Summer Pictures

Here is the bridge over the river before late spring, when it really got gorgeous.
This is my younger daughter on “our” lake near sunset. I have a just okay camera on my phone, so I was skeptical about taking pictures. But the light that evening was amazing. My older daughter and I walked by the lake nearly every evening. We love the landscaping, trees, and walks to private little docks.

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Checking Off My Summer List, Part I

Note: Ratburger friends, I will have to post pictures soon.

Summer in Northwest Montana goes by in a blur. One breezy, sparkling day, a season I call “late spring” emerges out of the weeks of rain, mud, fog, and false starts. I’m ogling the blossomy landscaping at our McDonald’s drive-through and thinking that this must be the prettiest corner of the prettiest region in the US. We’ve arrived, and I vow to hold on to each day so that the months don’t flip by quite so quickly. But then after just a couple family visits, an out-of-town trip, several smoky days we hope will go away, and some weeks of tourist-packed traffic, we’re suddenly back to new teacher training at my job. And then I see the back-to-school supplies at WalMart. And finally—the death knell for summer—come the first crimson leaves that signal we’re about to enter that other season, that one that is unpredictably glorious, and we hope long, but always the gateway into weeks of bleak indoor weather.... [Read More]

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The Super Secret Hideout Fort

If you were anything like me growing up, one of your main modes of play with friends was identifying your super secret hideout, or at least get busy building one. Some of these were out in plain sight—no one was duped as to where you were playing. But other times, you might have managed to find a nifty clearing under low-hanging branches of a tree, or a little wooded area, or an old structure. These hideouts were often unsafe, of course. And although you talked it up often with friends who weren’t in on the secret location, most people over the age of twelve didn’t care a fig where you were playing, as long as you were quiet and stayed out of their way. Hideouts were good for that.

When I was seven, we commonly referred to a special location, which we believed was known to only an initiated few, as a “secret hiding place.” We built ours along one side of our house, next to the swing set on top of a large cement platform that covered the septic tank. I know what you’re asking: where was the supervision? They were glad to stay cool indoors, absorbed in their own tasks. The children could climb trees, launch off swings, and build secret hiding places on the septic tank with panels of sharp tin roofing as long as they played outdoors. There might be a ruptured kidney here and there, but that came with the territory.... [Read More]

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Our City Council’s Strange Decision

I noticed it the first few late evenings after my move to a different town last fall. How could I not? It was a loud, wailing, siren, foreboding and impersonal. Unlike friendly chimes of a city clock, this signal made me want to look for the nearest bomb shelter. My daughters said it went off at 9:58 each night.

We speculated often. Was it some kind of curfew signal? This got us talking about dystopias, about gangs on the street each night. You weren’t safe unless you were indoors. The sound never failed to startle visitors in our home. One thought it must be the end-of-shift siren for the workers at the nearby train yard. I accepted that explanation, until one night, I happened to be driving through downtown right at ten pm. The siren suddenly blasted, and there was no mistaking its origins. It most definitely did not come from the train yard, but wailed deafeningly from some building near me.... [Read More]

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Recommended (or not) on Prime

I thought I’d do you the favor of listing some more quick Amazon Prime Video recommendations so you don’t have to waste your time wading through mediocre productions. This is assuming our tastes align, but have I gone wrong before?

You’re welcome.... [Read More]

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Learning Late in Life

I love flying craft of all kinds; however, my passion is more of an awe of the aesthetics and history of flying, and my technical knowledge is limited. That’s why I was delighted to come across this book at a thrift store. Despite the strange green stains streaking a page,  it’s a keeper.  It is right on my level and I’m learning some terminology and concepts that are new to me.

Here’s a question: There was an illustration of an early experiment with flight, when a monk leapt from a building in giant wings and broke both legs. Why did he not fashion a dummy about his height and weight and toss it off the building before dreaming of launching off himself?

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Daughter’s Band in D.C. Memorial Day Parade

I believe it was Representative Steve Daines who nominated my daughter’s school band to play in Washington, D.C. this coming Monday. The band, which ends its yearly spring concert with a hearty rendition of “Stars and Stripes Forever,” was honored to accept. Glacier High School will be wearing green uniforms, and we can follow along with the event live here.

Of course I’m happy and proud, but I’m also looking forward to having my kid back safe from D.C. next week, done with plane rides, and ready to graduate on the first of June.

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Kindle Deal: The Marcos Dynasty

The Marcos Dynasty: The Corruption of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos 

Like the typical American, I knew little of the ruling Filipino pair except some breathless news items years ago about Imelda’s scandalous shoe collection, and fragments about the couple’s downfall. When I saw this book for sale for less than two dollars, I wondered whether I wanted to take my historical knowledge in this direction. Honestly, I hadn’t thought much about the Philippines, carrying with me some childhood impressions of English-speaking Filipinos in Thailand and recent understanding that the Spanish had somehow been tied up with the country. But a sincere Amazon review said that the writer was very good, so I decided I could risk two dollars on this.... [Read More]

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When did the future become “futuristic?”

It recently occurred to me that people in the past didn’t always anticipate the future with such optimism, nor did they try to predict what great developments would be in store in years to come. Furthermore, even though we would expect to be dazzled if transported to the future, if an individual centuries ago were bumped from one era to one several hundred years later, he might well be unimpressed and far prefer the technology of his own time to what he was seeing from his descendants.

On the other hand, even though in some ways, pre-steam engine, electric lights, germ theory, indoor plumbing, and photography eras are all alike to us development-wise—pretty flat until the spike of the last couple hundred years—there could be significant changes that a time traveler from one past era to another would encounter. What developments from the past do we take for granted, but would impress and intrigue a newcomer to the era? What would be unimpressive?... [Read More]

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How intuitive is our traffic system?

Ratburger, I’m interested in your take on this.  If an individual from the distant past, say the 1600’s, was plunked down in one of our cities, how long would it take he or she to grasp our traffic system just by riding around in the car with one of us?  This is assuming that our driver is obeying all the rules, of course, and not sailing through stop signs like they do out here.

Also, I’m sure there would be variables with each time traveler: is he/she literate, noticing of color, English-speaking ?  Let’s assume that our candidate is all three. However, imagining an illiterate peasant, as many of our ancestors likely were, might be even more to the point.... [Read More]

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Netflix Recommendation: “Shtisel”

“Shtisel” is a brilliant Israeli series that follows a family from a conservative Jewish community in Jerusalem. There are no fireworks–just the drama of ordinary lives–but it works well. It’s real, and even disturbing at times, without sinking into fatalism. The characters develop, so I’m glad I stuck it out after the first couple of episodes. It uses flashback and surreal dream scenes, and it took some getting used to. In detail after detail, for twelve episodes in each of the two seasons, individuals’ gifts, flaws, and motivations are revealed. Some scenes will give you an “aha” moment about the family, as you connect the incidents with narrative from previous episodes.
 
The main character, Akiva, is the youngest son of the Shtisel family, living with his father and seeking a match after his mother has died. He is kind of a dull fellow, who doesn’t seem to have a backbone or many interests besides drawing. His several siblings are already grown and married, some likable and interesting, others not. Akiva and his father teach at the local boys’ school, and the family adhere to Orthodox Jewish practices such as uttering a prayer before eating and kissing their fingers as they go through a doorway. Although Akiva’s mother has died, her presence and influence is still felt in the household. None of this sounds like a formula for a fascinating series, but the journey was so rewarding that I watched its two seasons and look forward to a third.
The show made me curious about a couple of points. First, I was surprised how basic the standard of living was for this community. The houses are just ugly inside, with little adornment and plain, cheap materials. The food doesn’t look appealing, either. Good jobs seem like a scarce commodity. Then I realized that it must have been the way of life for that community; when characters finally travel outside of that, you see a metropolis that looks a bit like San Diego. Second, I thought Hebrew was spoken in Israel, but it sounds a lot like German, definitely with German words. Someone suggested that it could be Yiddish, but then I saw a dialogue where a character offers to speak in Yiddish so the children wouldn’t overhear what he was about to say. Maybe they are switching among three languages. English words and phrases are inserted occasionally, but English doesn’t seem to influence their discourse much other than that.
 
With its rich detail, the series effectively immersed me in this community, showing–beyond the portrayals of clothing, customs, and daily rituals– the humanity of the residents and their challenge in living as Orthodox Jews in today’s world.

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The Zombie Car Phenomenon

Several years ago, while I waited on the curb at the San Diego airport watching traffic flow by, I noticed something about the cars. They were different from the local vehicles in Northwest Montana, and although I’d lived in San Diego for twenty years, I had never made the connection. It wasn’t just the obvious preference for SUV’s and Subarus in the rugged north—no, it was something else, too: the city vehicles were shiny and updated. Many of them looked high-end. I thought of the beaters I often spotted in my Montana town—the 80’s sedans, the classic trucks, and the boxy early style of Subaru—and it made me realize the degree to which residents of my town make do with what they have. I was proud to be one of them.

In recent months, this trend toward junky vehicles seems to have gotten worse—or better, however you choose to look at it. Before I explain, however, I have to admit that my own little red car has its own issues. I will remove the log from my own eye first. This is a beloved vehicle that won’t quit, even though we’re at 198,000 miles. Each blemish tells a story. The longish dent on the driver’s side—that was a tangle with a tall stand of bamboo at the side of our driveway when we were in San Diego. My husband could not understand how I did that, as I had backed down our long, steep driveway a couple thousand times by then. I could understand, because I had backed down that impossible driveway two thousand times without incident, and it was only a matter of time before it got me, especially now that there was a giant, unforgiving stand of bamboo to complicate things.... [Read More]

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A Perplexing Trend- Visually Complicated Menus

I have been noticing that menus of all kinds–from websites to restaurants–have become more complicated and thus more and more difficult to navigate. The trend toward clean and simple seems to be reversing.  Now, I would say most of the time when I go to a website, I am overwhelmed with visual tiles on the landing page,  plus information revealed only to the enthusiastic scroller, menus layered under other menus, and pages that do not deliver as promised. It can take several minutes of clicking around to figure out what to do next.

This now widespread tendency to present the customer with confusing arrays of choices, and make it difficult to complete such simple actions as viewing a product sample, makes me wonder whether sprawling menus are not some kind of marketing strategy that increases sales.  Non-profits are guilty of it–note the inscrutable internal workings of the College Board site–but most private companies are doing it, too.  Just the other day my index finger got a big workout with the mouse merely trying to locate a demo for a tech product that the company was presumably wanting to sell to interested schools. Also, our school’s online portfolio and PD credits system is not really something one could teach to a colleague. You simply make selections and click the mouse, because neither logic nor intuition helps with the opaque setup. You just keep boldly advancing, and somehow the work gets done.... [Read More]

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Which Educational Research Can You Trust?

Greg Ashman distills his wisdom on a complex topic. Is there application to fields besides education?

Probably the clearest sign that an expert knows what he or she is on about comes from the way they present their arguments. They will tend to take a position on something and they will explain how the research supports that position. However, they will also highlight the limits of the research and the common criticisms of their position, perhaps with their own answer to those criticisms. They will stay focused on the research itself and not try to support their argument by appeals to political sentiment or by attacking the character and motivations of their opponents.... [Read More]

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