Monday, February 27, 2006
A project for her portfolio at the charter school, the diorama took her about six weeks to complete, from start to finish, including the time it took to read the book at least twice. She wrapped it up yesterday afternoon with a book report. It's an impressive piece of work, about 2½ feet square, and required a combination of several different artistic styles to complete.
Not surprisingly, she had the full attention of everyone in the room by the time we were setting it up on a shelf. One of her friends paid her a high compliment by saying she was afraid to touch the river, made of two different shades of blue tissue paper, because she didn't want to get wet. Another student paid her the ironic compliment of saying, "She had help." (Actually, no. She had guidance, not help, except for the knife used to cut the cardboard, and even there she directed the knife.)
When I left the classroom, Evangeline was basking in the heady feeling of admiration and recognition for her hard work. She's earned it.
Thank God the project is over. I hope it survives being at school.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Way back at her second parent-teacher-student conference, Evangeline agreed to create a diorama and write a book report connected to Mary Pope Osborne's "Dingoes at Dinnertime," from the popular Magic Treehouse series. This is in addition to her research project on children's author Roald Dahl. I hope never to get stuck doing two big projects like this again, but with the end now in sight, it has been a blast working on this with her.
Although I said "working with her" just now, she's really done most of the work. The only things I've done have been to cut the cardboard with a sharp knife, help her a tie a rope ladder together, and guide through the entire project. The actual work has been all hers, pretty much.
We started out making a topographical map. Evangeline told me where she wanted a stream, drew it on a piece of cardboard, and I started cutting. After that, she drew more or less matching curves on other sheets of cardboard, and I cut those out too. Once we had all the cardboard cut out, she glued the layers together, to create a gently sloping embankment on each side of the stream.
The next step, which took longer than it needed to because she found the task monotonous, was to paint the cardboard yellow. After a few days of her getting tired after five minutes of this, I gave her the old Atari incentive, and she painted the entire thing green. The result was a nice textured looking clearing. The yellow and green brush strokes combine to create the appearance of grass. Nice effect.
After that were the actual banks of the river. We had some sand left over from her Temple project, so she put down a thick coat of Mod Podge and poured sand onto it to create the banks.
She made the stream the next day with more Mod Podge and strips of crumpled up colored tissue paper. She had the idea of mixing two different shades of blue paper, so the water not only has a rippling surface from the crumples, but it looks like it has cooler and warm parts, owing to the darker and lighter shades.
The next big part involved measuring the sides of the diorama and having Daddy cut more sheets for the three walls. These Evangeline gave a primary coat of white finger paint, although I allowed her to enlist her sister's help in this step. (Rachel in fact had so much fun that she painted some other pieces of cardboard on her own.)
The next day, after these had dried, Evangeline took some bright yellow paint, mixed it on the cardboard with more white finger paint, and used her flat Mod Podge brush to turn the entire surface a light, warm yellow. It looked like sunlight on the cardboard, which was the idea. I took these outside to dry in the sun, which they did, and turned my mind to figuring out how she could make the trees.
How else, but more finger paint? I put some brown finger paint on the center of a piece and showed her in the air what I wanted her to do. She got the idea immediately, and rushed her hands upward through the gelatinous stuff, streaking trunks across the sunlight, and twisting branches out of the trunks. I have to admit that I was really uncertain at this stage how things were going to turn out. She got a little carried away on her first tree, and had to make it twice as broad to fix the error, although she learned from her error and was more careful on the other sheets.
Yesterday, she mixed some more of that bright yellow paint with a turquoise blue, and when she was satisfied with the consistency of green, dabbed cotton swabs in the paint and onto the branches of the trees. She used seventeen of them in all, but the effect was stunning -- you really feel as though you're looking at leaves on the trees, with dark patches and light patches, places where the sun suffuses through the canopy, and other places where you can see the branches just beneath the surface or even poking through. The bottom of each sheet contains some bushes and other growth, places where the trees are covered, and places where they are not. It's really quite a stunning piece of work.
Today I duct-taped the sides to one another and to the base, guided her through the process of building the tree house using Popsicle sticks she had painted brown at some point during the project, and helped her make a rope ladder to hang from the tree house. On her own, she came up with the idea of making tiny books to put inside the tree house, since that's how the magic works. Jack and Annie open a book, point at a picture and say "I wish I could go there," and they're off on another ten-chapter adventure.
Tonight I figured out how to mount the treehouse effectively on the side of the diorama without punching holes in anything, so all that remains for tomorrow is that we will mount the treehouse, hang the ladder, and put Jack, Annie and Teddy into the diorama. Perhaps she also can make a kangaroo to put down by the stream.
Oh yes, she's also supposed to write a book report about the crazy book.
It's quite a piece of work that she's done, and she really has done it herself. All I've done to help her is to guide her through the process and do the parts that involved sharp objects. It's been an adventure for both of us, and I'm sure it's been as educational for her in artistry and tenacity as it has been fascinating for me to see it all coming together. You could see the pride she had in the project tonight when we put the walls on and she saw how it was turning out. The only real flaw I see is that we forgot about the stream, and it now flows either into or out from a large tree on the far side of the diorama.
I'm quite proud of her, although I have to say I'll be relieved to get this out of the way. This is the extra project. She's doing a written report on Roald Dahl that's also due by the end of the month, when she'll make a presentation to the class. She's doing a bang-up job on that too, although she'll have to do a second draft, since her first one spells "Roald" at least five different ways, mostly involving an H and it reads rather much like the Wikipedia entry on Dahl that is one of her two major sources.
I really need to get remote hosting set up for graphics for this blog, and I need to get my scanner working too. You need to see this creation to believe it.
Common mondegrens, as they're known, include songs like Jimi Hendrix' "'Scuse me While I Kiss this Guy," Bob Dylan's "The Ants are my Friends," and the ever-popular "Secret Asian Man," by Johnny Rivers. In the case of Rachel, who is only 3, her more recent mondegren was a little more unexpected.
As we pulled out of the parking lot of the bookstore the other day, she started singing the title song from Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Jesus Christ Superstar" as: "Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ / Who the heck is Jesus Christ?"
It appears we need to educate her a little better where religion is concerned.
Friday, February 17, 2006
"What color did he dye them?" Natasha asked.
"Pink," said Rachel. Then, after starting over, when she reached the plague of frogs, she said, "God killed all the frogs blue."
Thursday, February 16, 2006
After a year of frustration with the area Girl Scouts council, I finally got a break last week when the mother of one of Evangeline's classmates contacted them about starting a Daisy Troop at the charter school. My wife happened to overhear her talking with the teacher about finding other parents who might be interested in helping, a co-leader being necessary for the troop, and put us in touch. We met Tuesday with a representative of the council, and voilá! It happens.
If all goes well -- meaning I get two people to write me references, and the troop leader does the same, we should have a troop up and running by March.
As a guy, I (surprisingly, I'm sure) know little about Girl Scouts, so the next few months are likely to be full of surprises. It's been informative so far. The troop is limited to 10 to 12 girls, unless we get more parents to volunteer, in which case we can add five or six girls per regularly present adult. The meetings will run one hour, probably biweekly, with membership costing $10 a girl.
Usually the troop turns to parents to ask them to support the troop financially, like buying its supplies and funding its outings, but we're also allowed to turn to nonprofits in the community and ask them for one-time donations. This keeps us from nickel-and-diming the girls out of Scouts, since there's usually some cost associated with meetings, above and beyond the stuff like getting uniforms and merit badges, or whatever the Girl Scout equivalent is.
In hindsight a lot of this makes sense and explains why there were no troops in the area that Evangeline could join. Since a troop needs a sponsor, such as a church or civic organization like the Rotary Club, the sponsors usually are going to put some sort of limits in place on membership, either because of a volunteer shortage, or because of liability issues. A student at the charter school already is covered by the school's insurance when its clubs meet; someone from outside the school would lack that protection, putting the school at tremendous risk if something happens. (And you know it will.)
Growing up in the Cub Scouts, I always thought of Pack 412 as the Saunders Station troop, and I suppose it was, but we had pack meetings at the Lions building, because the Lions Club (I presume) was our sponsor. Of course, that was also a different era, when we were far less litigation-prone, so the rules might have been a little different.
Angela, the council liaison whom we met, said she's known other men to be involved with Girl Scouting, but it's still a relatively rare phenomenon. I'm sure with the dearth of volunteers they're glad just to have someone stepping up to the plate, though to be sure, if that's the case I have no idea why they didn't respond to my offers to help lead a troop earlier. Maybe it's because I didn't have an institutional sponsor behind me? Could be, although it would have been nice to have been told that.
So there you have it. I'm the first member of my family in at least two generations to become involved in Girl Scouts, an innovation keeping in line with my being the first one in my family to get my ear pierced, and the first to have a woman on my side of the wedding party.
This will be a good opportunity, not only for Evangeline to deepen her friendships with her classmates, but for me to deepen my ties and understanding of the city where we live.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
After a major and prolonged setback, we finally appear to be having a much-needed turnaround with Rachel where potty training is concerned.
A few weeks ago, it looked like Rachel finally had achieved potty-training Shangrila. She either let us know she had urgent business to take care of, or she simply took the initiative on her own and took care of all the crap by herself. This period lasted, as I recall, about two days.
Without warning, Rachel suddenly was beset with persistent, well, not diarrhea, but a guano-awful condition that used up two or three pairs of training pants a day. It was a dirty business, and it set her back some ways where the business end of a diaper is.
Then, over the past week, even after she got back into the regular movement of things, it was as though she wanted to tell us, "You're in for an ordeal still." We went through a stream of outfits in record time as she abandoned all pretense of knowing how to use the potty. She even wet herself twice at night, something she hasn't done in close to a year. It really stank. You could say it was a major pisser.
After washing our hands of the whole mess, Natasha and I scratched our heads and started talking about what the trouble was. Our diagnosis: It's an attention thing, and it's a control thing. Natasha's been busy with work and taxes, I've been trying to get some stuff done here at home, and over the last weekend in particular, Evangeline was seizing every opportunity she could to play chess.
So today we resolved not to say a word of reproof if Rachel had an accident, to lavish praise on her every time she went to the potty, and to let her put a sticker on a fresh, clean potty chart every time she uses the potty instead of having an accident.
I thought it would take at least a few days, but probably a week to see progress. Instead, this entire day has been accident-free. There has been no need to offer incentives like a piece of candy or a cookie. (Yesterday I was ready to promise to bake her a freaking cake if she would just use the potty.) The thrill of putting a sticker on a piece of paper that hangs on the refrigerator has been all that she has needed. She's even leaked the information twice, with no prompting, that she needed to go.
Whew. Thank God.
In an odd wrinkle on the situation, she wants to give her potty chart to her buddy Sammy. I can only imagine what a 3-year-old expects her friend to do with someone else's potty chart. It sounds like a pretty crappy gift, to me.
Monday, February 13, 2006
Natasha beat her Sunday night with nothing but a king and eight pawns to all of Evangeline's pieces, even after I gave Evangeline some help that could have led to a checkmate in two or three turns.
Ah well. She's only six. What can you expect? It's a triumph that she's learned the game at all and enjoys playing it.
Thursday, February 09, 2006
Dear Wittenburg Door:
I'd like it if you'd give the televangelists a rest. It's not that such people don't deserve to be lampooned -- they do -- but in many respects, they're too easy a target. I also doubt many of your readers are likely to disagree with the sentiment that the hucksters who use religion to line their own pockets are jackals and villains.
One of the strengths of The Wittenburg Door has always been that it lampoons the Christian subculture and the evangelical subculture in particular in such a way that it moves us to self re-evaluation and reveals our little idols for what they are. While Pat Robertson, Benny Hinn and their ilk undeniably have a place in that culture and in The Wittenburg Door's sites, dwelling too much on the freak show of the faith allows us to feel self-righteous and superior, and deprives us of The Wittenburg Door's important mission: deflating *our* egos when we become too self-important.
The Door recently renewed its focus on the American church, and has taken its eyes off the proud and arrogant of other religions and of society as a whole. Please take that the final step and start focusing more on our excesses and where we live, rather than on the cottage industry that has gone so far it parodies itself.
This isn't just a disinterested question. My wife and I don't get cable or satellite, and haven't received broadcast since 9-11, but there are a few shows we've discovered that we actually enjoy. "The Simpsons" is one of them, but since we're restricted by choice to watching shows as they become available on DVD, we're loathe to sink money into a show that has gone to seed and run past its glory days.
So far, we've bought the first seven seasons, and we've been warned that the show started to lose its relevance several years ago. I've also heard that Season Eight contains the first appearance of a Great Gazoo-like character, which Matt Groening supposedly had promised fans would be a sign that the show had run its course and they should stop watching.
What's the verdict? Do we stop at Season Seven, or are there still a few DVD sets left to go before calling it quits?
I was up late Monday night, owing to my ongoing issues with insomnia, and turned to the web pages of Real Live Preacher. Skimming through some of his recent essays, I came across a group of them about depression and started reading them. It was revelatory. A lot of the behaviors he described -- a sudden groundswell of rage over the dumbest shit, beating a retreat from family and friends, spending too much time on the computer, and not being the daddy my girls once had -- describe me more than I would like to admit.
In some ways, it wouldn't be surprising to discover that I have some form of chemical imbalance or chronic depression, to one degree or another. Half America these days is on Prozac, thanks to an overactive advertising campaign by the pharmacological industry, but there is some legitimate history of it in my family. My aunt has been hospitalized in the past for depression and even testified before Congress concerning the use of electroshock therapy, and my grandmother battled these demons throughout what of her life I can recall.
The Preacher listed migraines waking up early and being filled with anxiety; bowel problems and a few other symptoms of deficient neurotransmitters. I don't have all those he listed, but I do have other symptoms, such as oversleeping. I also get migraines and insomnia, but I've had those since I was a teen. Of course, that doesn't mean it's not related ...
Some of my symptoms may be linked to the various thyroid problems I have had, now presumably being corrected with thyroid hormone. I still have to go through the iodine chemo to clear out the rest of my cancer, but after I've had a chance to get back onto my thyroid hormone, I probably should make a doctor's appointment to see if I should add depression to my litany of problems.
Happy pills, just what I always wanted.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Later on, I'll develop this into something more thoughtful. Right now I just want to get it down while it's still in my head.
I was making my Tuesday afternoon rush from Evangeline's school to Rachel's, and because the CD player in the car doesn't work, and Evangeline was in her own world, it was quiet in the car and I had space to think. What I thought about was silence.
Silence is a rare thing in this world. Here in my house today I heard work crews digging up the oil tank of the house across the street, I heard drivers outside honking their horns, and I heard one car door after another slam shut. Out in public or in the streets, it's even worse. People pick louder, more annoying cell phone rings so theirs stand out in the hubbub, and then subject us to their own private conversations.
No wonder iPods are so popular. It's the only way to shut out all the noise.
Silence is precious and thoughtful. When we listen instead of interrupting one another, we understand each other better and show more compassion than normal. No wonder Solomon said, "Even a fool is thought wise if he remains silent." Silence takes restraint, it keeps us from saying the first stupid thing that occurs to us, and it tells the other person that we want to hear what they have to say.
Silence also lets us listen to the deeper currents of their soul, the places so far down that they barely make a ripple as the current washes past. But as one person speaks and the other listens, the water flows into a new course, and slowly the deeper channels of the soul pour out and stand revealed.
When we pray, we usually complain that God is silent, and we wish he would chatter as endlessly as we do. But we're missing the point of why God is silent when we pray: It's because he is listening.
I've been talking for the past seventeen years, and God has listened to it all. For once, I think I'm going to be quiet and see what's on his heart.
Monday, February 06, 2006
"It's funny," I said, "but I was just thinking of all the Christians who have died from cancer, despite their belief in Christ's power."
"Overcome cancer in the power of Christ." Two days later, I still can't get it out of my mind. I turn it over and over, trying to grasp her meaning, looking for some way to make sense of it. Does she really believe that faith is some sort of magic talisman, and if I wave it fervently in front of a disease that it will turn tail and run like a dog afraid of its master's whip?
With one word of faith, does she expect that I can bring turncoat cells back in line, stymie their malignancy, and keep them from spreading further? Does she believe that raw faith can be distilled into so potent a concentration that it will eliminate the need for surgery, make iodine-based chemotherapy and radiation treatments unnecessary, and let me avoid a four-day isolation from my children?
Is faith a relationship with an unseen God, or is it an invisible fetish we use to keep illness from our homes? Does it teach dependence on Christ, or does it ward off misfortune, corporate downsizing, food poisoning and baldness instead?
What an amazing thing faith must be to this woman. With faith like hers, I'm sure I could get myself a mansion, a private jet, or even a set of fancy cars. And to think I never knew I had this power. All I have to do is believe, and God comes running.
What an appallingly seductive theology. I feel dirty just trying to understand it. It's horrible to see how easy it is to start thinking of God as your personal servant, who will omnipotently do your bidding as long as you cut him a big enough check from the faith account.
When the filth has filled my spirit has me feeling completely grimy, I finally take a bath. I lower myself into the Scripture and start scrubbing. After a while I start to relax and feel the clean coming on.
Faith? I've got that. There are times I feel I should wear a T-shirt that says "World's Biggest Idiot" for believing in God at all, but my faith is real, and it's not going anywhere.
Faith gave me clarity on the missions field, when I discovered the impotence of my prepackaged evangelicalism in the face of real human need. It gave me peace of mind when became an unemployed father with a mortgage to pay. And when I lost my son, and it seemed as if all light and all hope were gone from the world, I didn't lost my faith. I clung to it, like a drowning man clutches a rope thrown from his ship. My faith is imperfect, but it's real. Getting cancer hasn't shaken it at all.
Forget the stories of people who have claimed victory over cancer, obesity, heart attacks and even baldness. Real faith isn't found in believing something in the face of common sense and all the evidence. Faith is found in people who wanted to do right by God, even if it got themselves killed. Men like Abel, who offered God a pure sacrifice and were beaten to death because of it; or men like Moses, who by faith gave up the wealth and comfort of Pharaoh's court and spent years in the desert.
Sometimes, like Daniel, the faithful are spared unhappy endings, but those are the exception and not the rule. The only promise Jesus makes for this life is that of a cross. "Follow me and die," he says. "There is no other way."
Here, then is how the faithful have triumphed by the power of Christ "They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated. The world was not worthy of them." (Hebrews 11:37-38).
Faith doesn't promise eternal health or endless happiness, but it does promise the uncounted reward of knowing Christ in all his suffering. When we find ourselves lost in the Long Dark Night of the Soul, we endure because it is Christ himself who makes us complete, Christ who bears our sorrow, and Christ who makes us beautiful at our ugliest.
I'll take that kind of faith any day.
Copyright © 2006 by David Learn. Used with permission.
Sunday, February 05, 2006
Surfing a little tonight, I found a blog by a former thyroid cancer patient. She paints a fairly bleak picture of what the next four weeks are going to be like.
Geez, I've lost some weight since my surgery, partly because I've changed my diet for the better, but also partly because of the thyroid hormone I've been on. I don't want to gain it back.
And I don't want to feel like crap for four weeks.
Thursday, February 02, 2006
Amazingly good for a show on the Sci-Fi Network (motto: "No concept so good we can't ruin it!"), "Battlestar Galactica" reimagines the 1978 TV show in some bold, amazing ways. Instead of following a tedious formula of humans fighting robots in space, it's doing a decent job of portraying a society's efforts to hold itself together after a merciless attack by an implacable foe.
And yes, that means there are some pretty strong 9-11 parallels. So far we've seen episodes dealing with the Patriot Act, paranoia over fifth columnists, the heightened struggle between the military and civilian authorities, and a few bazillion other things. It's a drama, set aboard spaceships, where the predominant struggles are internal and interpersonal.
It's abso-fracking-lutely brilliant.
One of the interesting facets of the show is how it deals with religion and belief in God. The original series possessed a bizarre spirituality heavily influenced by creator Glenn Larson's religious beliefs, that God was once a human, that humans were destined to become gods, and so on. Consequently, a lot of the show's language, setting and imagery drew on his beliefs, what with the planet Kobol and its capital city, Eden; the twelve colonies; Commander Adama serving as a politician-military leader-high priest;and so on.
The new show has kept a fair amount of the setup, albeit rearranged, with new levels of significance, different characterization, and so on. The original series Cylons were created by a lizard race and were bent on humanity's destruction; here they were machines created by humanity that rebelled and now have agents who look human and who have infiltrated human society. Adama is no longer the flawless leader; he's been split into at least three roles. The new Adama is a military man whose willingness to support the president is limited to what he can agree with, the president has made some questionable decisions, and the high priestess is someone else entirely with a fairly minor role.
As the show has gone on, religion and God have come to play a bigger part in the story. Gaius Baltar, whose ongoing affair with a Cylon agent allowed them to shut down the Colonial defenses, has gone from viewing religious belief with disdain, has started to believe that he may have a role in God's plan for the surviving Colonials. Starbuck has developed in an interesting direction as a character by professing a belief in the Lords of Kobol, who have been identified elsewhere in the series as more or less interchangeable with the mythological Greek gods.
The Cylons, by the way, are monotheistic; the Colonials are polytheistic.
For the lonest time, I've been hung up on the original series' use of the Twelve Colonies to invoke (I think) images of the Twelve Colonies of Israel. I'm not aware that the new series is attaching any such significance to the number 12, but the Cylon whom Baltar has been having an affair with has indicated that there are twelve different Cylon models.
There also were twelve different Greek gods.
Coincidence? I don't know, but I can't help but wonder if I'm onto something. Number Six, whom we've seen involved with Baltar, is a fairly sensual Cylon. In addition to Baltar, we've seen her hit on Adama and Helo. Another of the Cylons we've seen two copies of is something of a liar and a trickster who delights in sowing dissension among the humans. That reminds me somewhat of Hermes, the messenger of the gods and also a liar, a thief and a trickster.
Since I've only seen the miniseries and Season One, the only other confirmed Cylons I've seen are a newsman who returns as a suicide bomber, and a Cylon who is also a pilot in the Colonial fleet. (I'll refrain from saying more to avoid ruining it for anyone who hasn't seen the show yet.)
Both the Cylons and the humans are very interested in Kobol and seeing the rebirth of the human race. Baltar and Number Six are fixated at the end of the first season with a baby, who I presume could be Helo's child with the Cylon who shall remain nameless for now. The Colonials left Kobol because of a great battle two thousand years earlier among the gods. And both the liar-trickster-messenger Cylon and the high priestess have quoted from their holy texts that say "All this has happened before and will happen again."
If the Cylons are patterned after the gods and are now poised to have children with the humans, does this mean that the original lords of Kobol were artificial lifeforms?
Nah, probably not. But I'm going to be puzzling over this show for a while to come.
(Someone buy me Season Two.)
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Here follows the news release:
NOVA BASTILLE ARTIST SHOWS WORK AT HOOVER POINT GALLERY
At 6 years old, she is youngest artist to exhibit at Academy of Art of Hoover Point
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
HOOVER POINT, Iowa (Feb. 1, 2006) -- Original art work by Evangeline Learn will remain on display at the Academy of Art of Hoover Point and Gallery through February.
Learn, 6, has been enrolled formally at the academy since the start of 2005, when she began taking drawing lessons. Since then, she has been enrolled a total five sessions at the academy, in addition to participating in summer art camp at the academy last year. She drew all 10 of the featured pictures in the exhibition as part of her course work at the academy.
She is the youngest artist to exhibit at the gallery, by 11 years.
The exhibit began with an opening Jan. 28, during which Learn explained her choice of medium for each drawing and discussed her inspiration and technique for each. Fifteen members of Learn's family and friends attended.
"Evangeline's skill, while it's always been good for her age, has blossomed at the art academy," said David Learn, 35, her father. "We're grateful to the academy for not only encouraging her skill but giving her the confidence to display her art in a public setting like this for other people to see."
A Nova Bastille resident, Learn lives with her parents and younger sister. She attends first grade at Gary Barker Charter School in Nova Bastille. As could be expected, she found the attention to her artwork rewarding and encouraging.
"I'm going to keep drawing for the rest of my life," said Learn, who sold five prints of her artwork after the show.
The Academy of Art of Hoover Point and Gallery offers art instruction in the classic studio tradition, under the directorship of Ana Soto-Canino of Hoover Point. Located at 727 Raritan Ave. for the past seven years, it offers courses in drawing, painting, sculpture and art appreciation, and hosts regular art exhibits of its students' work.
To schedule a visit to the gallery or for more information about the academy, call (abc) def-ghij.
On the web: