Many thanks to Lisa and my apologies for not getting these up way sooner.
Many thanks to Lisa and my apologies for not getting these up way sooner.
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.]
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?'”
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.
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!
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.
“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.
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.
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]
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.
The locals use the word “Andinismo” to mean “exploring the Andes Mountains”. So far our experience of the Andes has been limited to areas in close proximity to civilization.
I felt it was time to do something more, and summer was almost gone.
Following a two day scouting trip by Doodle and I a few weeks ago, Sudoku joined us this past Sunday for a three day attempt to reach the La Paloma glacier, the lesser of the two glaciers visible from downtown Santiago.
We picked the warmest sequence of days we could find, but the temperature still dropped below freezing at night where we slept.
The 20 km trail toward the glacier was quite busy on Sunday afternoon, but once night came at our base camp around 9000 feet, it would not be until midday Tuesday that we would see another human being.
It’s safe to drink the water at certain places along the hike. Here’s a little log of that for those interested:
The hike was hot and dusty and we had some boot problems and other difficulties with our cobbled-together gear. Fortunately, the three of us are all fairly close on shoe size right now, so we were able to swap around to mitigate the effects of boot irritations.
[Sudoku: My toes only came within about 2.5″ of the end of Dad’s boots, but they were pretty comfortable.]
The peaks ahead of us were amazing under light of sunset. The stars would have been great (Doodle saw five shooting stars on our scouting trip), but we had a dusk that seemed to last forever and a full moon.
Here in Chile, we’ve grown quite accustomed to having grazing animals around us when we slept outside in the countryside. Nonetheless, it was a bit unnerving to have horses nonchalantly grazing right up against our tent all through the night.
[Sudoku: I woke up several times to hear Dad shooing the horses away from our tent again.]
We woke feeling good on Monday morning and went for the glacier. It was clear and dry. (there was no dew on the tent.) I couldn’t keep up with the kids, so I stopped about an hour short of the glacier’s scree-field base and they went to the glacier without me. (And I had the camera with me. Hence no actual pictures of Paloma glacier. Sorry! Here are some.)
On the way down we had the thrill of watching a pair of soaring/gliding condors — practically stationary in the air just above us — as we approached one of the steepest sections of the trail.
I never saw a mouse, but I did see a hole in a bag of cheese left inside a backpack we hid in the rocks back at the camp site.
Here are some of my takeaways regarding Andinismo:
The animals we saw over 3 days: Horses, cows, snakes, lizards, mice, foxes, toads, and condors.
[Sudoku: The boys did a great job making sure we had everything we needed for the trip. They have short hair though, and weren’t able to warn me about the big tangle I had by the end of our trip!]
[Doodle: Once, when we were hanging out around some small pools of red water, I noticed that it wasn’t the water that was red, but that there were hundreds of tiny, red bugs, all crawling over each other.]
is twice educated.