Harrison Farm

for now, the only thing we're growing on this farm is kids - not the goat variety

“The Invitation” as an exercise in moral courage

My life is very different from those of the people around whom I grew up. I started being noticeably different around the age of 12. One of the memorable outward signs at that time was that I started waking myself up 3 days per week at 6AM and running a 4-mile loop through “Highland Park”. (It wasn’t actually a park. It was more like a ghetto, though the prostitutes were generally off the streets by 6AM.)

As I matured, my different-ness manifested itself increasingly as non-conformism. I would, from time to time, shock the people around me by developing a “conviction” or an objection about something that to them just didn’t seem to be an issue. Most people rolled their eyes and quickly distanced themselves. A few came closer to find out more. This has continued up to the present day, and to this I credit much of the happiness which I now enjoy.

Thanks to an early bed-time last night, I had some wakeful-brain time during the wee morning hours to contemplate the influences that have shaped my life. To my surprise, I remembered something new, something to which I have given nearly zero thought for many years:

The “invitation”, also known in some circles as an “altar call”.

I grew up in “independent, fundamentalist Baptist” churches in the US. This is a branch of evangelicalism (strong focus on converting non-believers) which is a branch of Protestant Christianity. I know that corruption can be a problem in such institutions, but my own experience was generally good. By that I mean that the pressure I felt most from the church was the pressure to “do business with God” that amounted to “moral weightlifting”. Sure, there was pressure to give money and to evangelize outsiders, but that was not the main thing in my own experience.

The main thing was “dealing with sin” in your own life, issues like obeying your parents, sexual self-control, reading (all of) and memorizing (parts of) the Bible, praying regularly, obeying the Ten Commandments and other applicable rules from the Bible, etc.

Sin basically fell into three categories in my mind: routine sin, conviction sin, and embarrassing sin. Routine sin would be “I’m not praying enough!” Conviction sin would be “I should have spoken up when they started gossiping about her!” Embarrassing sin would be “I’ve been stealing money from my boss!”

The invitation was a time at the end of a (typically 1.5 hour) “church service” (which would include singing, prayer, and a sermon from the pastor) where the lives of all the church members reached their periodic climaxes. Soft, inspiring (some might say guilt-inducing) music would play for 5-10 minutes, with the congregation singing along quietly and the pastor would be speaking over the music, pleading with people to listen to the voice of God in their hearts and to get right with God, whatever that meant for them.

People were invited to come down (I’m giving the most generous version/interpretation here, which is 99% of what I experienced; I know that the marketing tactics in this situation can go waaaay beyond this) to the front of the church (to the “altar”, which in my church was a sturdy wooden table where the “communion” (different topic, sorry) elements would be placed) to “get saved” (become a Christian), “get rededicated” (a murky second-step in being a Christian), or as a way of helping them defeat some particular sin by taking a more public stand against it. They might also choose to confess the sin to someone privately at the front, just ask people to pray for them, or — the big one — confess a sin openly to the whole church after the invitation had concluded.

Generally, you were supposed to have your eyes closed while all this was going on, but of course, as a kid, you can’t help but look to see who’s going down to the front and speculating what sin they had on their mind.

In every church, there seemed to be some soft-hearted people who went down often. That was no big deal, and I tended to think of those folks with pity. The big events were when unexpected or well-respected people would “respond to the invitation”. That was kinda rare.

But, let’s face it. All of us needed to make that humbling walk from time to time. And someone who never ever went down to the altar would perhaps rightfully be viewed as a phony Christian.

So, I want to focus on the difficulty of this for a teenager. The cool kids tended to not respond to the invitation, and you know that they’re all going to see you and nudge each other if you start down the aisle. Then there’s your parents, siblings, your basketball coach, your neighbor, and your school teacher.

On the other hand, you shouldn’t care about them, their pity, their curiosity, their amusement.  God is God and the truth is the truth, right?

So, the music is playing, the pastor is pleading, the congregants are singing, and a sin begins to weigh heavy on your mind. Your heart starts to thump really strong. Maybe you start sweating a little bit.

For me, once the battle inside my heart got that strong, I knew I had to go down. Unless it was just a clear-cut “no”, then it needed to be a “yes”, on principle. I didn’t want to “harden my heart”, like Pharaoh did in the story of the 10 Plagues and the Exodus from Egypt, thus rendering me increasingly spiritually insensitive. I felt that just one unjustifiable no-go could tip the scales of my heart in an irrecoverable way.

So, I went down. Maybe 10 times in my life, I went down the aisle. Probably five of those times I talked about the specific sin with one of the “deacons” — they were who would come alongside you at the front, kneeling down beside you at the front pew (padded bench) and putting their hand on your shoulder in a re-assuring sorta way. I never remember confessing anything to the whole church, but sometimes I did go directly to some other person or group to make things right.

I remember having a kind of exhilaration and lightness — just about the time I made it down to the altar — that came with getting out from under those emotional burdens. It felt like an incredible life hack that you could get a renewal like that just by being humble and honest.

My spiritual journey has taken me very far from that place, and my kids are not experiencing altar calls. Nonetheless, I have to admit that I was greatly benefitted by those occasions and I see those exercises in moral courage — or something analogous — as being essential to a well-lived life.

[I would really like to hear, either privately or here in the comments, the thoughts of others who experienced altar calls and have other insights on them.]

My last drawing (until later)

I’ve still been drawing every day.

With so much drawing, I’ve filled up my second drawing book.

I asked Pa if I could stop having drawing on my school list. He said yes.

So, as of the end of my drawing era, I was most interested in shadows and textures. I was really starting to get the hang of them. One thing I never figured out was rumpled fabric. I tried many times, but I could never do it well and it never seemed realistic.

I worked on shading and textures up until a few pages from the end of my drawing book.

I wanted to do something easier for the end.

On my last page, I decided to make the drawing below:

I thought it would be fun to make up one drawing out of the whole page.

I needed a character that would be easy to draw. I don’t really know what they are, so I decided to call them Gerbils.


All the individual situations are my original creation, but the whole thing was inspired by “The Mighty Fruit Fight” page in Where’s Waldo? The Wonder Book.

At first, I was going to copy a lot from that picture, but I decided to first draw my own ideas that I had come up with.

After that, more and more ideas kept popping into my head until the page was filled.


There are several mistakes, for example, the text at the top says “WAR OF THE GIRBLES”. It was supposed to say “WAR OF THE GERBILS”. I guess I was just too focused on the drawing part 🙁

But no biggie.

Also, the guy on the turtle’s head (see below) looks like he’s holding an arrow on his head. That’s supposed to be a spear with which he’s about to stab the other Gerbil.

Also, the gerbil who is about to be stabbed in the the scene above is missing his tail.

I don’t think that flags really blow up the way shown below:

Un-blown-up flag:

Blown-up flag:

Also, in the two pictures above, you can plainly see that the Gerbil Kings’ tents have self-supporting systems built in…

 

Kids these days

Sheesh.

Doodle just walked into the kitchen, while I was busy horking down the fruits of the Chilean countryside for my afternoon snack, and announced that Rosebud just learned about trig functions from him.

Doesn’t a Dad have a right to teach his own daughter trig functions without interference from … interlopers?

His justification was, “She keeps seeing them in the game code at Khan Academy and she was getting frustrated about it, so I said, ‘How about I just teach you?'”

13 year-old teaches trig functions to little sister

All that was left on the glass when I returned from snack

WHAT KINDA FLIMSY EXCU….

Just then Rosebud trotted into the kitchen with a big smile on her face.

Kids these days (shakes head despondently)…

A father has to be vigilant at all times. There’s no telling when someone is going to pop up with some coup to pre-empt his right to one of these “fabulous firsts”.

To the barricades, men!

But seriously, if you know any kids between 8 and 12, try to push them toward that Khan coding/gaming area.

You never know what kind of malfeasance may come of it.

 

Seen ‘about the town’

Humanity has recently passed another amazing milestone: inexpensive phone cameras are now better than the human eye. In other words, most of us are now walking around with a tool that can augment our vision.

For me, this happened with the new phone I bought about 10 months ago. Slowly over those months, I realized the power of the camera. The phone is a middle-of-the-line Samsung.

It helps that I’ve been taking pictures, amateurishly, for about 15 years now. I’ve been squeezing my old Sony Cybershot for every bit of performance it could give me. So when I got a new camera, I knew how to push its limits.

It also helps that my work sometimes involves taking pictures of fine details.

With all that said, here are some of my photos from the last few months.

Neurons! (As seen through a glass bead.)

This is Hark. He’s our local herald angel. Any guesses as to how we got this shot?

This mysterious photo of the Costanera tower was not edited. This is exactly how it looked.

On the left is my phone, with the help of a lamp from our living room. On the right is a professional camera taking a photo of a penny inside a “light box” — supposed to be great for bringing out the detail for small object photos.

Bottom line: the magic is probably already in your hands. Go out and take some great pictures!

Thanksgiving and the Law of Cosines

Doodle told me this morning that he has been “really enjoying triangles”, but he had some inquietude about the Law of Cosines … he couldn’t quite get why and how it works.

It is one thing to be able to use a formula, yet another to prove or derive it. But often far beyond both of those is the ability to internalize it — to have a mental map of its operation.

We hacked around with it for a while, trying to get some traction on it. After about 30 minutes, we both felt satisfied that we had our heads around it.

It struck me that he is habituated to understanding everything he learns, and it is always a let-down to him if we have to just accept something, lacking the ability to see inside some “black box” of knowledge. I could hardly have formed such a habit in a school setting, because the proofs and formulas came on schedule — too fast to internalize — and no one prepared me for such a task.

I never even internalized the Pythagorean Theorem, yet supposedly I was one of the top math students in my state.

(Can you use the images below to do this? See here and here for more.)

“Other folks trying to understand the Law of Cosines would really benefit from a little visualization app, like you did for the eclipse shadow,” I said.

He agreed and seemed to think it wouldn’t be too hard. Then we pondered about how it would be for him to do a family of apps devoted to demonstrating complicated concepts.

With limited help from the local web goddess (Sudoku), he recently started into the long slog of setting up for coding Android apps. Many headaches and investigations later, he can make a smiley face app and send it to my phone.

Yet, I have no doubt that he will soon be blessing the app store with some little treasures. He has a calm persistence and a real love of creating these works. And he’s eager to be working in a serious coding environment where he has good tools at hand. (unlike his current situation, pouring his work into the beginner-oriented Khan Academy platform)

What is the common thread of all of the above? It is that he is blooming in a low-structure “pull environment” where he determines his pace and has room for chasing his curiosities.

So, being Thanksgiving 2017, I declare that I am thankful to the modern pioneers of homeschooling (parents from the 60’s and 70’s who took big risks) who helped make our wild, wonderful unschooling world possible.

Thank You! … and happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

 

 

Fiestas Patrias

[Rosebud & Sudoku] Chile’s independence day was Monday, September 18, and Sunday (September 17), was national Cueca day, Chile’s national dance. Each year there are traditional foods and activities at our local parks. In past years, there has been a huge celebration at our closest park, lasting several days with lots of people and LOUD music into the night.

This year, our local event was more quiet and less crowded, which was very nice.

We’ve always enjoyed watching the Cueca, but we hadn’t learned how to do it before this year. Dad helped us get started learning (while teaching himself!) The timing is the trickiest part, but we slowly got the hang of it. Once we had practiced at home, we headed over to the park.

This is a picture , which was posted on Twitter by the Providencia mayor, Evelyn Matthei, of the Cueca area. We think this is her mother dancing the cueca like a pro. Evelyn was the runner-up in the 2014 presidential election here in Chile. If you look closely, Carman and I are in the background. (I’m in red jeans, and Carman is wearing a plaid shirt and a hat.)

 

The Cueca class we did was very helpful. The teacher started everyone out in a large circle and walked us through the steps. Then we all did the steps in the circle by ourselves (instead of with a dance partner). The teacher counted out the steps and told us when to switch. Here are the steps and count that goes with them:

Saludo (Greeting) – 4
Vuelta inicial (First turn) – 12
Contra circlo (Turn in place) – 8
Media luna (Half circle) – 24
Primera vuelta (Switch places & end with a turn) – 8
Escobillado (Brush ground with feet) – 16
Segunda vuelta (Switch places & end with a turn) – 8
Zapateo (Stamp with heel) – 8
Remate final (Switch places, turn and come together) – 8

 

After going through the steps a few times in the circle, the teacher told us to split into pairs. I (Sudoku) got to dance with a guy all dressed up in the typical Cueca attire (He saw that I was REALLY inexperienced, and helped me out).

[By Doodle] There were many traditional dieciochera games.

There’s that one where you smash a lever with a big hammer and it throws up a little bobbin that zooms upward on a cable and you try to get it to touch the bell at the top. Dad pointed out that it’s mostly luck. It’s mostly about how much wobble is put on the cable. The less wobble, the more freely the bobbin can zoom up.

We watched some big, buff dudes do it for a little bit, but none of them could get it past 4 and a half. (The bobbin starts at zero, and the bell is at five.)

Then, there’s a game where some glass bottles are put in some holes and you have to throw some wooden rings around the tops of the bottles that are sicking out through the holes.

There’s a smash the kittens game. Three years ago, they had a reward. There are five stuffed kitties and four balls. If you smashed four of the kitties off the shelves with your four balls, you got a sandwich with a piece of laminated cheese, a piece of meat (the really thin kind), and two pieces of “rock bread” as we call it to hold the cheese and the meat together.
I actually won that prize!

The kitties are pretty big and light, but the game is pretty hard, because the balls are so light and you have to throw the balls from pretty far away. I got a kitty with my first and second shot, missed with my third shot, and got two at once on my fourth shot.

Yeah. I’m sure it was complete luck.

Normally they have tug of war and a game of unwinding ropes, but they didn’t have that this year, either.

Both this year and the last year, Sudoku and I went to go do the bowling game. Normally there are park employees there to set up the pins for people, but there wasn’t anybody there at the time. The two people who were supposed to be doing the pin-setting-up were lounging a few yards off to the side and had their faces buried in their phones.

We went up and set up the pins. Before we could bowl any, some people came over, also wanting to bowl.
They were first in line, so we let them go first.

But, before the people were done bowling, and before Sudoku  and I were done setting up the pins for them, even more people got in line.

After a while, we were the ones managing the bowling place. And, for some STRANGE reason, *cough, cough* the bowling place suddenly got a whole lot more popular.

Singing through Ralph Moody’s The Home Ranch

Tonight, just before supper time, 10 year-old Rosebud pulled up to the piano to play the song she had been working on today. It was “Yellow Ribbon”.

After playing it, she announced the title of the piece and both Sudoku (17) and Doodle (12) got quizzical looks on their face.

“But Dad, that’s not the way Zeb sang it!” they each said in their own way.

I was staring back at them like they were crazy.

It dawned on me that, in their memory, they had actually heard the big, calm cowboy Zeb, riding on his small horse, sing that tribute to Pike’s Peak as the herds slowly wended their way through the ravines, in sight of the summit.

…when they were riding along with him back in about 1910.

Wow.

Though I’ve probably read only 1% as many books to the kids as their mom has, I make up for it with my energy and craziness.

When I come to a song in a book, I sing it! If I don’t know the tune, I make one! I march along with soldiers, do one-person re-enactments of bar fights, throw things, bite myself … okay, well, I’ve never actually done that last one, pretty sure. But you get the idea.

Anyway, when we were reading this a few years back, I did the best I could to sing the Yellow Ribbon tune, but I missed it by … a fur piece.

Nonetheless, I sang with conviction, and I imitated the drawl that Zeb was said to have. And, since that song appears many times in the text, my kids became quite familiar with my version.

And, magically, the kids heard Zeb himself singing through me. Like they were going back in time.

As Hank, Zeb’s crotchety old compadre would say in his geezerly whine, “Back in my day, …”

 

[thanks to Flickr’s brando.n for the shot with Pike’s Peak in the distance]

On hard freezes and bursting water pipes

This weekend in Providencia we had snow and expectations of a hard freeze on the following night. We were closely watching the forecast for that night from as long as a week beforehand. At one point we saw a prediction of -9°C. I’m pretty sure that would have broken the record low temperature for Santiago.

As we got closer to the day, the forecasts moderated somewhat, and, the evening before the expected freeze, forecasts were saying -3 or negative 4 degrees Celsius. That’s still quite cold for here — probably would be the coldest temp of the winter.

We have an exposed laundry room (known here as a logia) that has a head-high concrete wall around it on the two exterior sides — from there up to the ceiling it is open. The wall is 6 or 7 inches thick. The plumbing for our washing machine and an adjoining sink runs inside of that wall, so it was going to have the outdoor temperature on both sides of the wall/plumbing. I was pretty nervous about how to handle the situation. I could run a trickle of water from all those taps, but some of them like to “turn themselves off” when you walk away.

I was also concerned about needing to completely drain the washing machine and the hot water heater, and I would need to think about the vegetables and reserve water that we store in that area.

Doing this planning took my mind back many years to memories of a hard freeze we had in Chattanooga when I was a child.

We had just moved south. All of my family history comes from the great plains, the northern Midwest, and Canada, so my dad knew plenty about how to handle deep freezes. But it turned out that the waterline to our house was not buried deep enough. I suppose if we had been running a trickle of water inside the house (for all I know we may have been), that might have been enough to keep that main water line from freezing, but clearly that was not his fault.

I remember the hardships of digging and hacking at the frozen soil to pull up the burst pipe and then to bury another one deeper. I was too young to actually be a help, but I was too old not to be out there trying to help. Tempers were short. Icy mud was aplenty. There was a sense of urgency, for some reason, as I recall.

In thinking of this, I just realized it was one of the only memories I have of seeing my brother work or working with him. (I did see him play the piano for my Dad’s evangelistic meetings, but that’s not the kind of work I mean.) He would have been 13 or 14 at the time — a lot older than me.

The memory instilled in me a healthy fear of freezing pipes.

My other big burst-pipe memory comes from about a year after Milkmaid and I were married. We were living in a basement apartment and we were about to walk out of the apartment and head to a family holiday gathering when suddenly water began to pour down through the ceiling into our apartment.

It turns out that the renters above us had made the mistake of closing their laundry room door. The consequence of this was that the warm air from the house was not able to keep the plumbing lines from freezing.

It seems like a very bad time to have such a thing happen, but of course there is never a good time for such things.

So, back to yesterday in Chile, I decided to do nothing and simply check on things as the night progressed. I felt that -4°C might not be enough to freeze anything in just one night.

During the night, I made a happy discovery. I realized that the “heat envelope” around our large apartment building was very significant, and our laundry room was not going to go below freezing.

Here is my rule of thumb going forward:

On the higher floors of a large residential building here in Santiago (this particular one built in 2000), it seems that you get a thermal bonus of about one half ° Celsius or 1°F for every floor below you. So if you were on the 11th floor, the temperature outside your windows on a cold night could be expected to be about 5°C above the street temperature.

These numbers would not work for a well-insulated building, but, because Santiago typically only drops below freezing a few times a winter, the insulation is poor and a lot of heat is lost from the windows (and walls?) on the lower floors.

I knew there must be some effect like this, but I had no idea it was so large. There must be great plumes of heat rising from all the large buildings on a cold night.

So for anyone thinking of living in Santiago, I recommend that you prefer the higher floors if you are on a tight budget like us. Locals  tend to dislike the higher floors because they get more earthquake action.

 

Demographics of Chile

There was a interesting article in the newspaper, and the headline was: “If there were 100 people in Chile.”  Inside the article were percentages of how many people did this, and how many people did that…

So here are the most interesting things about it.

  • 51 are women and 49 are men
  • 19 identify themselves with a political party
  • 76 say they have pardoned those who have done them wrong
  • 68 have access to  mobile internet
  • 6 are unemployed
  • 58 say they are Catholic
  • 18 say they are evangelicals
  • 20 say they are atheists
  • 3 say they have other beliefs
  • 12 run for exercise
  • 20 rent their house
  • 64 own their house
  • 3 say they have bad health
  • 34 voted in the last election
  • 93 don’t trust the political parties
  • 13 live in rural areas
  • 8 work in agriculture
  • 59 consider themselves happy
  • 12 consider themselves sad
  • 20 have some disability
  • 4 consider themselves Mapuche   (but the guy who is in the picture has blue eyes!)
  • 3 are immigrants
  • 41 are in debt
  • 69 think the country is going on a bad path
  • 65 have a pet
  • 54 get most of their news from TV
  • 2 can’t read or write
  • 73 think Chile will get to the 2018 World Cup
  • 51 would say they have read at least one book each year
  • 92 have a phone

That’s all for now.

Three cheers for Moms who play (hard!) with their kids

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