Monday, June 29, 2009


We visited the Gettysburg battlefield and national cemetery on Memorial week-end, a fitting time to remember the 50,000 soldiers who were lost at this turning-point battle of the Civil War. As we stepped out of the car, the sweet smell of red clover was heavy in the air. I thought it unusual to see clover and Siberian iris planted together- I'm assuming the clover was planted solely for the fragrance? Flowers are always appropriate at a grave site, and the fragrance somehow contributed the right touch at the very beginning of the tour.

We began at the newish (2008) visitor center, which housed artifacts, a theater, and a bookstore. Oh yes, and junk food. Somehow, it felt just a little incongruous that slushies and pretzels were being sold at the site of so much bloodshed. Must Americans make a buck on everything?

Because we have some knowledge of the civil war, we eschewed the multi-media presentation and just looked. The battlefield and cemetery are places best beheld in quietude and reflection. The rows upon rows of white stone markers leave an impact, though I doubt we'll ever grasp the full impact of losing so many young lives.

The soldier on the Soldier's National Monument represents war, the lady embodies peace. I think this old-fashioned way of remembering is superior to the multi-media presentation of the battle. We need room to think, to remember, to meditate---without all of the sound effects.

War & Peace by slakejustice.

photo by slakejustice

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Summer Reads

It's been a while since I've participated in a reading challenge. I'm ready to tidy up my big pile of books and bring some semblance of order to it! Because I have two NEW floor-to-ceiling bookshelves to flank my fireplace, I've been doing true "book work" this month. It's been fun sorting, organizing, fingering old favorites, and looking at long forgotten notes found inside some of the volumes. I've also uncovered quite a few duplicates, which will be passed on to either the church or homeschool library. There are some books I've intended to read that were tucked away, forgotten. Summer is the time to make a plan and dig in!

Here's my list:

* Chesapeake- I remember seeing Michener novels at grocery stores and on nearly every adult's coffee table during my growing up years. He's written about 40 historical fiction books and I've always wanted to read at least one, so I chose Chesapeake - reputed to be one of his best. I'm about half-way through this epic length story (1000+ pages) and enjoying every page. The broad sweep enlightens me as to how an idea is germinated in one generation and comes to fruition the next. Case in point: the Quakers' opposition to slavery. One thread of this story revolves around Quakers, and their history is so colorful. Since Michener was raised a Quaker, this thread has peculiar insight and interest.

*How Does a Poem Mean?- recommended by Cindy at Dominion Family, I am reading a poem each evening and enjoying the insights of the author along the way. I won't finish this in a summer, but will savor it slowly.

*How Lincoln Learned to Read: Twelve Great Americans & the Educations That Made Them (by Daniel Wolff)- This is my "teacher read" for the summer. Each chapter highlights the education of a different historical personage. So far I've read about Ben Franklin, Abigail Adams, and Andrew Jackson. The modern chapters will include Rachel Carson, Jack Kennedy, and Elvis Presley. I'm enjoying the approach, learning history along with the ideas about teaching.

*Women's Letters: America from the Revolutionary War to the Present- a monster sized book that I purchased for my oldest daughter to use in school next year, I was hooked as soon as I began perusing it. This is a collection of actual letters from the Revolutionary war era to the present. History becomes personal and very memorable when read in this fashion. There are selections from famous people and unknowns, writings on significant historical events and significant personal events. One letter is from a missionary woman in Hawaii, who had to undergo a mastectomy in the 1800's sans anesthesia. Can you imagine? She lived 20+ years after!

*Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art, and Culture (by Makoto Fujimura)- an artist's perspective on Ground Zero and how living through that experience impacted his art.

*Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch--an encouragement to contribute to building culture rather than to just criticize it.

Mosey on over to Seasonal Soundings to look at what other bloggers are reading this summer, then throw your own picks into the hat!

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Creation Museum

Adam and Eve photo by rauchdickson

We took a happy little side trip to the Creation Museum (Petersburg, Kentucky) as an addendum to our Washington, D.C. vacation. The museum's founder, Ken Ham, was a speaker at the pastor's briefing my husband attended and sparked his interest in the museum.

My oldest three children were already acquainted with Ken Ham via his DVD series entitled "Answers Academy," a class they had attended in our co-operative school this past year. It is amazing how strands of knowledge and events coincide by serendipity when you are homeschooling!

The Creation Museum is only 2 years old, and is very classy. It captured the element of awe and grandeur that I felt was missing from the D.C. Museum of Natural History. Ancient history came alive as we viewed life-sized scenes from Genesis 1-11: the lush garden of Eden, all manner of natural wonders including dinosaurs, the serpent, and the tree of life. When we reached the very vivid scene marking sin's entrance into the world, the change is so real that it made my heart feel literally sick. (I remember feeling that same sense of loss when I read Milton's Paradise Lost).

The section on Noah's ark I thought was exceptional. On our trip, I had been reading the novel Chesapeake, which had an extensive description of ship building by trial and error. Because of my reading, I could look at the model of the inside of the ark with a little more appreciation and understanding. Noah did not have to learn by trial and error, he only had to follow the blueprint that God provided him. Noted: "The scale of the ark is dramatic and comes close to the limits of wooden technology. With no need for masts or a streamlined hull, and without the economic restrictions of shipwrights, the ark could be made incredibly strong using ordinary wood and tools." The museum's ark exhibit is built to scale and represents 1% of the volume of Noah's ark.

Also included in the tour is a star-gazer's planetarium which introduced us to the outer regions of the cosmos and helps us measure the incredible expanse of the Creator's hand, a hand that spans the universe.

Outside the museum is a real garden so breathtakingly lovely that I just wanted to linger and linger. Gorgeous plantings, little walking bridges, fountains and statuary made this look like the real garden of Eden.

All the other museums we visited left me feeling jostled and worn, but I left the Creation Museum feeling refreshed and built up. In the future, I'd consider this as a destination and not just a side trip.

Monday, June 08, 2009

I Love Philadelphia

Tired walkers!

After hoofing it for three days in Washington D.C. we opted to tour Philadelphia the easy way: via horse and buggy. This turned out to be the highlight of our trip! Part of the reason it was so delightful was that we had a tour guide that oozed history from his every pore. If he had been paid by the word instead of by the hour, Brian would be a rich man! His obvious love for the history of his city was positively contagious.*

In the first two minutes of our tour we encountered landmarks marking the beginning of all three branches of our government. There were statues of the signers. Cobblestone streets. Independence Hall. The Liberty Bell. The boarding room where Thomas Jefferson did his writing. Oh my, and the architecture that brings you back in time.

Trivia: did you know that Philadelphia was the first U.S. city to have a zoo and that animal crackers were created to promote it?

Our last visit to Philadelphia was 26 years ago. People warned us this time around not to go there, that because of the crime it was not a great place to bring your family. I'm so glad we disregarded this well-meaning advice! My son had just finished reading the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin--what wonderful timing this trip was for him. Benjamin Franklin's fingerprints still remain all over the city.

On a personal note, this city is very dear to our hearts because our beloved (and long departed) mentor Mrs. H. lived most of her life in Phillie and always spoke of it so enthusiastically. We named our daughter after Mrs. H; it was fitting for her to walk the streets of her namesake.

*Brian told us he has a degree in history and teaches public school by day. The tour guide job was a side kick, a way for him to share his love of history with tourists. I found it interesting that Brian chooses to homeschool his own children because "I want them to learn about Betsy Ross."
Apparently, she has been expunged from the public school curriculum.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

What Are These Stones?

Photography by Joy

"And these stones shall be for a memorial....when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, 'What are these stones?' Then you shall let your children know...." Joshua 4, selected

I counted it a privilege to view and discuss the "memorial stones" of our country with my family, the monuments and museums in Washington D.C. The Lincoln Memorial is a truly awe inspiring landmark, a not-to-be-missed attraction for anyone who is touring the city.

This is not the first time I've been in the Lincoln Memorial. Each time I enter, I am amazed again by its immensity. The thirty-six imposing Doric columns of the Lincoln Memorial represent the thirty-six states that comprised the union at the time of Lincoln's death. Quoting from Newt Gingrich's book, Rediscovering God in America (which incidentally served as a wonderful walking guide to the city):

"The imposing style of both the large Doric columns and the statue of Lincoln himself are meant to depict the strength of the Union, held together through the tireless efforts of Lincoln."

Shifting focus from large to small, did you know that you can see the statue of Lincoln on the back of the penny? Put a drop of water on it, which will serve as a magnifying lens and you will see him inside the columns. Oh, the things you learn when you homeschool ;)

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Travel Log-on-a-Blog: Patriotic Art

Preamble by Mike Wilkins
Photo by Fred T

This is an unusual and engaging piece of art that we viewed in one of the Smithsonian museums (Which one? I'm having a senior moment). Who would ever think to spell out the preamble to the constitution using license plates? The plates are even in alphabetical order. Here it is:


You probably memorized it in school, but in case you need a refresher:

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Monday, June 01, 2009

Travel Log-on-a-Blog: National Museum of Natural History

Great are the works of the LORD; They are studied by all who delight in them. Psalm 111:2

The National Museum of Natural History is one of the most popular destinations of the Smithsonian institution. A visit there will doubtless be near the top of your "must see" list if you are visiting Washington D.C. with your children. The dinosaur bones, the ocean creatures, insect zoo, and cultural artifacts have the potential to amaze and delight for hours. The museum is IMMENSE, the size of 18 football fields and to explore it thoroughly would entail a couple of days.

The crowds matched the popularity of the museum, which detracted from our enjoyment of the visit because we felt rushed and jostled. It was difficult to stand and read the information because we were always aware of others impatiently waiting their turn to get up close.

The Discovery Room was a hit with Artiste, my 10 year old daughter. In this place the children find welcome relief from the "don't touch" rules. They are invited to touch and feel everything from alligator scales to shark teeth while parents can (thankfully!) rest their feet for a few minutes.

As a Christian, I view the natural world as the handiwork of a Divine Artist. I don't expect my creationist views to be affirmed when I go into a place like this. Neither do I shield my children from the strong Darwinian thrust, because I know they are fully capable of grasping truth and sifting out falsehoods.

Fully realizing my perceptions are colored by my faith, I still offer this respectful observation. The study of the natural world in this place seemed utilitarian and without the dimension of awe-inspiring delight. Darwinian theory seemed to be emphasized at EVERY possible juncture. Case in point: we were standing beneath a large whale skeleton and looking at it from every angle. A docent zeroed in on us and in a friendly, well-meaning gesture began to tell us about whale DNA. Then he told us about hippo DNA. He ended up telling us that it appears that whales evolved from hippos.


Tell me about this skeleton. How was it engineered to maneuver the depths of the sea? Wow me with its weight and its intricacies. Delight me with facts about its owner and his habits. But p-l-e-a-s-e don't force upon me the speculations of its ancestry.

There you have it-- a very opinionated evaluation of this place! It's a true national treasure and I don't negate its value, but like the poet William Wordsworth notes so worthily in his poem, let my heart leap with wonder,
"So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!"