Tuesday, January 31, 2012

One Thing Leads to Another

Last night I had another one of those “one thing leads to another moments” that seem to be the driving force of my life. I was feeling too tired to accomplish anything and also tired enough that if I tried to read I would fall asleep. I turned on the TV, a show that I just began recording on our DVR was on. I rewound back to the beginning, I realize “rewound” is not the right word since DVR’s are digital but whatever.

I returned to the beginning of the show, Museum of Life, on PBS and began to watch. A woman, a botanist who works at the museum described how very early in the morning before the visitors arrived she would come to the gallery and lie on the floor with her binoculars. She did this in order to see the painted botanical panels that adorned the very high curved ceiling of the gallery. To better understand why she needed the binoculars you have to see the Natural History Museum of London on which the show is based.

The enormous structure is filled with gothic towers, grand arches and and was called by its first director, Richard Owen, “a cathedral to nature”, to display all of “God’s creations”.

[picture from earth in pictures]

The female botanist, (sorry, I don’t remember her name), needed binoculars to see the 162 painted ceiling panels which have been in that lofty position since the museum first opened in 1881. No records remain that would explain why or when the designers of the museum chose these particular plants. It is known that the artists painted straight on to the ceiling plaster, probably lying down on scaffolding and painting above their heads. Because no records existed of the paintings some of the plants have not been identified. However, as things are apt to occur with patience and obsession, the female botanist began to be intrigued by several paintings that she could not identify – one day she was looking through one of the botanical books in the collection and found a drawing of one of the unidentified plants. Here is a book cover depicting the ceiling panels.

I was intrigued by this story of this woman lying on the floor of the museum every morning and pleased that her fortitude enabled the identification of one of the mystery panels. I remembered, that because I have not yet visited the Natural History Museum in London (because I have never been to London) I own a book about it, Treasures of the Natural History Museum. I hit pause on my remote and went in search of the book. I found it and then happily flipped through my book for the duration of the show looking for the objects and subjects they mentioned. This was fun to me beyond what would seem to an ordinary person to be reasonable.

During the show I remembered that I own another book, Dry Storeroom No. 1, The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum by Richard Fortey. I love this book. Richard Fortey is a natural scientist whose specialty is trilobites. 

Trilobite image from Webosaurs Expert.

In Dry Storeroom, Fortey gives a behind the scenes tour of the museum and the scientists and experts that work there.  And so, I am considering re-reading Dry Storeroom because as I said at the beginning, one thing leads to another.

I think the reason I am fascinated by natural history museums in general is because they allow me to satisfy my love of visual expression but also museum scientists are precisely the polar opposite to my kind of obsessions. I become interested, sometimes obsessed with something and then I move onto something else. Museum scientists, and natural scientists spend a lifetime studying one subject. Another expert mentioned in Museum of Life, Professor Juliet Brodie, is a seaweed researcher. Her obsession, life purpose, and career are focused on one tiny part of a vast universe, seaweed. I am amazed and confused by this. I envy her ability to concentrate, analyze and perpetually admire the intricacies of seaweed.

Fortey, speaks of his purposeful and obsessed colleagues at the Museum this way: “I soon got to know John Taylor, Fred Naggs and Kathy Way as the mollusk people, the conchology gang, at home with gastropods and bivalves, squids and slugs, nudibranchs and pteropods. As I write this, they are still working in the same rooms, tucked away in their basement redoubt, John Taylor labouring on his beloved mollusks long after most of his contemporaries have taken to the golf club or the allotment”. 

While my obsessions are shallow, often just an interest in an image and no more, natural scientists are fascinated by every detail present, past and future of the inside, the outside, the lifestyle, habitat and food source for their specific creature or plant.

Some people are obsessed with Jennifer Lopez or George Clooney, or collecting frog figurines, getting tattoos or with golf in this same way! I cannot maintain celebrity obsessions or collections of things for very long. Years ago, I had a “thing” for merry-go-round horses and rainbows, now I am indifferent.

I admire the ability to never become bored with your subject of obsession and to find a purpose in it. At the end of your life to really know something inside out and to have furthered the knowledge and study of that something would be to have mastered many of the disciplines I would like to master: perseverance, patience, wisdom, solitude, gratitude and grace.

There is for me, behind the “one thing leading to another”, an overall purpose in Christ. And in pursuing that higher purpose I hope to develop perseverance, patience, wisdom, solitude, gratitude and grace.There is something to be learned from the disciplined mind of a natural scientist. Though I may never study mold, mushrooms, or marmots to the extent that scientists do, I can be inspired to bring those traits, the ones that fuel their obsessions, to bear on the many areas of my life that desperately need them. 

As I wrote that last sentence I was suddenly afraid that the phrase was "bring to bare" instead of "bring to bear". A quick search confirmed "bring to bear". Then I was worried about "lying/laying" used earlier.  I will now have to bookmark The Grammar Curmudgeon for future reference. And by the way I found another book, a companion to Museum of Life... One thing leads to another.  

Thursday, January 26, 2012

About Projects

I am not a naturally motivated or busy person. Left to my own devices I could happily sit on my couch all through the winter watching episodes of Downton Abbey, NCIS and The Big Bang Theory, holding a Harry Potter/Pirates of the Caribean/Lord of The Rings marathon and reading magazines, mysteries and biographies all the while fueling my slugdom with Oreos and Pizza. If only.

If only I wouldn't gain 50 pounds doing that, if only I wouldn't miss interactions with the family and friends who wouldn't or couldn't join me on the couch, if only I didn't secretly want to be a productive member of society, at least a little.

One of the reasons for beginning this blog is because I hoped the scrutiny (real or imagined) of a well-documented life would inspire me to live a more balanced and possibly a more active, creative and thoughtful life.

I am one of those annoying people who loves themes. It is difficult to move the glee of a perfectly themed and executed children's party or room decoration into an adult life unless you are a professional party planner. So instead of dinosaur themed errands and to-do lists, I have Goals and Projects! To incorporate my love of themes I develop small obsessions with things like dragons or owls and I think about these obsessions as I go about accomplishing my Goals and Projects. One of the projects I have begun for this year is to read the Bible through chronologically in a year; documenting my progress at youversion.com . So far so good. I am only behind two days. They have a "catch me up" feature but then they extend your finish date so that you haven't really read the Bible in a year!! I ignore the "catch me up" feature.

Each year I decide to be healthier in some way, to run more, eat less, eat more vegetables, etc. I have been struggling with that goal this year, leading me to devise a new project. Runner's World issued a challenge to their readers to run every day for at least one mile between Thanksgiving and New Years. Many more organized runners than myself signed up and completed this challenge. I was intrigued and if it had not been during the holidays when I cannot imagine adding one more thing to do, I would have signed on. During the dreary and gray days of January and February I still have plenty to do but lack the umph to do any more than what is absolutely required. Thus, my new project!

Day 1 of 30 days of running!

For the next 30 days I will run every day. Some days will only be a mile but hopefully other days will be many, many more miles and my weekly mileage will get a big boost! This should also cut down on the number of hours spent in slugdom as well as the number of Double Stuff Oreos I consume! Happy Running!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Rabbit trails

People my age have a love/hate relationship with computers and the Internet and perhaps with technology in general. I work at keeping an open mind to new apps, new websites, new ways to do things, but initially I always resist.

I am on FB, I have joined Pinterest, You Version and Goodreads, I have an IPhone and a Kindle, I’ve played Farm Town, angry birds, and Words with Friends! I do not Tweet.

I appreciate so many things about technology especially the quick access to so much diverse information. I Google everything that sparks my curiosity. Which brings me to my topic: while having fast access to information seems wonderful it often IS NOT. And by that I mean it, not only IS NOT wonderful it often IS NOT even FAST.

Teaching a concept always involves facts. I was making a bulletin board for third graders illustrating the concepts that we all have fear and God can help us with our fears.  I vaguely remembered hearing that the phrase “Fear not” or “Do not fear” appeared in the Bible some extraordinary number of times. I decided to Google it. One source stated that in a movie called “Facing the Giants” a claim is made that “fear not” appears in the Bible 365 times. I had never heard of “Facing the Giants” so I Googled it. Wikipedia says that “Facing the Giants” is an “American Christian drama film” but it did not say anything about how many times “fear not” appears in the bible. I also learned that a Casting Crowns song that I like, “Voice of Truth” appears to be part of the soundtrack of the movie. I like that song and was tempted to Google it to see why Casting Crowns chose to be apart of the not very successful film, if the song was commissioned for the film or just added later, etc…but this would have been going way off down the rabbit trail.

Back to the story…someone on one of those sites where you ask a question and everyone gives an answer, (most often an answer not supported by anything) reported they had just heard in a sermon that it appeared 365 times. The problem with this is that the pastor who delivered that sermon could have gotten his information from the movie (American Christian drama film).

Another posting person said that in the KJV “fear not” appears 74 times, “be not afraid” appears 29 times; in the NASB there are 4 “fear not’s”, 57 “do not fears” and 46 “do not be afraid's”, these do not add up to 365.

Someone used Bible Gateway to find over 100 references using NAB, these included “Do not fear” and “Do not be afraid”.

The Gateway Life Group Blog says it appears 365 times. No explanation.

Whole Person Counseling listed 40 verses but referred to them as "a sampling”.

Let’s move on, new area of interest. Ant strength. I read in a book that ants can lift objects that weigh several times their weight because of their special body structure called an exoskeleton. Again, I planned to mention this to the ever inquisitive third-graders so I Googled 'ant exoskeletons and strength'. 

This search, which I worded several different ways, yielded these results: ants can lift 10 times their weight, ants can lift 20 times their weight, ants can lift 50 times their weight. ScienceIQ.com and About.com said this is due to their size and not to the exoskeleton. There were several sites that seemed angry that anyone would think an ant was proportionally stronger than a human being. We are a sensitive people. They point out that if you make things bigger the muscles do not get proportionally stronger. If an ant were the size of a human then you would essentially have a big giant blob of an ant that could not even move much less lift anything. There were illustrations of cubes and tubes and there were math equations that were beyond me but basically bigger isn’t better with regard to strength and we should not feel badly that the ant has a clear advantage due to his tiny size. Hmmm, ant might disagree, there was also something about the ant having a proportionally larger brain than most animals but again I resisted that rabbit trail.

Gary T on the Straight Dope message board supported the info in the book, “The main factor in an ant’s strength is that it has an exoskeleton". After reading many opinions and some derogatory remarks about Gary T’s opinion, I noticed that in a later post Gary T was kind enough to provide some websites to support his claim.

This is a common occurrence on message boards. Several people will state unsubstantiated opinions. For reason unknown, one person is chosen and everyone else piles on with how wrong they are. At least one of these people will provide some kind of documentation for their rebuttal. The person who has been challenged must then search the internet for proof of his or her opinion. They almost never just let it go.

Unfortunately, in the case of Gary T’s evidential proofs, two of the websites were tied to universities and could not be accessed via the links he provided. One was a faculty page and would probably have been fascinating had it been available. The other two sites he provided were descriptive of the exoskeleton and said that the exoskeleton was strong but did not directly attribute the exoskeleton to the ants ability to lift objects that are many times heavier than it’s own body.

I think the point of this lengthy description of my journey through the web is that the Internet is often not a time saver. There are reasons why I am slow to become involved with a new app, a new technology and for that matter new people…it’s all very time consuming and may not ever lead to a satisfying conclusion.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Great Sadness

I have witnessed once again a returning glimpse of what I call The Great Sadness. Fortunately it has returned as only a shadow of it's former self. I first encountered The Great Sadness when my eldest child, Bailey, left for her first year of college at the University of Missouri, 10 hours away.

It's that old struggle of loving children, raising them to become independent and then grieving the very thing you hoped to accomplish...their successful departure.

Grief and sadness are like waves that engulf you. While the many joys of watching and listening as your daughter embarks on a new adventure and the happiness upon happiness of realizing how well prepared she has proven to be for the next chapter are rewarding they are also fleeting. I have to chase down and bring my attention to the "bright side" of Bailey's departures while the darkness of loss jumps on top of me unbidden. The nature of joy seems to be more and more intentional the older I get. I have found it is essential to make the effort.

This has been one of many partings since the first great departure several years ago and so it is easier and now I am not engulfed by The Great Sadness, I just live in it's shadow for a few days and renew my commitment to chase down all that is good and joyful in this life.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Beginning

Online journaling! Day 1: very scary! The best way to ensure a good start is to include a happy bunny picture.

The name of this blog will change once the direction takes shape. Hopefully it will evolve into a cohesive array of thoughts, projects and collected internet ephemera (or even something more meaningful).

For now, Sound and Fury fits many of my thoughts not to mention the state of the world in general. And "signifying nothing" represents a reminder to me that while I often feel passionately about something, just as often it is wise not to take myself too seriously. It is my hope that as I keep this online journal I will grow, evolve and mature and will find my voice; and that will be the time to create an amazing and creative new blog title!

Image Source