Monday, September 26, 2011

Ana reminds us to be thankful for teachers

(Ana lectures to astronomy students.)

One of Ana's biggest disappointments in her new life on Earth has been the low priority many of our nations assign to education, and to teachers. She has been especially disheartened by those whose answer to hard economic times is to cut back on education budgets. This is akin to eating one's seed corn, she feels: whatever the short-term gain might be, the long-term harm is exponentially greater.

It has been mentioned elsewhere that Ana's ancestors on the planet Thomo had a very difficult time adjusting to their new planet at first. One of the most important reasons they eventually prevailed was education. It was obvious to them from their first years on Thomo that each individual had to contribute his or her very best, so the entire society could survive. On Thomo, teachers are revered, the classroom is a sacred space, and education is as important as food and security.

Of interest to us, Thomans have no separate schools of education: they have only teachers and subject areas. Teachers, furthermore, seldom specialize in grade levels, but teach (and learn from) any and all. Many are sought out for their thoughts on social, political, and technical matters. They are not compartmentalized, as ours tend to be. Indeed, Ana's good friend Hleo ap Darshiell, who figures in all Ana's stories, and who she calls "Counselor," was a famous teacher in his day.

Ana has done what she could to foster education on Earth. Her philanthropic activities have been extensive, and she has had a great influence on the private school her children have attended. (See Distant Cousin: Reincarnation for more on this.) Still, the problems faced by our education system are beyond the ability of one person to remedy. Nonetheless, Ana was cheered recently to discover evidence of respect and appreciation of teachers: the website Story Corps collects oral interviews having to do with teachers. She loves to spend time there, and finds herself inspired by many of the accounts of teachers, students, and the great things that can happen when education works well.

Only one example: a neurosurgeon removed a tumor from the throat of a man that prevented him from speaking, curing him completely. The man was then able to ask how his doctor had become a surgeon. The surgeon remembered when he was in middle school he had removed the brain and spinal cord from a frog. His science teacher told him he might become a neurosurgeon some day--which later he did. The man further told his doctor that he should call that teacher and thank him.

"'I want to thank you,'" the doctor told his teacher when he called.

"I was flabbergasted," the teacher replied. "I said, 'Of all the people in your entire career, you want to thank me?'

"It was the same feeling I had when ... when my kids were born," he added. "I started to cry. It made me feel really important that I had that influence on you." He admitted, "I almost am afraid to say that I'm a teacher to some people."

Not anymore, he told the surgeon, "because you called me. I'm a teacher, and I'm going to help as many people as I can to find their passion too."

That can be a lesson for all of us: if a teacher has changed your life for the better, pay it forward! If you can't find that teacher to thank, tell someone else. All of us have reason to be thankful for teachers.
More on education from a Thoman perspective:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ana's response to the drop in SAT verbal scores

SAT verbal scores have been dropping since the 1970s, and a recent report shows they are still dropping today. This is worrisome, because language proficiency, particularly reading ability, is a main key to a child's brain development, and a proven predictor of academic success later in life. On the larger scale, it is a matter of national security.

There's a name for this phenomenon: the "Matthew Effect," from Matthew XXIV:29: "For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath." Basically, children who acquire facility with language at an early age continue to build on that advantage throughout their lives. Children who lack that advantage correspondingly suffer more and more from it. The difference can be graphed. Imagine what the upper curve would look like if it began its upward climb at age two! (Thanks to

The SAT statistics distressed Ana, who has always realized the importance of language proficiency in young children. She made sure that her babies were exposed to many languages (in Distant Cousin: Repatriation), and that they were helped to learn to read (in two languages) in their preschool years (in Distant Cousin: Reincarnation). Her goal was not to produce geniuses, but rather children who found learning exciting and easily accessible. The techniques are simple and have been discussed elsewhere in Ana's blog. (See below.)

To be sure, it is also worrisome that education budgets are shrinking, teachers are being let go, and class sizes are increasing. Having a citizenry which is willing to allow this to happen is another problem, however. In the meantime, there is much that parents of young children can do on their own.

More on early education:
Early bilingualism and early bilingual reading: one two three four

Friday, September 16, 2011

Two suns beats two moons

Recently, a team of astronomers using Kepler, NASA's planet-hunting spacecraft, has found a planet that orbits TWO suns. The planet, called Kepler 16-B, is only 200 light years away, in the Cygnus constellation. About the size of Saturn, and of similar density, it is thought to be composed of rock and gas, and is not believed habitable. Most odd to us, an observer on the planet would see two sunrises and two sunsets every day, one orange and one red, and double shadows when both were in the sky.

Ana Darcy Méndez's home planet, Thomo, would also provide an odd astronomical phenomenon to us, but not as odd as a sky with two suns. Thomo has two moons. The larger one, only a little larger in the sky than our moon, does make shadows, but the smaller one is one quarter that size. Its shadows are barely perceptible even on a dark night. Thomo is only 25 light years from Earth, however. If the Thomans' solar system had two suns, Earth astronomers would have found it long ago, and perhaps even found Thomo!

Ana loves our moon, to be sure, but she also misses her meshi and meshijn ("moon" and "baby moon," in Luvit).


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Babies grow up: fennec fox kit and serval kitty

Ana Darcy Méndez has never been comfortable around dogs, given some of the predators on Thomo, her home planet, but even so she could probably stand a cute, tiny fennec fox. As active as the little critters are, though, they might bring a little too much chaos to her peaceful household. Their daughter Clio's caracal is more reserved, being a full grown, if large, cat. Ana loves serval cats, however. We wouldn't put it past her to adopt one some day.

Thanks to Julie, of Julie's Jungle, for these pictures of young members of her menagerie becoming accustomed to sharing a human household!

More critters:

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Bonus! Baby Fox, Baby Fennec Fox!

On Thomo, Ana's home planet, dog-like creatures were widely feared. On Earth, she still doesn't care for dogs in general. That would include foxes (but not cats, fortunately--she and cats seem to share a wavelength). Ana likes her foxes in zoos. Others must think differently.

We had no idea that a fox might make a pet, but that turns out to be the case. Julie, of JuliesJungle, has a newborn fennec fox kit that she couldn't resist taking photos of with a cell phone. The fox weighs 4.5 ounces in the first photo and 5.5 ounces five days later in the second. Way cute!

Fennec foxes are natives of Africa and the smallest of the canids (1.5-3.5 pounds). They are the prey of, unfortunately, caracals among others, but at least they are not endangered. Here's a pair of adults. Would these make cute pets or what?

Thanks, Julie!

See more animals, including lots of cats, in the column on the right under the photo of the blue-eyed kitty.

Ana's Italian appetizer inspiration: pizzete!

Readers of Distant Cousin will remember Ana's first encounter with pizza, only a few days after she came to Earth. It made quite an impression on her--she's loved pizza ever since. Here's an example of how she has adapted and extended the idea of pizza.

Ana was shopping for a small party she and Matt were going to have, and in so doing, came up with an idea for an appetizer which, like many of her cooking ideas, turned out not to be entirely original. One of her Italian guests, a professor, was delighted to recognize them from his childhood: pizzete ("little pizzas"). So while not quite an original dish, it is unusual, and we present it here as an idea ripe for improvisation rather than as a fixed recipe.

In the grocery store, she spied a dozen tiny pastry shells in tiny, disposable baking dishes. Everyone likes pizza, but pizza, with its large, floppy slices, makes an awkward appetizer. Ana took several dozen of the pastry shells home to elaborate upon.

This was her procedure:

First, she put small slices of smoked gouda cheese in the bottom of each pastry shell. Then she tossed fresh cherry tomatoes from her garden in olive oil, salt and pepper and a touch of oregano, and added one on top of each slice of gouda. Finally, she added a small slice of her fresh mozzarella cheese and a garnish of basil on top of each cherry tomato. Then she roasted them under a flame until the tomatoes started to collapse, to bring out their sweetness.

Presto! An entire pizza in one bite! To use one of her favorite English words, they were yummy!

More Italian-related recipe ideas:
Pizza experiments: one two three four five
Meet Ana Darcy!

See other Ana-related recipe ideas in the column at right, under the picture of cranberry-apple pie a la mode!