systems; the detection of planetary systems around other stars; the evolution of primordial life; organisms and their environments on Earth; the searth for similar environments elsewhere; requirements to sustain life; exploring the undersea environment with specialized probes; exploring Mars with telescopes and spacecraft; exploring Europa with spacecraft; exploring space with Hubble Space Telescope; future missions to other planets to search for life.


But what’s nicest, to me, is the part before the show, when the stars are projected on the dome and the astronomer guides one through the constellations in that season’s sky.

Despite H.o.p.’s total involvement, about midway through the show he tugged on my arm and asked where everyone else was. I said maybe there just aren’t that many people who are interested. About thirty seconds later and he was tugging my arm again. “It’s really bothering me,” he said. “Where is everyone? Why aren’t there more people here?”

The Fernbank planetarium is given as one of the largest in the U.S. It’s a peaceful, wonderful place. We’ve been now to several shows, but on off times, not on a Friday or Saturday, and each one only had three or four other people. At least when we’ve been there, it is quieter than a church. There’s a sense of suspense as you enter and people speak with hushed voices, as if out of a natural respect for the circle and in awe of the universe the planetarium represents. Though on the dome will be projected the stars and planets, it always feels to me as though I’m entering the earth, that I’ve walked into a sacred mound.

The population of metropolitan Atlanta is 5,314,283. I honestly don’t know where everyone was.

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An example of what you can do when you’re homeschooling and talking about crystals. Having done the crystal experiment, we watched a short video on minerals. The subject of diamonds was brought up.

Beautiful diamonds.

Which have a troubled history.

I thought it unbalanced just to see nice pictures of African diamond mines where no miners were observed. So we looked up some other material on De Beers and diamond mines. Read part of an article on them (just couple of paragraphs, I didn’t want it to get too intense) and looked at a few photos, most of which were of children working in the mines.

We talked about this aspect of diamonds. And I pulled up some ads for diamonds of beautiful models at their glamorous best showing off diamonds so that these photos were sitting alongside the photos of the children in the mud mining for diamonds.

Quite a contrast.