I am sitting in the shade of the oak tree in my back yard where I get three bars on the wifi connection.  (Unfortunately, my battery is in the red and I have no power nearby but that’s another story…) I am realizing the joys of working from home for yourself.  My nose has been to the programming grindstone all week, first in Flash and then in php/sql.  The projects are basically completed so I’m treating myself to a morning of getting caught up.  I love the fact that I was able to schedule a meeting from my laptop in the backyard and who knows, if the weather is nice on Monday, I may conduct it from here, too.

I’ve been reading away but I don’t have enough battery power for that kind of blogging.  I put together a mosaic instead.  A little of everything from the past month: flowers, WM, Denver.  Enjoy!

May Mosaic

1. 113/365 for 2010 The Greenhouse in Spring, 2. 114/365 for 2010 Purple Columbine, 3. 115/365 for 2010 Early Rose, 4. 116/365 for 2010 Still Life with Wygelia, 5. 117/365 for 2010 House, Field, Sky, 6. 118/365 for 2010 Lily of the Valley, 7. 119/365 for 2010 What time is it?, 8. 120/365 for 2010 The Big Blue Bear, 9. 121/365 for 2010 Immigration Protest in Denver, 10. 122/365 The Molly Brown House, 11. 123/365 Along the Street, 12. 124/365 for 2010 Worth The Wait, 13. 125/365 for 2010 Foxglove, 14. 126/365 for 2010 Spring, 15. 127/365 for 2010 Roses!, 16. 128/365 for 2010 Strawberries!

A Day Without a To Do List

128/365 for 2010 Strawberries!A breezy sunny Saturday with no plans. In the words of Annie Dillard, I’ve really “spent” the morning, wandering through the woods with the dogs, then touring the yard, picking a nice big basket of strawberries, and taking some photos. The strawberry photo is my flickr photo for today.

Other chores are done…the sheets are on the line and, with the brisk breeze, are probably already dry. I’ve cleaned up the kitchen and the bedroom. Doggies are all settled into morning naps after their breakfast and walk. I’m relaxing in the my favorite chair with a latte. The house takes on the air of a monastery this time of year as we close the windows and drop rattan shades over them to keep out the sun. We don’t have central air conditioning and hate to run the window units too much so we capture the cool air of the night time and then trap it inside during the day.

I’m planning afternoon reading…I’m about half way through two books: Wendell Berry’s Life Is a Miracle, which I’ve already blogged about a bit, and Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom: The True History of Shakespeare and Elizabeth by Charles Beauclerk.  It’s an extended argument for Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, being the real Shakespeare, otherwise known as the Oxfordian theory.

The book came from the Barnes and Noble in Denver which was tantalizing visible from my hotel room window.  I made it in and out once without buying anything except a latter but the second time was not so lucky.  I never made it past the first table of new nonfiction.  Besides the Beauclerk, I bought The Blue Moment: Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue and the Remaking of Modern Music by Richard Williams and My Empire of Dirt: How One Many Turned His Big-City Backyard Into a Farm by Manny Howard. I bought the latter because I was reminded of our own suburban farm: from my chair in the front room, I can see my own front yard, which is where the strawberries are growing.  There are raspberries, onions, garlic, and more and we’ve eliminated enough grass that I should be able to maintain it with the John Deere push mower this summer.

Capital Hill BooksMy regret here is that I couldn’t wait until I got to the local bookstores in Denver to start buying.  I did buy The Landscape of Home at Capitol Hill Books, a wonderful used bookstore across the street from the capitol with its shining gold dome.  It’s part of a series about the west and includes essays by Stewart Udall  and others about life in the Rockies. Tattered Cover The series was begun by what the book calls the “legendary” Tattered Cover Bookstore, but by the time I got there on Monday, I knew if I bought one more book, I would have to mail them home.  I did get a latte and relax on a comfortable sofa in the store and am already planning to head there first when I get back to Denver in late June.  Bookstore tourism at its best.

The Science of Not Knowing

There are moments when reading and real life come together. Not to be too dramatic: but now is one of those times. As oil spews into the Gulf of Mexico, my companions for the journey are Annie Dillard and Wendell Berry. And, both of them make the same essential point about science: the real power and terror of science is that neither doesn’t nor can know everything.

For Dillard, the not-knowing can be seen in the natural world, in something as seemingly simple as an elm leaf:

Or again, there are, as I have said, six million leaves on a big elm. All right…but they are toothed, and the teeth themselves are toothed. How many notches and barbs is that to the world. In and out go the intricate leaf edges, and “don’t nobody know why.” All the theories botanists have devised to explain the functions of various leaf shapes tumble under an avalanche of inconsistencies. They simply don’t know, can’t imagine.

Berry’s comments are in response to Edward O. Wilson, who in his book Consilience, celebrates science and discounts the possibilities of learning in and from mystery:

He understands mystery as attributable entirely to human ignorance, and thereby appropriates it for the future of human science; in his formula, the unknown = the-to-be-known…If modern science is a religion, then one of its presiding deities must be Sherlock Holmes. To the modern scientist as to the great detective, every mystery is a problem, and every problem can be solved. A mystery can exist only because of human ignorance, and human ignorance is always redeemable. the appropriate response is not deference or respect, let alone reverence, but pursuit of “the answer”.

Don’t nobody know why…and yet we teach students that there are answers. I am outraged that BP was not required to have a solution to what was clearly a potential problem. I suppose we can blame it on a failure of the imagination but the cynic in me can’t help but blame it on a desire for profit. And an unwavering belief in science to solve any problem. I, of course, am hoping along with everyone else that this IS a problem science can solve, and quickly, but at what cost?

BP, with its string of abuses, clearly has not real concern for the world community other than as a market for its oil. Berry points out that science is often conducted with economics rather than community in mind and quotes Wilson’s description of the “cardinal principle in the conduct of scientific research: Find a paradigm for which you can raise money and attack with every method of anaylsis at your disposal.” Berry goes on:

This principle, in effect, makes the patron the prescriber of the work to be done. It would seem to eliminate the scientist as a person or community member who would judge whether or not the work ought to be done. It removes the scientist from the human and ecological circumstances in which the work will have its effect and which should provide one of the standards by which the work is to be judged; the scientist is thus isolated, by this principle of following patronage, in a career with a budget.

Hmmm…as I typed those last words, I realized how hard I was being on scientists, even if I was only channeling Berry. I’m blaming scientists for the flaws in a system that is much larger than them just as teachers often get blamed for failed reforms for which they had no responsibility. I imagine some scientist, in a planning meeting for the platform, quietly suggesting that this could be a problem. His solution, however, did not meet the cost analysis: what was the chance of this happening and how much would it cost? What the number crunchers failed to consider, however, was the cost if it DID happen! This could ruin BP. I don’t think anyone has the heart to bail them out.

Getting Caught Up I

It’s great to be home!  I’ve been in Denver since last Friday at the American Educational Research Association annual meeting where I presented my dissertation research along with some research I did with colleagues.  This is the BIG one: they have 24,000 members all over the world and almost half attend the meeting.  Presenting counts on the vita and there are lots of graduate students networking to find a post doc.  The program is unbelievable really with presentations, keynotes, and special interest group business meetings and receptions going on non-stop.  After two full days, I was ready for a break so I spent Monday exploring Denver.  Here’s the mosaic…lots more at flickr.

Denver Mosaic

1. On the 16th Street Mall, 2. Daniels and Fisher Tower, 3. P5030413, 4. The Old Prospector, 5. Decorations Along the Street, 6. St. Cajetan’s, 7. The Molly Brown House, 8. 123/365 Along the Street, 9. 120/365 for 2010 The Big Blue Bear, 10. Historic Buildings Along Larimer St., 11. Capital Hill Books, 12. Rockmount Ranchwear Bldg, 13. Union Station, 14. Tattered Cover, 15. P5030420, 16. Fence in Ninth Street Park

I’ve got lots more to tell about books and book stores but I’ll wait. Enjoy the photos!

Happy Earth Day!

It is a beautiful day here in the ‘burg! The early morning rain cleared off and now it is sunny and warm. I saw my first hummingbird, huddling cold and wet on the feeder outside the front window. I worked all morning putting together slides for a presentation next week but then had to go outside. There should be some perks to working from home, right? I took some pictures to commemorate the holiday and then walked down the winery road with Tina Turner, my beagle, not the singer. Perfect!

I’ve got an hour before the webinar and am planning to head back outside with holiday-appropriate reading: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. I’m supposed to have it done by book group on Sunday…we all picked different books this month. I’m enjoying it: thick prose and sometimes disturbing images of nature that jar a bit but seem authentic. I’m not sure I always completely understand her philosophical points but she captures the moment better than anyone I know. Her concerns about missing spring really spoke to me:

So, I have been thinking about the change of seasons. I don’t want to miss spring this year. I want to distinguish the last winter frost from the out-of-season one, the frost of spring. I want to be there on the spot the moment the grass turns green. I always miss this radical revolution: I see it the next day from a window, the yard so suddenly green and lush I could envy Nebuchadnezzar down on all fours eating grass. This year I want to stick a net into time and say ‘now,’ as men plant flags on the ice and snow and say, ‘here.’ But it occurred to me that I could no more catch spring by the tip of the tail than I could untie the apparent knot in the snakeskin; there are no edges to grasp. Both are continuous loops.

That desire to capture spring is one of the reasons I’m taking so many pictures this year. Well, that and the new phone!

I’m going to take some other ecology related book with me on Sunday in hopes of convincing them to read one or two: maybe Wallace Berry and Barbara Kingsolver. I’ve still got to finish Bound for Glory and the Civil War essays.

Spring Mosaic

I just updated my flickr photostream and added photos to my Spring 2010 set.  I thought it would make a nice mosaic. Some but not all are part of my Project 365 set.


1. The Pond in Spring, 2. 96/365 for 2010 Candy Tuft, 3. 98/365 for 2010 The Hoop House, 4. The Hoop House, 5. 92/365 for 2010 Yet Another Dogwood, 6. P4070416, 7. 97/365 for 2010 Wysteria, 8. 95/365 for 2010 Gourd in the Dogwood, 9. 94/365 for 2010 Dogwood Update, 10. 93/365 for 2010 Orchids, 11. 86/365 for 2010 Forsythia, 12. 85/365 for 2010 Camellias, 13. 81/365 for Project 2010 Early Daffodils, 14. 108/365 for 2010 Winged Beauty, 15. 107/365 for 2010 Irises, 16. 106/365 for 2010 Celebration in White!, 17. 105/365 for 2010 Wild Azalea at Morris Creek, 18. 104/365 for 2010 Honeysuckle, 19. 103/365 for 2010 Hostas, 20. P4140413, 21. P4140412, 22. 91/365 for 2010 Snowball Bush, 23. P4140409, 24. 99/365 for 2010 Jack in the Pulpit

Reading Update: April 18, 2010

I took some time to update my reading list on LibraryThing and discovered that I’ve reached 25 books.  One third of my goal!  I finished The Age of Chivalry, a National Geographic book from 1969.  I’ve got a volume about the Renaissance that I dug out of the linen closet.  But first there are books to finish: the essays about the Civil War and Bound for Glory.  I have an early reviewer book, too, and it’s on my tablet PC as a pdf file.  Books everywhere…analog and virtual! I’ve abandoned Jimmy Carter for now.

I’ve been so busy reading analog books that I haven’t turned on my Kindle for awhile and when I tried today, the battery was dead.  Out of sight, out of mind.  The analog books are much more visible!  And my goal was to work through the pile in the bedroom.

I started a new audio book as I gardened and walked today.  Blood in the Cotswold is part of Rebecca Tope’s British mystery series.   I would highly recommend the Alan Bradley books in audio: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag.  Great narrator, wonderful prose, written somewhat tongue in cheek.  I looked forward to a couple long drives to I could listen to big chunks of them.

A Slightly Disturbing Coincidence

On April 2, I posted to this blog that I had started reading Rebel, the first book in the Starbuck Chronicles, Bernard Cornwell’s Civil War series and decided to make Civil War books my theme for April.  Later that same day, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell declared April to be Confederate History Month and set off a firestorm over his failure to mention slavery.  He has since apologized. I’m sticking with my plan although and have read two books so far.

I sort of feel sorry for McDonnell.  I think he really was interested in promoting all the Civil War history that can be found in Virginia.  Just today, I was in Spotsylvania county and right along Route 3, in amongst the commercial district, is Old Salem Church, site of a Civil War battle that was part of the Chancellorsville Campaign.  The Civil War Album has good pictures, including the monument to a New Jersey unit that overlooks busy Route 3.   There are signs of the war everywhere in that part of Virginia.  I’d be happy if people did come and visit them because it might mean they will continue to be preserved.  In a rapidly expanding section of the state, it’s harder and harder to justify saving fields and viewscapes so any focus on the war would mean more preservation.  It’s a piece of history that is essential to an understanding of contemporary events.  According to historian Shelby Foote it changed the verb tense from the United States are to the United States is.  A defining moment.

In addition, the battefields are cemeteries as well.  I just finished Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, a fascinating examination of a rather odd topic.  Many bodies were simply never recovered and ended up victim to spring plowing. A culture in which death was a marked event–women wore mourning clothes for a year after the death of their husbands–was stunned by the sheer carnage of the war.  Yet they tried to maintain their practices, and after the war was over, the Union made a concerted effort to locate, identify, and, if at all possible, return bodies to their families, a massive, expensive undertaking.  The victors made no such efforts for Confederate soldiers, leaving it up to southerners to make efforts to bring their loved ones home.  The prodigal sons were not welcomed home with great rejoicing and, even though slavery ended, essential questions about states’ rights were never resolved.  There are places where the whole thing still rankles a little even after 145 years and a monument to the victors forever overlooks the defeated land.

Today, I picked up the Hornet’s Nest by Jimmy Carter, which I found at the Book Exchange, my paperback book exchange store.  I guess I missed the subtitle or was in a Civil War fog because I thought the book was about the Battle of Shiloh.  Turns out it’s actually about the Revolutionary War with a focus on a battle in northern Georgia.  A quote from The Wall Street Journal says that the book is about a piece of history “overlooked by Massachu-centric historians.”  There’s another bit of North/South rivalry.  Jon Stewart can make fun of it being so long ago but you know what they say about forgetting history.

I’m not sure I’m going to keep reading Jimmy Carter’s book.  Frankly, so far it’s not very good historical fiction.  There’s a lot of friendly lecturing from a Whig about the political situation.  I know that he needs to fill in the context but good historical fiction manages to do that in a more subtle way than simply having a character parrot definitions and describe situations.  I almost never abandon a book once I’ve begun, but I’m not that far along and I have a collection of Civil War essays along with two more Cornwell novels that fit the theme.

April also includes Earth Day and I’ve got several environmentally themed books including Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard and Life Is a Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition by Wendell Berry on the pile.  There’s also Whose Woods These Are, Michael Frome’s history of the national forest service and Mountain in the Clouds: A Search for the Wild Salmon by Bruce Brown.   Both of these came from Moyer’s Book Barn in Strasburg, PA.  I grew up nearby and when I was home in March, my parents and I took a tour of our old stomping grounds.

And Now For Something Completely Different

I finished up the Abigail Adams mystery and enjoyed it, although the nature of the crime seemed somewhat 21st century to me despite the author’s best effort to show it in an 18th century light. I figured it out along with Abigail and, as I mentioned earlier, found the depiction of Boston and its daily life to be the most interesting.

An aside on the nature of the Internet and multitasking…I began to write this post while I was rendering video.  As I wrote the post, I thought I would check to see if there were plans for another mystery in the series.  I discovered that Barbara Hamilton is actually a pseudonym of Barbara Hambly, a mostly fantasy and science fiction writer. I spent a little bit of time trying to confirm this but Wikipedia was no help at all.  Nor the Fiction Database.  There is a brief mention in a comment on Good Reads and an online bookstore lists both names as the author.  But, she has an interview with Barbara Hamilton on her website that makes it pretty clear. I’m wondering if I should update the Wikipedia entry?  I feel like I need a definitive source.  I did find the answer to my original question: There are at least two more books in the works in the series and maybe a fourth that will involve Martha Washington.

Now, I’m back from that bit of birdwalking…I edited the video and it’s rendering some more while I write.  Yesterday, I wasn’t sure what I was going to read and spent some time in the afternoon looking at the pile of books in the bedroom that were supposed to be the ones I was reading in 2010.  I have gotten through very few of them as I’ve either read new books or books from other shelves.  (The biographies, all hard backs, cleaned off half a shelf in the office.)  I was thinking about more bios: John Adams, Marie Curie, Margaret Mead, or doing a Jasper Fforde weekend with the two new ones I have, or immersing myself in English history with Sharon Kay Penman, Alison Weir, and Antonia Fraser.  But then…at the bottom of the pile in the back, there were three library books.  (As a prof at WM, I get to keep books for a year.)  They were from Bernard Cornwell’s Civil War series, The Starbuck Chronicles. I have the first three and it turns out there are five of them.  The first one–Rebel–opens in Richmond, the day after Fort Sumter and after spending some time with it this morning, that’s what I’ll be reading for the next few days.   Aah, I am relieved that I have made that decision since I’m going to sit out in the sun this afternoon and I’ll need a book in hand.

I managed to get through most of the books I had been reading since at one point I had about four going at the same time, not something I usually do, but I still haven’t finished Bound for Glory.  It’s on the Kindle but I don’t know if that’s the problem or not.

Meanwhile, the video is rendered and it’s time to move on…

Historical Fiction Mysteries

Well, the sick husband passed the cold along to me so I’ve spent a lot of time in bed for the past 72 hours.  I finished the Wyeth biography (really terrific read) and then puttered over the books to decide what to read next.  I found two mysteries that seemed like perfect sick bed reading: The Apostate’s Tale by Margaret Frazer and The Ninth Daughter by Barbara Hamilton, which features Abigail Adams.  I’ve finished the former and am half way through the latter.

Dame Frevisse is the sleuth in The Apostate’s Tale, the 18th book in the Sister Frevisse series.  She’s a nun at the priory of St. Frideswide.  The portrait of life in a 15th century priory was well drawn, and her characters were compelling.  She let us into the thoughts of both Dame Frevisse and the apostate nun who returns to the priory, dragging the outside world with her.  The side tale of a young woman considering becoming a nun is interesting in its portrait of life choices for women in that time.

The main problem I had with the book was that I had solved the mystery long before she did.  There was lots of internal questioning that seemed tedious and repetitive and you wondered that she hadn’t put it all together since the path seemed pretty clear.  But I’m willing to forgive that since the prose was good and I read these more the historical views rather than the mystery.

The Abigail Adams mystery is promising.  Whereas the Frevisse mystery did not refer to politics at all, this story is completely tied up in politics, set as it is in 1773 Massachusetts.  The Boston Tea Party looms on the horizon.  Both real and fictional characters include British army officers, Sons of Liberty, wealthy merchants and slaves.  Of course, Abigail is the sleuth and she manages to charm merchant and Army officer alike.  The author depicts daily life with careful detail and is particularly insightful about the relationships of owners and masters and their slaves and servants.

I have not had any luck figuring out the mystery.  There are lots of players and it can be a bit complicated with family connections.

Not sure what’s next after this one…I haven’t made much of a dent in the pile that I assembled in December.  John Adams still sits there.  Maybe that’s the natural follow up, a nice blending of my two latest themes: biographies and mysteries.  It’s just so imposing.  Similarly, I’m interested in the history of London that’s on the pile, but it just seems like too  much of a commitment.  I wonder if you tend to read shorter books in a year when you’re doing something like the 75-book challenge?  I do take that a bit into consideration.