Harrison Farm

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

Category: Inspiration (page 1 of 5)

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!

My shadow project

[A little introduction by Marathon: ]

We were talking about solar eclipse phenomena recently. I told the kids about my memories from eclipses that I experienced as a boy, especially about how all the leaves of a tree would cast shadows that looked like the shape of the eclipse.

After the conversation, I did some image searches so I could show them what I remembered.

I was stunned to find that the truth was nothing like I remembered it!

Instead, there are thousands of images showing pinhole-camera effects. That is, the light from the sun passes through tight squeezes between the leaves and casts itself on the ground as an inversion of the sun’s distorted shape. Here is a typical example (Photo by Neal Wellons):

I couldn’t find a single picture to support what I remembered!

But I couldn’t seem to let go of it either. Without being able to explain very well why, it just seemed to me that there would be an eclipse shadow effect separate from the well-known pinhole effect.

I muttered something to the effect of, “We’d need some fancy lighting or a computer program to know if there was any truth to what I was thinking.”

Little did I know that wheels had been set in motion…

Over the past week, I have been working on a project. A coding project.

Sometimes we would play games with light during supper, when the light from the sun would reflect off glass buildings. I noticed that the shadows were almost perfectly crisp, even though our shadows fell on a wall that was 15-20 feet away.

That isn’t the case when the light is coming straight from the sun.

In the morning’s direct sunlight, the shadows are all fuzzy, and they would do all kinds of crazy stuff, like jumping over to other shadows, or some shadow that is a lot thinner than it should be…

A week ago, I had a realization about why shadows seem to warp sometimes.

I had always assumed that it was from the light of the sun bending, slightly.

But that isn’t the case. I realized that if you have a small slit letting sunlight through, there will be a light spot on the ground that is a good bit wider than the small slit. I realized this was because of the light from the right side of the sun shining through to the left of the slit, and vice versa.

During an eclipse, also, a tree shows many mini eclipses on the ground, on it’s shadow. This, we found out, is due to the pinhole effect.

Marathon still felt that a normal object, without a pinhole might also give an eclipse-like shadow. We made this big sketch, we kept messing up, but finally, we were pretty sure that any object would give a slightly eclipse-like shape.

It would take a long time to explain it all in writing. It’s pretty complicated.

So, instead, I did this coding project to make it easier to understand:


I consider ~150 inches from the ground to be the best distance for seeing the eclipse-like shadow.

Hope you like it!

[Marathon: So, thanks to Doodle’s javascript program, we can see how a shadow of basically anything leaf-sized, that is positioned around 12 feet above the ground, gets distorted by parallax effects to look vaguely like the crescent of the eclipse.

Here’s a leaf-like shape’s shadow at 10 inches above the ground during an ~80% solar eclipse:

Now here’s the same shape’s shadow at the same moment if it was 12 feet off the ground:

Totally different!

Even the staple shape, that already is a crescent of sorts, will bend to roughly become a crescent in the opposite direction! Try it for yourself.

Here’s another neat effect we found. If you set the moon’s size to be slightly smaller than the sun so that it allows for a “ring of fire” at the point of complete eclipse, here’s what the shadow of a ping-pong sized ball looks like.

Another symmetrical shape that gets bent into a crescent:

And finally, I was able to find a photo that shows this effect. The key is to find and eclipse shadow photo of just a few leaves so that the pinhole effect doesn’t dominate. Thanks to Flickr contributor Paul Sableman. Notice how all the leaves have a distinct concavity facing right.


For the past month, I have been really getting good at drawing.

One day I drew Rosebud reading, and it didn’t look too bad.

Then I got into drawing faces.

Here’s one of Milkmaid:


Here’s one out of my imagination. I tried to make it look like someone in a mood.


I also like drawing hands.

Here’s one of my fist.


Here’s one of my shoe that I drew about a month ago.


I hope to have more drawings to show off, but they have to be good enough.

A Bit about Mary

Mary is a fellow Gringa who’s been in Chile with her family for about a year longer than us.  She’s been volunteering at an orphanage for 4 hours a week for about a year, and she invited me to join her.  I’ve been five or six times now – helping out by playing with the 1-3 year old kids for a couple of hours at a time.

Mary, Susan, and I were on the playground with the kids one afternoon.  Mary got a big smile on her face and said, “I just love to hear the kids talking to each other!”

Susan: “Yeah.  They used to not do that.”

Me: “Really?  Why not?”

Susan: “None of the kids talked at all.”

I just looked puzzled.

Susan: “That’s right.  Things have changed here so much since we first came.”

Me: “Why? What happened?”

Susan: “It’s was Mary.  She’s the difference.”

Susan and Mary then began to describe what things were like pre-Mary.  None of the kids talked or interacted very much with the adult workers or with each other.  She said that the kids were so bored they would just sit and rock.  Sometimes they would sit and rock and knock their heads against the wall.

Mary played with the kids, hugged them, kissed them, swung them around, talked to them.  It wasn’t long before the kids started babbling, trying to talk to her.  Then she brought some picture books and would point and name things.  When she realized some of the kids didn’t know what “perro” (dog) was, she started collecting magazines and cutting out and laminating pictures.  She pasted them around the play room in the orphanage.  Some of the kids would copy her as she pointed to and named what was on the card.

Slowly the rocking and head knocking all but stopped.  Now, all but the youngest speak at least a bit.

Now, it might sound like the paid workers are cold and uncaring, not interacting with the kids.  That’s not the case at all.  The truth is, even though they may have (this is a guess) one worker for every 5 kids, many of the kids are still young enough to need to be spoon-fed.  They all need help with their daily bath, bathrooming, dressing, and teeth brushing.  It’s like being a stay-at-home mom to 5 very young children all at one time.

Your energy gets drained, and while you may have brief connecting moments with Johnny as he’s getting his bath, you’re thinking about how very tired you know little Suzy is who is crying, waiting to get her bath so she can take her nap!  There is just not enough time/energy to go around.

I love that one person cared, wanted to make a difference and did.  These kids will either be adopted or moved to another orphanage by age 5.  (So far, Mary has not seen any child “graduate” to the orphanage for older kids; rather, they have been adopted before they have a chance to move on.)  It’s highly unlikely that these kids will remember Mary.  But she labors anyway, and she’s making a difference.

Viola Ruffner and NYC Police

I’ve been thinking more about Viola Ruffner, Booker T. Washington’s high-expectation-employer turned forever friend. I think there are some similarities between her and the NYC Police. Here’s what I mean.

First, some background on Viola. She had a reputation as being a very difficult, demanding employer. So much so, that she had a hard time keeping hired help. She was just too stern, picky, demanding… After Emancipation, Booker T. was hired as the Ruffner’s houseboy.

As expected, in the beginning Viola would inspect Booker’s work and would usually send him back to do it over again, and sometimes yet again. At some point, when weeding the garden, Booker paused before calling Viola to inspect his work…and instead he decided to first do his own inspection.

He decided he’d better keep working.

He did a couple of rounds of this, and when she finally did come to inspect, she found no complaint.

Booker credits Viola with teaching him some of life’s most valuable lessons: diligence, hard work, faithfulness, honesty. She and her husband became supporters of Washington’s work, and Viola and Booker were lifelong friends. (The Ruffner and Washington families are still friends and had a reunion as recently as 2002.)

Now, what does Viola Ruffner have in common with the New York City police?

Have you read Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point? He has a section on the rampant, violent crime that was prevalent in the Big Apple in the 80’s. Crime rates dropped dramatically when the police established a no tolerance plan against subway turn-stile violators. By taking a firm stance against small infractions, overall crime – especially violent crime – greatly diminished.

By sending a clear message about the little things, a message was also sent about the large things.

I wonder if Viola Ruffner’s principles are not the same. Expecting faithfulness in the small things brings faithfulness in the large things as well. “He who is faithful in a very little thing, is faithful also in much.”

Ralph Moody Treats

When commenter and fellow Ralph Moody fan Gregg Green wrote and offered me copies of a couple of personal letters from Moody, I jumped at the offer. At age 8, Green had become a fan of Little Britches and Moody’s books. Being a fellow Maine resident and an ambitious young lad, he penned a letter to Ralph Moody. To his delight, he received a personal response. The two became sort of pen pals, exchanging a few letters and Christmas cards.

And lucky me…Gregg found this blog and has given me permission to share some items with you. Here is a word from Gregg:

…I have a couple of letters and a picture that Mr. Moody sent back in the late 60’s. The typed letter was a response to the first letter I ever sent him, and the handwritten letter came with the photo a year or so later. We corresponded for a few years after that, trading Christmas cards and such, but unfortunately I never did have the good fortune to meet him. The scans came out really well and you are welcome to use them on your website if you would like…

So, here they are, friends. That Moody took the time to write to a young boy…well, it says a lot. Clicking on the photo and letters will enlarge them. If you’re on dial-up and don’t want to wait for the letters to load, I’ve typed them out. Here’s the typed letter, and here’s the hand-written one. Enjoy!

Viola Ruffner Wanna-Be

My kids won’t appreciate it — at least not for a while. But my aim is to become a Viola Ruffner to them.

Booker T. Washington credits Viola Ruffner for instilling in him the work ethic for which he is famous. Upon being freed from slavery, Washington held a few different manual labor jobs, primarily working in mines. Determined to do something better, he was hired as the houseboy of Viola Ruffner who was known for being able to keep only temporary help because of her high demands and expectations.

Washington lived with the Ruffners and worked for Viola for a year and a half, and in that time was instilled with a deep appreciation for hard work, a job well done, and honesty. He claims that after being in her charge, whenever he saw a broken gate, he wanted to mend it. When he saw trash, he wanted to pick it up. When he saw weeds, he wanted to pull them. (Now, I’m not really after that result with my kids – just some thoroughness in tasks around the house.)

Mrs. Ruffner encouraged Washington to further his education, was one of his benefactors, and he held her in extreme respect, calling her “one of the best friends I ever had.”

I want to be a Viola Ruffner for my kids. (They’ll cringe when they read this post, but they know I love them.) I’m terrible with follow-through on chores I give them to do, and I fear I’m letting them get away with half-baked work. My becoming a Viola Ruffner would be good for all of us.

But how am I going to become a Viola Ruffner? I think I should start with one task and hone it, hone it. I’m thinking of going for the jugular: kitchen clean-up. I have this rule in the house — whoever makes a meal shouldn’t have to clean up. (There is a lot of gray here, because in truth, many meals are partially prepared days in advance – bread, lacto-fermented items, etc. But the person assembling the meal doesn’t have to clean the dishes or put left-overs away.)

While it’s true that the kids are in the mode of handling clean up in the kitchen, it is almost never up to my standards, but I say nothing. Nothing. Isn’t that they’re doing it enough? Well, for a while that was enough. But now that the work routine is in place, the mechanics are lacking. Sorely lacking.

So now I’m thinking about inspections, checklists, points, etc. What incentive to give for them to get it right the first time. Speak to me, Viola!

What about you? Do you have a system for follow-up of daily chores? Do you spot check? Have a check list? Is it working for you?

I’m off to make a checklist of frequently neglected jobs associated with kitchen clean-up.

Wisdom from Anne Frank

“At such moments I don’t think about all the misery, but about the beauty that still remains. This is where Mother and I differ greatly. Her advice in the face of melancholy is: ‘Think about all the suffering in the world and be thankful you’re not part of it.’ My advice is: ‘Go outside, to the country, enjoy the sun and all nature has to offer. Go outside and try to recapture the happiness within yourself; think of all the beauty in yourself and in everything around you and be happy.’

I don’t think Mother’s advice can be right, because what are you supposed to do if you become part of the suffering? You’d be completely lost. On the contrary, beauty remains, even in misfortune. If you just look for it, you discover more and more happiness and regain your balance. A person who’s happy will make others happy; a person who has courage and faith will never die in misery!”

— Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank, March 6, 1944

I read this quote a couple of months ago at Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project blog, and it keeps coming back to me.

Quick Big Picture of Classical Education

Before our first homeschool mom’s-night-out of the new school year, when I thought of “classical education,” I thought of stuffy classrooms plaguing young minds with Latin and Greek. Narrow-minded of me, I know, but that was really my impression.

My horizons were broadened at the meeting by a grandmother who had accompanied one the the moms. She had taught science in the public school system for 20 years, and had been turned on to the classical method of teaching after doing some research. Here is a sum-up of her quick overview of the philosophy of classical education…

Classes are comprised of children of all ages. Older kids help younger kids learn. The young children are exposed to ideas and concepts that they won’t understand, but those concepts will be revisited year after year, and their understanding will increase with time. The older kids get to review what they’ve already learned as they help with teaching the younger ones.

When children are young (under 6th grade), they have a great capacity for memorizing. Cram information into their heads, even though they don’t understand it. Have them memorize all kinds of things from poetry to multiplication tables to the classification of animals, to the periodic table. (This teacher taught primarily elementary and middle school science. She made up little songs about all kinds of science facts and lists that her students were not ready to understand. Most were able to sing along with her after hearing the song and reading the lyrics just a handful of times. Years later, 10th and 11th graders would stop by and tell her they were still using her songs.)

In the middle school years, when kids become argumentative and challenging, instead of cramming facts into them, the method of teaching becomes debate. They learn to defend their logic and argue a case. They get to develop the little lawyers inside themselves.

In the high school years, as kids are wanting to distinguish themselves, research and presentation become the means of education.

It seems there is a lot of room to apply and mesh these principles with other philosophies of education. While I still cringe at the thought of teaching/learning Latin and/or Greek (wouldn’t Spanish or even Mandarin be more practical?), I like this teacher’s overall interpretation: cram, debate, and research/teach.

Carman Learning Guitar

Carman broke is arm about 7 weeks ago. The cast came off early last week.

While the right arm was out of commission, he started learning the guitar, partly to fill up some of his summer time, and partly because we had heard that by exercising one arm, the other would be strengthened too. Maybe working the left arm on the guitar helped somewhat at keeping his right arm toned, but the right arm still felt weak and looked puny when the cast was removed. So, maybe that’s just a myth. ?? Below he’s comparing his arms. Yes, that’s a ball behind his head, not put in its proper place.

On a happy note, Carman is making great progress with the guitar. He’s learned the following chords: A, a, A7, b, C, C2, D, D7, d7, E, e7, E7, F, G, G7, g. And he can play several songs. He still hasn’t really learned any strumming or picking patterns, but he’s got some good caluses built up and a basic understanding of the instrument.

Now he needs some strumming technique and a good beat. Then he’ll be ready to jam like Jenkees. 🙂

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