Monday, December 16, 2013

Our Dangerous Life

A few weeks ago, I came downstairs to find that a pot I had put on the stove was glowing red hot and the aluminum
There are large quantities of Dihydrogen monoxide in this image
coating on the bottom was dripping in blobs into the burner. I turned the burner off and tried to recover from my shock.
This unfortunate circumstance, of course, would never have happened if all of the substance contained in the pot had not evaporated. The substance is referred to as dihydrogen monoxide.
What is dihydrogen monoxide?
It is a colorless liquid which his highly volatile at high temperatures and is capable of inflicting severe burns. In its solid state, it can cause severe tissue damage. Surprisingly enough, recent studies of this substance are showing that it is being used extensively in everyday products; most alarmingly in pesticides, nuclear power plants and the milk industry. Dihydrogen monoxide has been polluting our rivers and lakes for generations and may even be contributing to climate change. It is a key component in acid rain and can cause corrosion in many metals. Studies show that both humans and animals can become dependent on dihydrogen monoxide and athletes ingest it to increase their performance.
Deaths due to inhalation of dihydrogen monoxide number in the millions. During World War II, it was not the German torpedoes that killed sailors, it was dihydrogen monoxide. Recently many pacific countries have been hard hit when dihydrogen monoxide, which is a major component in hurricanes, tornadoes and tsunamis, ravaged their shores.
Despite all these hazards, dihydrogen monoxide is a common additive in everything from baby formula to ice cream. Industries use this substance extensively in the production of multiple household items without telling their consumers. Why? Because it’s cheap and readily available.
As alarming as it may seem, this highly dangerous substance is key to our existence. Scientists agree that without dihydrogen monoxide, life on earth would be impossible. 60% of the average
human’s body weight is dihydrogen monoxide and we require 2.2 liters a day to continue functioning normally. Being deprived of dihydrogen monoxide for just three days leads to almost certain death.
So what can you do to help? Well, nothing. Dihydrogen monoxide is constantly being renewed through the weather cycle and there are vast quantities underground and locked in the oceans. Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t ban the stuff. The most you can do is be thankful it exists.
Dihydrogen monoxide is a threat to our existence, but it is also key in supporting us. Nothing could grow without it. Scientists call it H2O, others prefer to refer to it as earth juice. Me? I just call it water.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Modernism: The world turned upsidedown

File:Campbells Soup Cans MOMA.jpg
32 Campbell's Soup Cans by Arnold Warhol

The world has lost its way with Modernism. With its vague and abstract art and stream of consciousness literature, it has lost touch with anything real or solid. C. S. Lewis once said, “Reason is the natural order of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.” Modernism has lost regularity and in attempting to change meaning has lost meaning; by its own definition it cannot be defined. Language is disputed and art left up to interpretation leading into potential chaos. The modern world is a place where paintings of Campbell’s soup cans will hang in an art museum to be praised by critics or modernistic blotches of color like ‘Le rideau jaune’ by Henri Matisse will be considered for their inner meaning. They are a far cry from the tangible reality of the ‘Arnolfini Portrait’ by Jan van Eyck or the ‘Mona Lisa’ by Leonardo Da Vinci.

Until Modernists can decide upon the definition of reality, Modernism cannot contribute anything real to the world.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

.Poe vs. Longfellow.

Edgar Allan Poe was brilliant. Nobody can deny it. When we find ourselves adrift in The Raven, we read it to the end with baited breath and almost wish for more. Nothing could match those flowing, perfectly balanced lines. But there was only one problem with Poe’s brilliance; he knew it was there. “My whole nature utterly revolts at the idea that there is any Being in the universe superior to myself!”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow has stood as one of American’s most beloved poets. He looked like a salt fresh from the sea with his mane of white hair and the white beard he never shaved because of the disfiguring burns to his face he sustained after his wife’s dress caught fire one winter evening. He was a fireside poet, a poet people quoted in their homes and thought of when the rain, “clatters along the roofs, Like the tramp of hoofs.”  During his life, he was the most popular poet in America.

Edgar Allan Poe accused him of being an imitator and waged what his biographer’s called ‘The Longfellow War’. At first, Poe praised Longfellow, calling him America’s best poet, but soon, he called him, “a determined imitator and a dextrous adapter of the ideas of other people.” It has been speculated that Poe did it to boost the readership of the journal of which he was the editor.

Longfellow has been called an imitator of Tennyson by more than Poe. I’m not a poet, nor am I an English major, yet, when I read some of Longfellow’s lines, I know he must have been a genus. 

“I remember the black wharves and the ships,
 And the sea-tides tossing free;
 And Spanish sailors with bearded lips,
 And the beauty and mystery of the ships,
 And the magic of the sea.…”

Even if Longfellow was not America’s greatest poet, he was America’s dearest. Perhaps he did imitate others, but all great men stand on the shoulders of those who came before. The mathematicians stand on the shoulders of the mathematicians, the scientists on the scientists. It must be that poetry has been built upon poetry. Even Poe must have stood on the shoulders of those who came before; he must have read Jane Austen, Milton and Shakespeare like the rest of us. Poe was brilliant, but he was very egotistical; Longfellow on the other hand, was more humble. In the end, Poe was loved, but Longfellow was loved the most.  
When Poe’s short, unhappy life ended on October 7, 1849, after he was found delirious in the streets of Baltimore, Longfellow mourned his death.

 "What a melancholy death is that of Mr. Poe,” he wrote, “a man so richly endowed with genius! I never knew him personally, but have always entertained a high appreciation of his powers as a prose-writer and a poet... The harshness of his criticisms, I have never attributed to anything but the irritation of a sensitive nature, chafed by some indefinite sense of wrong."

“The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
From an eagle in his flight.…”

Sunday, October 13, 2013

IT Rock, or a tale of two fawns

This is a little story I wrote back when I was ten. We have a lot of deer in our area and one of the does gave birth to twins one year. It was terribly exciting to watch them grow up and see their spots disappear. I wrote this story after we saw them eating mushrooms in our backyard.
A faun Rose spotted this summer
Two fawns stood with their mother under a spreading oak tree. The bigger and stronger one was named Kona after his father, the great stag Kona, and the smaller and more cautious one was named Sennetta after her mother.

It was a hot day and Kona was restless. “Mama, may Sennetta and I go discover something?”

Mama laughed, “Yes, but you have to be very alert, and you must come back for supper. Don’t get into a fight with anything.”

So, five minuets later Kona and Sennetta found themselves on a very exciting exploration of the woods.

“Kona, do you have any idea what we are going to be discovering?” Sennetta asked.

“No, but IT is something very exciting.”  Kona answered decidedly.  IT must be something very exciting he thought, or they would not be trying to find IT.

A few minutes later Sennetta asked, “Does IT have teeth?“

Kona answered, “Probably not, but if IT does, we shall fight IT.“

“But Mother told us not to get into a fight with anything,“ Sennetta reminded him.

“IT is probably friendly,‘’ Kona supposed, “So we will not have to fight IT. “

   After walking for a little while they came to a pretty meadow with a large, flat boulder.

“Oh, look!“ cried Sennetta. “This must be what we are going to discover.”

They bounded towards IT and Kona jumped up on top of IT.

“This must be IT!” Kona yelled, “This just has to be IT!“

“We should name IT, Kona,” Sennetta suggested.

“Yes, we must name IT, … something clever.”

So, they sat on the rock thinking and finally decided on “IT Rock.”

A little later they decided to eat lunch. Kona loved mushrooms, so they left the pretty meadow to find some.

Eventually they came to a very large box at the edge of the woods where some strange upright creatures lived.  Mama had taken the fawns to this place many times.

“Oh, good! This place has mushrooms,” cried Kona. So he left the woods to eat some.

“Watch out! They might have bang-bang sticks,” warned Senneta.

“Not this place. Mama said they didn’t.”

After they had eaten lunch, they went back home for supper. Mama asked, “So, what did you discover?”

“We discovered a big rock which we called, IT Rock, and we ate mushrooms for lunch,” explained Kona.




Monday, October 7, 2013

My deer mouse

I had a mouse, once...

A genuine image of Stewart
Actually, it was a couple years ago, now, back when I still volunteered at the vet's office. I started fainting and that put an end to it...anyway, the vet gave me a half drowned mouse that someone had brought in. He was a very little mouse and we named him Stewart. He was only a baby, but he grew fast. I looked him up and discovered that he was a deer mouse, which prompted this very peculiar and rather embarrassing letter that I wrote to him sometime after he ran away. It goes as follows:

Deer mouse,

I imagine you are romping in mousey heaven with all the other little mousies who were loved at one time or another by little girls with big imaginations. I think about you a lot and wonder how you made out after you slipped my clutches (ungrateful, miserable, uncalled for…)

Though you are cute, you are a species of Peromyscus maniculatus, a rodent of North America. You are gray and furry and have a white tummy, which is darling. You are a mammal, albeit a small one, others of your extended family never grow more than four inches from tip to tail; you were a bit smaller when I knew you.

When I first saw you your head was bigger than the rest of you and all together you were shorter than my pinkie. You were probably only a week old when you were washed out of your nest and brought in by a cat. I probably never should have taken you in, seeing as you and your kind are carriers of Lyme Disease and hantaviruses… but you were so cute! I wonder if the people of England were so easily taken in when Bubonic plague broke out in London. I can’t help imagining how many people have died due to your innocent guile… it’s not surprising that folk have taken to setting traps and keeping cats.  

You seemed to forget so quickly how kind I was to you. I fed you on warm milk at first and even gave you cheese, though you turned your nose up at it. You seemed to like carrots and the occasional blackberry and you collected all the pieces and kept them stashed away at one end of your toilet paper tube. Storing up for winter, eh?

I could hear you chirping at night in your box like a little bird and sometimes you’d make scratching noises and I’d be afraid that you would figure out how to escape and end up haunting the house. You never did, you might be an adorable, fuzzy, little thing, but your brains are only about the size of a pea… which might explain why mice can fit through holes the diameter of a ballpoint pen, their skulls deforming because there really isn’t much inside of them.

Unfortunately, you stink and you’re a terrible housekeeper. It was when I was changing your bedding that you ran away. Fortunately I was outside at the time and watched you scamper under the porch, a brave little mouse.

I saw you again on the woodpile some weeks later, a little furry ball, industriously eating a seed. I will never see you again and no doubt you’re dead, seeing as you could only live two years at the most, but I’ll always remember your bright little eyes, your tiny tail and your little fragile paws.

You may be very small, but you are exquisitely made, putting the lie to the idea that small things are less complicated than the large ones.

Rest in peace,

I hope it wasn’t the neighborhood cat,

Best wishes,

Monday, September 30, 2013

Nothing New Under the Sun

What do Alfred Hitchcock and my first time acting in a play have in common? I shall attempt to explain.

Thisbe listening to Pyramus through the wall
Last night, we watched 'The Man Who Knew Too Much', which is a rather classic Alfred Hitchcock thriller. Unfortunately for me, it wasn't the one I wanted to see. Alfred Hitchcock remade just about every movie he ever made, so I got to see his first version of 'The Man Who Knew Too Much' rather than his last version (which is the one I really wanted to see).

Remakes are certainly not new things. Ecclesiastes 1:9 says quite eloquently, "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." which has been paraphrased so many times many of us have probably forgotten where it came from. Nothing new, eh? Shakespeare loved to write about things that had already happened; in fact, Romeo and Juliet is a remake of a much earlier play, Pyramus and Thisbe, which the Romans like to observe and has the same old theme of forbidden love and two people who accidentally kill themselves because they think the other is already dead...

Whatever it is, Humankind seems doomed to repeat things. There’s this philosophy that if it’s not broken, don’t fix it, but most times there’s a repetition of actions with an expectation of different results…which sounds like madness to me. I don’t know how many people have tried to take over the world, but there have been many, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolph Hitler and sometimes things get just weirdly repetitious like both Napoleon and Hitler meeting destruction in the Russian winter.

But I haven’t mentioned my first time acting in a play, so consider it mentioned. I was eight years old and scared to death and Rose was even scareder. I remember getting out onto the stage and seeing everyone grinning in the audience below. With a terrible and wonderful mix of fear and exhilaration I began to speak. We were doing a scene from A Midsummer’s Night Dream and I was playing Flute who was playing Thisbe. I can only remember one of my lines.

“I’ll meet thee Pyramus at Ninnies tomb…”


Monday, September 23, 2013

Urban Legends

Ichabod Crane fleeing the Headless Horseman
An urban legend is a tale told through the years by many different people; normally the author is unknown and no one is really quite sure whether to believe it or not. The Old English epic poem ‘Beowulf’ is a good example; during the time parts of England were under the control of Denmark, the story became familiar. Even today some people in northern Yorkshire still believe in ‘Grindylows’ or water spirits living in their streams and swamps.

 The story of the Headless Horseman is one American urban legend I’ve always liked. The story went that a dead Hessian soldier left over from the American Revolution rode around with his head under his arm; Washington Irving turned it into a practical joke when he wrote ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’. Even ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ by Sir Arthur Conon Doyle was based on the ‘Yeth Hound’, an urban legend that still runs wild in Devon, England today.

Like the ‘Canterbury Tales’ by Geoffrey Chaucer, ‘The Decameron’ is a set of short, moral stories that were half-way to becoming urban legends even in their day. Boccaccio began creating ‘The Decameron’ in 1350, but probably even before he was through people half believed his tales had really happened. They would have been passed from person to person like an old version of a ‘chain email’. The Decameron contains everything from tragedies to practical jokes. The themes that occur in The Decameron are old ones and have been used since by as diverse writers as Edgar Allen Poe and Longfellow in his ‘Tales of a Wayside Inn’.

Urban legends come in all shapes and sizes, from the Loch Ness Monster to the Mermaids Columbus swore he saw; even if we don’t quite believe they’re real, they make our world just a little more interesting. Anyone seen the Half Moon sailing up the Hudson, or The Flying Dutchman racing over the seven seas? No? Maybe you still will.


PS: I wrote this for a humanities assignment, so if it seems unorganized and strange, that's why. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Very Unexpected Adventure

Yes, I dropped into Middle Earth and took this picture myself

Yes, I've finally gotten around to watching 'An Unexpected Adventure' and liked it so much, I'd like to watch the next one in a theater.

Curiously enough, the trilogy The Lord of the Rings seemed to me like Tolkien's second attempt at The Hobbit; now The Hobbit is Peter Jackson's second attempt at The Lord of the Rings.

At first glance the thing that hit me immediately was the incredible attention to detail at every turn. I'm sure The Lord of the Rings had a similar attention to detail, but perhaps seeing The Hobbit on a better screen made me more aware. The filmmakers left nothing to chance like they did with The Lord of the Rings; I had the distinct impression that they knew what they were doing this time. The script was thoughtful and the visual effects were honestly stunning; light years ahead of the somewhat cumbersome work in its predecessors. I'll probably never tire of watching the wind ripple through the CGI feathers of the eagles in the final scenes.

The casting is excellent. Through the movie's nearly three hour run time I didn't notice a spot of bad acting. I'll never forgive Viggo Mortensen's horrific acting, or Liv Tyler's; Even Elijah Wood with his iridescent eyes was bland. In contrast, Martin Freeman as Bilbo was a streak of genus and I don't wonder at Jackson's persistence in getting him to accept the part. The thirteen dwarfs (oh wait, that's 'dwarves' isn't it?) are in a category of their own. Peter Jackson put off making the Hobbit for so long because of the dwarves; it was going to be a little like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, only worse. I was frankly lost in the novel what with Filis and Kilis, Gloins and Oins running about in an unordered mass. Fortunately, the wait paid off; each of the dwarves has a distinct personality and appearance, breaking into little pieces the rule that all dwarves must be fat, dumpy and ugly. The fan girls must be pleased.

When I first read The Hobbit back when I was twelve, I was disappointed. The plot seemed a little pointless; it appeared that it was just a pack of greedy dwarves off to take back a treasure that wasn't entirely theirs (killing the dragon wasn't even in the mix). In the film (actually, I shouldn't call it that) a new meaning has been infused; there's more at stake than the gold, and adding the subplots from the appendices (which I have not read) is extremely intriguing.

Of course with all its strong points, there are weak points as well. Like The Lord of the Rings the thing moves slowly in places and the battle scenes are often excessive and less than believable. I don't mind a few dead enemies, but our heroes plow through hundreds of them in a death defying manner and come out without a scratch at the other end (their swords are still shiny, too). I understand they have to leave the blood out in order to keep it PG-13, but wouldn't a few high quality sword fights have been better?

I watched the movie a second time (which is unusual for me), doing my own editing and ended up enjoying it even more than the first time around. There are a few scenes from The Lord of the Rings that I'll always remember; the Charge of Rohirrim, with the very earth shaking under my feet and the frankly heart rending death of Boromir, but now, I'll also be remembering the hauntingly beautiful Over the Misty Mountains Cold sung in the rumbling voices of the actors themselves.

To put it in a nutshell, I enjoyed it and I'm awaiting the next installment eagerly.


PS: You've probably all seen this, but I couldn't help putting it in...

Friday, September 6, 2013

But One Life

I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.

File:Nathan Hale Signature.svg

One of the most interesting parts of the American Revolution is the extensive collection of spy rings who gathered intelligence for the continental army. The Culper spy ring was one of these, one of the best.

This ring managed to continue to successfully send information to General Washington throughout the war. A major feat, considering that the countryside was occupied by the enemy, who kept as much control on the travel of the inhabitants as possible. 
The Culper ring was started in November of 1778 by Major Benjamin Tallmadge under direct orders of General Washington. Major Tallmadge was also to report the gathered intelligence directly to General Washington.
The ring was to target New York City, which was, at that time, the headquarters of the British army. This information would give the American continental army a badly needed advantage over the British forces.
The continental army was greatly inferior to British army. They were untrained, had lesser numbers and inferior weaponry. The Americans needed every advantage they could get to survive, let alone win, the war.
Major Tallmadge, a Yale graduate and an officer in the Second Continental Light Dragoons, was an ideal choice. He had been born on Long Island and had many trusted friends who still lived there. Many of the agents involved in transmitting the information were among Major Tallmadge’s friends.   
The first member of the Culper ring was a man by the name of Abraham Woodhull. Major Tallmadge gave him the code name ‘Samuel Culper, Senior’ from which the ring derived its name. Major Tallmadge was referred to as John Bolton within the ring. General Washington was known as agent 711. Washington never had direct contact with any of his spies, except Major Tallmadge who only handled the spy rings.  
Abraham Woodhull became a ‘receiver’ of information from the agents inside New York City. He then sent the information to Major Tallmadge, who would then report to General Washington.
One of the agents inside New York City was known only as Samuel Culper, Junior until 1930, when handwriting expert finally connected Culper Junior’s handwriting with that of Robert Townsend, a Quaker merchant whose business was in New York City.
Robert Townsend was, again, in an ideal situation. He was a Quaker, which meant that he was supposed to be against war, but like many Quakers of the time, he chose to take a side. He was a merchant, which put him in contact with many people. Townsend was also an amateur journalist and wrote occasionally for the New York Royal Gazette, a strongly Tory newspaper. Robert Townsend continued to write and publish pro British articles to mask the fact that he was actually working for the patriots.
In 1959, it was proved that the printer James Rivington, who was the publisher of the Royal Gazette, was actually a patriot working with Culper Junior gathering information. James Rivington never told of his activities, so he was always hated as a ‘Tory’ and died in poverty, despised by his fellow Americans.
Because James Rivington was the printer of and Robert Townsend was a reporter for a Tory newspaper, they were trusted by the pro British population of New York and made the acquaintance of many British officers, one of whom was Major John Andre.
Major Andre was a British spy connected to the defection of General Benedict Arnold, who was later captured and executed by the Americans. James Rivington published Major Andre’s poetry and gained much information from him without his knowledge.
The intermediate between Culper, Senior and Culper, Junior was a tavern keeper named Austen Roe who purchased his supplies from Robert Townsend. This gave them a way to send secret information in unsuspicious legitimate packages, often of regular blank paper.
Culper Junior had a secret ink, which he used to write his messages to Culper, Senior. This ink was invented by Sir James Jay, an English doctor whose hobby was chemistry. Sir James just happened to be the brother of John Jay, who was an influential patriot working with General Washington in intelligence and counterintelligence.
If the ink was used, the writing, which was invisible, would only appear if treated with its developer. Other chemicals would not reveal the writing and neither would heat. Major Tallmadge was the only person who possessed the developer and Culper, Junior was the only person who possessed the ink, so that if the spies’ houses were searched by the British, only one chemical, if discovered, would not be able to be identified as easily if it did not have its developer with it.
Culper, Junior sent his communications to Austin Roe, who would then deliver them to Culper, Senior. This he did by putting the papers in a box and burying the box on Culper, Senior’s farm. Culper, Senior then recovered the papers.
After Culper Senior received a communication from Culper, Junior through Austin Roe, he would watch for the signal that would tell him that next leg of the journey of the information was ready. This was done in a very interesting manner.
Anna Smith Strong was the wife of a man who had been jailed by the British for “surreptitious communication with the enemy.” She lived within sight of Culper, Senior’s farm and was in communication with a certain Caleb Brewster, who was a blacksmith.
However, Caleb Brewster was not just a blacksmith. He also owned a whaleboat and was an accomplished boatman. He would prepare his boat and tell Anna Strong where his boat was hidden. She would then hang out her clothes on her line in a prearranged pattern which would tell Culper, Senior where the boat was.
Caleb Brewster took the messages through the British lines to the waiting currier, who then brought the messages to Major Tallmadge. Major Tallmadge developed the ink and reported to General Washington.  
Like the Culpers, most of the agents of the Culper ring were civilians, the identities of many are still not known today. Some, though, were dragoons under Tallmadge’s command. One in particular was Elijah Churchill.    
Churchill became involved in the transmission of information and orders between Major Tallmadge, Culper, Junior and Culper, Senior. Elijah Churchill later became the first recipient of the Badge of Military Merit that would eventually become the Purple Heart medal. 
Tallmadge also had another connection to American espionage, which may have contributed to his motivation. He was a close friend of Nathan Hale, an American spy who was executed in 1776 by the British after having been caught in disguise on Long Island. It was Hale who said, ‘I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.’
These words are some of the most famous to have come out of the war for American independence and Hale was not alone in his sentiments. Every member of the American intelligence was working at risk of their lives for the survival of their country. Some, like Hale, did lose their lives.  
The stories of these brave people were so well guarded that we may never know everything that happened, but the stories of the secrets are always the most intriguing. The unsung heroes are often the most important ones.    


If you are interested in why the picture that is so obviously George Washington is labeled Dort, it's a long story. It refers to a time when Rose loved Curious George, but couldn't quite say George. She managed only Dort and Dort remains a running joke in our family. Even the illustrious Washington has not escaped this fate.

Monday, September 2, 2013


Every year, around the end of August and the beginning of September, I wake up at the crack of dawn and sit shivering in the dew with my camera at the ready. I thought, because we've gotten to that time of year again, I'd share a bit about my love of butterflies.

Butterflies, as you probably know, are insects of the order Lepidoptera. They can be found anywhere from the grassy slopes of snow frosted mountains to the flowers of a cactus. They range from the tiny Barber's Blue with its half inch wingspan to the Queen Alexandra's Birdwing with brown and blue painted wings reaching a foot across or more. Some butterflies, like the Monarch, fly on migrations taking them more than two thousand miles.

With their elegantly colored wings and graceful bodies, butterflies are remarkably beautiful; often depicted in art and mythology. In many cultures butterflies symbolize the soul. In Greek the word for butterfly is ‘psyche’, which means ‘soul’...sound familiar? Yes! That's my username. If you didn't already know, Psyche was a character in a Greek myth which involved Venus, the jealous mother and her son, Cupid, getting nicked by his own arrow and falling in love with you-know-who...
 Butterflies also symbolize rebirth or reawakening because of their peculiar life cycle. Butterflies undergo metamorphosis, which literally means ‘change form’. You might happen to see a leaf with tiny white eggs, glued there by the female. In the due process of time, usually a few weeks, the eggs will hatch and you will not see butterflies climbing out. The next stage of life is the larvae, or caterpillar, which literally means ‘hairy cat’. The caterpillar is jointed, with a set of suction cups front and back for a good grip. If butterflies differ from each other, caterpillars do, too. The Monarchs is very flashy in black and yellow, while the Saddleback caterpillar looks otherworldly, resembling something like a cross between a porcupine and a hotdog topped with relish and ketchup. Once they hatch, the caterpillars begin to eat, starting with their eggshells; then they mow down your garden. Caterpillars are eating machines and spend almost all their time at it. They grow substantially in a very short amount of time, going from almost microscopic to well over an inch depending on the species.  
The final transformation is the most spectacular. As time passes, the chrysalis grows transparent and at last, bursts open, releasing an insect with a pair of damp colorful pads on its back. Fluid is pumped from the butterfly’s abdomen into a network of veins, and slowly the pads turn into a pair of beautiful wings which soon solidify. At last, the butterfly takes flight flashing through the sky like a wayward flower.

A butterfly’s natural purpose in life is not simply to please the eye, but also to pollinate flowers. A butterfly exists almost solely off the nectar found in flowers and in return, the butterfly carries off the means of continuing the flower, pollen. 

The butterfly has puzzled and fascinated every culture on earth, from the Egyptians of 3500 years ago to the present world, and has served as an allegorical subject of literature and art. They take flight in the realms of fantasy and their wing structures are studied for improved aircraft designs. A butterfly is also an often used symbol of spiritual rebirth, seeming to almost perfectly represent man’s journey from a wormlike sinner to a new man, changed by God.

Every summer I watch butterflies undergo their marvelous cycles. This past summer, I saw a clouded yellow and several monarch butterflies emerge from their chrysalises to grace the world with their beauty. I saw them cling to plant stems or house walls, their jewel-like eyes glowing and feathered wings quivering in the wind.  At last they left me, fluttering away, wings flashing sunlight, and my heart going with them as they coursed the breezes on the front lawn. 


Friday, August 23, 2013

Phyllis Wheatly

Phyllis Wheatly courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Phyllis Wheatly was born in what is now Gambia in 1753. She was captured and brought to Boston aboard the slave ship Phyllis. When she was nine, she was sold to the wealthy John Wheatly as a servant for his wife, Suzanna. She was named Phyllis after the ship and given the surname Wheatly as was the custom of the time. The Wheatly’s were kind to her, treating her almost as a daughter.
The Wheatly’s son and daughter taught Phyllis how to read and write and by the time she was twelve, she was able to read Greek and Latin.  The Wheatlys encouraged her, allowing her to study instead of working for them. Phyllis was one of the first American poets, famously writing a poem to George Washington and being invited to his house when she was still a slave.
Her greatest poem is considered to be On Being Brought from Africa to America, which shows not resentment for her enslavement, but thankfulness for her education and most of all, her conversion to Christianity. Her life was difficult, but she showed a willingness to overcome the unconquerable and strive for the unreachable. Her legacy is an inspiration for all Americans.
Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there's a God, that there's a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
"Their colour is a diabolic dye."
Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,
May be refin'd, and join th' angelic train.


Friday, August 9, 2013

The Purloined Detective

File:Edgar Allan Poe portrait B.jpg
Edgar Allan Poe
Who knows who the most famous man who never lived was? – Everyone shouts in chorus, “Sherlock Holmes of course!” Sir Arthur Conon Doyle, the creator of Holmes, was a bit of a Holmes himself with perhaps a dash of Doctor Watson. It’s often thought that Doyle created the detective story with his creative and frankly thrilling narratives such as The Red Headed League, Silver Blaze and The Hound of the Baskervilles.

But it wasn’t Doyle at all…it was Poe, Edgar Allan Poe. The same Poe who so movingly told of lost love in the poems Annabelle Lee and The Raven also wrote The Purloined Letter, The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Mystery of Marie Rogêt forty years before Doyle began publishing in the Strand. C. Auguste Dupin is Poe’s detective and the baffled Paris police seek his advice while his faithful unnamed friend narrates. All the aspects that set apart Sir Arthur Conon Doyle’s work are in these stories; systematic logic and seemingly impossible situations that are somehow possible. One has only to change the names to have three new Sherlock Holmes stories.

Sir Arthur Conon Doyle
Sir Arthur Conon Doyle certainly wrote some amazing stories, but like nearly all writers, he was standing on the shoulders of one who came before. Poe might have invented the detective story, but Doyle raised it out of obscurity while horrifying and delighting his readers for decades.       


Thursday, August 1, 2013

More about our username

We've always been fascinated by the story of Cupid and Psyche ever since we got a hold of the sumptuously illustrated book by M. Charlotte Craft. It's originally a Greek tale, but it's a story that transcends the ages. It's been retold again and again in varying forms like Beauty and the Beast or the Black Bull of Norway.

But our love of the story was really cemented when we read Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis.

Till We Have Faces is not the retelling of Cupid and Psyche, it is the story of the troubled sister watching from a distance. Reading this story was like looking from the outside in; the view of a non-Christian of the beautiful, but mysterious joy of the Christian. It is a breathtaking story told in a style completely unlike Lewis, bringing together the light and dark of a legend of ancient Greece, with a deeper understanding of human nature.

"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." ~1 Corinthians 13:12

Though neither of us are remotely like Psyche or her sister, we felt something that reflected them was a fitting name for us.

~Rose and Psyche

P.S. Unless otherwise specified, you can pretty much assume that all the photographs on this blog were taken by us.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Great Exhibition

File:Crystal Palace from the northeast from Dickinson's Comprehensive Pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851. 1854.jpg
The Crystal Palace courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
And saw thim walls, And glittering halls, Thim rising slendther columns, Which I poor pote, Could not denote, No, not in twinty vollums… This Palace tall, This Cristial Hall, Which Imperors might covet, Stands in High Park, Like Noah's Ark, A rainbow bint above it.
~ William Makepeace Thackeray

It was Prince Albert who had the bright idea of a world’s fair. France had just had the highly successful French Industrial Exposition of 1844 and England couldn’t be outdone. They were going to have a world’s fair, not just a fair for the country.

Fairs were old hat, they’d been around since the dawn of time. Exhibitions were a little newer; the first one was in London in 1756 with the novel name of the First Exhibition. It had live artists like Reynolds, Wilson, Cosway and Roubiliac on display, not to mention their paintings. After that there was a whole slew, one through seven, of exhibitions in Paris, displaying their manufacturing might and in 1829, there was the American Institute Fair, founded "for the encouragement of agriculture, commerce, manufactures, and the arts." There were a couple after that in Sardinia and numbers eight through eleven in France.

But this was going to be a world’s fair. Queen Victoria was on the throne and England had never been in finer form; even France couldn’t match her industrial might. The fair had to be splendid and it had to be housed in a splendid building. They picked Hyde Park, a spot in London, the world’s biggest city, for the building site and erected the Crystal Palace.

File:Broad Walk in Hyde Park, by Park Lane - - 788977.jpg
Hyde Park courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
It must have been lovely, the sunlight glittering off the glass and cast iron that made it. The ceiling was twenty-seven feet tall, plenty big enough to house the full sized elm trees they planted inside. Queen Elizabeth noted to the Duke of Wellington that there were an awful lot of sparrows in there. The Duke proposed a solution, “sparrowhawks, ma’am.”

But the most important thing was that the Crystal Palace was large enough to house the first world’s fair. The American Institute Fair picked up and came over the Pond and others were not to be outdone. Exhibits from Australia, India, New Zealand, Denmark, France and Switzerland moved in, bringing with them things like looms, envelope machines, kitchen appliances, steel-making displays, the world's biggest known diamond, the precursor to today's fax machine, Colt’s marvelous revolvers and a   barometer that used leeches.
The fair was a success. Over six million people flooded in to see the sights, equivalent to one third of Britain’s population. Lots of notables came, not to mention Samuel Colt, Charles Darwin, members of the Orléanist Royal Family and the writers Charlotte Brontë, Lewis Carroll and George Eliot. At the opening on May 1, 2,500 tickets were sold, the total that had been printed for the day. England raked in the dough, in total four and a half million shillings, £19,580,504 in today’s money, or roughly $31,659,687.77, more than enough to pay back what it had coast.

It was all over by October and the United States, Australia, India, New Zealand, Denmark, France and Switzerland packed up and left. The surplus money from the fair was used to build the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum, all located in Albertopolis south of Hyde Park. Once they were done, there was still some money left over, so it was used to set up an educational trust to provide grants and scholarships for industrial research. It continues to do so today.

The fair was so popular, it was decided that the Crystal Palace would hold a permanent exhibit. It was
relocated to Sydenham, south of London. Because people just couldn’t leave it alone it was outfitted with two railway stations between 1857 and 1864. The Crystal Palace held the world’s first world’s fair, so it seemed fitting that it held the world’s first cat show in 1871. There was a poem written for it in 1851 and another in 1909. In 1911 it housed the Festival of Empire to celebrate the coronation of George V. During the First World War, it served as a naval training facility under the name of HMS Victory VI. Most people slipped up and called it the HMS Crystal Palace instead. It burned down in 1936.  
This is a cat

The Great Exposition was the first of many world’s fairs, the most famous and largest of which, was probably the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1892, which had not one building, but two hundred. We have never seen another like it. The Eiffel Tower, one of France’s most famous landmarks, is a relic of another world’s fair, the Exposition Universelle of 1889.

Since then World’s Fairs have been held more often than the Olympics. They pop up all over the place, Ecuador, New Zealand, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Panama, India, just to name a few. Just think of a country, and it’s probably had one. There’s even one in Milan in 2015, if you’d like to go, and there was one in South Korea last year, if you want to think about where you could have gone.   

And it was all Prince Albert’s idea.     


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Building a model of the Fair American

"...without a Respectable Navy, Alas America!" -Captain John Paul Jones, 17 October 1776, in a letter to Robert Morris.
I’ve had this project I’ve been working on for nearly four years now and still haven’t finished. Yes, I procrastinate, but most of the time has been spent in research.
The project is a solid hulled model of an American privateer from around 1780. The model originally belonged to my grandfather, but he died back when I was three and I have no memories of him. Since starting the project, I’ve had this weird feeling of getting to know him. Somehow doing something he would have loved to do makes me feel a little closer to him.
Now, a little background.
Fair AmericanIn 1776, when Thomas Jefferson penned the famous lines of the Declaration of Independence and the Continental Congress declared the thirteen American Colonies independent, America was at war with Britain, the greatest power on earth, in a conflict that became known as the American Revolution. America won the war in 1783 through the heroism of many American men and after a train of events that were no less then miraculous.
Some of these heroic men were the American privateersmen.
A Privateer is a ship outfitted for war with a letter-of-marque. A letter-of –marque was permission from a king or governor granted to the captain of the Privateer allowing him to take prizes and sink ships, providing they sailed under the flag of an enemy. It was simply legal piracy…in fact, in earlier days many of the renown pirates who sailed the seven seas held letters-of-marque.
Fair American
Over two thousand privateers took part in the American Revolution. They sank or captured sixteen British frigates and almost three thousand British merchant ships, contributing many supplies to the commander of the continental army, General Washington.
The Colonies founded a navy in 1775, which linked some privateers together into a more organized body, as well as adding gunboats and other small warships that were built under the supervision of Benedict Arnold. Regardless of the navy, the privateers won the glory. The number of ships that were specifically built for the navy dwindled in size from thirty-four ships to seven.   
It was hardly difficult for America to start turning out well-built, efficient ships for use as privateers. By the
Fair American
time of the Revolution one third of all vessels operating for England were built in the American Colonies and from 1700-1775 the averaged size for a ship launched from American shipyards had increased from four thousand tons to thirty five thousand.
Perhaps this is why, when privateers were being built in the early years of the Revolution, they were simply armed merchant men. As the British navy moved in to patrol the coasts of America, the slow heavy privateers suffered great losses. The heavy merchant men were replaced by a new breed of privateer. 
The privateer had to fit many requirements. She had to be fast enough to overtake another vessel, or run when a larger force attempted to take her. She had to be stiff and strong to carry the great expanse of sail necessary to make her fast and she had to be a good sailor, safe and weatherly in a storm or calm.
Fair AmericanA privateer could be as small as a single masted sloop and as large as a small three masted frigate. Most were two masted brigs and schooners.
The Fair American was a brig. A brig is small, with two masts, fore and main. She is rigged with square sails. 
The Fair American had a length of sixty-eight feet and a beam of twenty-four feet. She had sixteen guns and a crew of one hundred twenty, more men then would normally be needed to man her, because some extra men were needed to man a prize.
The Fair American was captured by the British somewhere between 1780 and 1781 and caused a bit of a stir when she came into port in England. In 18th century terms, she was state-of-the-art, far faster and more agile than anything the English had. Detailed plans of her hull were drawn up and when those plans were discovered more recently, some people had the bright idea to make a model out of her.

Fair AmericanThe model I’m in possession of is the 1952 Model Shipways solid hulled model of the Fair American. It wasn’t supposed to be a difficult model, but to me, after building only one other scale wooden model, the Bluenose (which you may hear about some other time), it was quite hard enough. None of the pieces, except the hull, was pre cut, and my father and I had to draw patterns on blocks of wood and whittle away at them with a carving knife and a band saw. We made them out of cherry, which is one of the hardest woods (no joke).
The hull of a privateer would have been made by first laying the keel, or backbone, of the ship, and bolting U-shaped frames, or ribs, to it. After the frame was up, long planks would have been steamed until they were bendable and bolted lengthwise on the frame. Then the gaps between the planks would have been filled with hemp and tar to waterproof the hull.
Fair AmericanModel Shipways provided me with a roughly shaped solid hull, so I was spared the arduous work of a shipyard, though models built from the keel up can be acquired.
The bow rails were perhaps the hardest to carve. Ships have nearly always been covered with unnecessary decorations and in the 17th and 18th centuries, ships were sometimes covered with intricate carvings and gold leaf. The Vasa, a 17th century Swedish man-o-war capsized because her massive stern castle over balanced her. She was refloated in the ‘60’s and is the oldest complete ship on land anywhere in the world.
I painted the bottom of the hull white, with a black stripe above the waterline. I left the outside of the bulwarks natural, but in actuality, they would have been painted brown. Painting the hull white was possibly inaccurate because white paint at the time usually dried with a yellowish tint and was very expensive.
Fair AmericanBut despite all the setbacks of building the hull, the rigging has been the hardest thing of all. There would literally have been miles of rope on a full-sized Brig and while I’m not dealing miles it’s still daunting. I’ve been doing rigging for the past two years.
The Fair American has been a lot of fun, and though it still is not finished, I have learned a lot from the building. I have learned history, ship designs from the time and most of all; I have learned patience from the hours of laborious work that have gone into the model. Someday, I hope a full sized replica will be built and I will really get to see the Fair American all sails set and a bone in her teeth.

But, if you're interested in ships of the time period that are big enough to go aboard, you could visit the US Brig Niagara, or the HMS Victory, or the USS Constitution. The Lady Washington is a movie star you might recognize from Pirates of the Caribbean and the HMS Surprise sailed the seas in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Unfortunately, the Bounty sank last year, but there's still the Friendship of Salem and the Fame and the Sultana.
"We sailed and we sailed and kept good cheer, For not a British frigate could o’ercome the privateer.”
- Old Sea Shanty


Friday, July 12, 2013

A bit more about us

We started this blog to share our love of well...everything... with anyone who happens to stop by, which would mean you, if you're reading this. I want to talk about writing...write about writing, actually, because I love writing.

Not long ago, I went to a discovery day at a college in our area (I'm actually attending that humble institution at this moment) and got to sit in on a sample writing class. Our teacher handed out some books and told us to search through and find five verbs, five adjectives and five nouns.

I came up with five nouns: deep, trawler, moment, star, farm
five verbs: changed, running, peek, breathing, ruled
and five adjectives: brief, brilliant, beautiful, smooth, lazy

By this point, I was wise to her, so I guess I was cheating a little, because I knew she was going to tell us to write something surrounding those words. It's a great exercise, really, something that's definitely worthwhile to try. Even if you don't think you can write, give it a go, you'll stretch your imagination a little further.

I wrote away happily, wondering what everyone else was creating out of the words they had selected. When I write, even a short story, I find its important to create a background, to put more in than I write down. As I wrote, I could see a sweeping hill, a barn, a curve of beach and the ocean running into the distance.

I think I was done before most everybody, some people read their creations and I sat there, getting more and more nervous. There's something about being last I always like, it's a little like putting a period at the end of a sentence, or dotting an 'i'.

With a pounding heart, I read what I had written and when I had finished, there was a dead silence in the room.

This is what I wrote:

The last stars were fading from the sky when the smooth fingers of the tide lifted the fishing trawler from the beech and set it floating lazily in the deep. The movement of the tide was like breathing, running to and fro, as predictable as the cows that came to the farm gate to be milked at the same moment every morning.
The coolness of morning was brief, already the sailors had ruled it time to be out on the brilliant water with their fishing nets. The sky had changed, but like the tide and the cows peeking through the gate, it was the same.