Overheard in the Halls: Episode Thirty One

Silent Senior: [pointing with increasing rapidity and intensity at the floor] Squeak!

Sober senior [leaning closer, then sitting up again]: Wow. They really do blend into the carpet!

Me [moving to intercept whatever it is]: Yes, they really do!

I chased the centipede into a corner and whacked at it with my foot until it stopped moving, mostly.

Me [returning to podium]: I need a pair of roach-kickers. Blunt toe boots don’t do it.

Senior snickers followed, and we resumed our discussion of the Hungarian Golden Bull.


The Voice from Above (PA system) chimed. I looked up from writing a lesson outline.

VfA: This is a tumbleweed alert. Those parked in the north lot, be sure to check for tumbleweeds under your vehicles.


Yes, I had tumbleweeds packed under my truck by the end of the day. I started the engine and backed a few meters, releasing the weeds, then turned off the engine and made sure nothing was still around the exhaust. We have not had any flaming tumbleweeds yet, but no one wants to be the first.


Stubborn Junior: But Sister Hygiene, why not?

Sister Hygiene [school nurse, health teacher]: We have a skeleton already. In the closet. I’ll get it out when appropriate.

Jaunty Junior: But Sister, we want the big, giant one. You know, like in the yard at [address redacted].

Sister H. : SIGH! No.

Geek Chorus: Aaawwwwwww.


The fall semester has just begun.

Me [being excited about Salamis]: The Persians attacked here. They outnumbered the Greek fleet—

Speedy Freshman: Clunk. Zzzzzzzzzz. [head hits desk, sleeping ensues]

Me [resigned]: Cross-country season.

Rather later in the semester . . .

Me: This was radical! Locke’s claiming that power was not given to the government by any deity or inheritance, but loaned by the—

Two Tall Freshmen: Clunk. Zzzzzzzzzzzz. [heads hit desk, sleeping ensues]

Me [resigned]: I see that basketball season has begun.

Rest of class nods heads in near unison. Practices for sports are from “oh dark early” until class starts, then again after school.


I’m in the main workroom, checking my in-box for tests.

Mr. Long-Slavic-Last-Name and Mr. Pascal (computer wizard) are studying a small mountain of boxes piled up outside the janitorial closet, waiting to be broken down and recycled.

Mr. Pascal [in best Brain voice]: Are you pondering what I’m pondering?

Sr. Botanica [wandering out of workroom]: We build a fortress and hide from the students?

Four faculty share very broad smiles, then disperse.

Not Specifically Written for Halloween, but . . .

Mom used to sing this to me as a lullaby. It probably explains a lot.

Quiet! Sleep! or I will make

Erinnys whip thee with a snake,

And cruel Rhadamanthus take

Thy body to the boiling lake,

Where fire and brimstones never slake;

Thy heart shall burn, thy head shall ache,

And ev’ry joint about thee quake;

And therefor dare not yet to wake!

Quiet, sleep!

Quiet, sleep!

Quiet! Quiet!

Sleep! or thou shalt see

The horrid hags of Tartary,

Whose tresses ugly serpants be,

And Cerberus shall bark at thee,

And all the Furies that are three

The worst is called Tisiphone,

Shall lash thee to eternity;

And therefor sleep thou peacefully

Quiet, sleep!

Quiet, sleep!


The text dates to 1632, which suggests that early modern toddlers were no more sleepy than the modern version.


Happy Halloween!

Oops, I Misplaced Saxony! That’s Awkward.

Things in Europe move. I keep forgetting that, and so my mental map lets me down. I couldn’t find Saxony. It had to be there. It was in his title, but where was it? I’d left Saxony over in the east, where it’s supposed to be . . . in the modern country of Germany. That’s not exactly where “Saxony” could be found in 1100. Oops.

Today, when we use a place name, it usually refers to a specific state, province, nation-state, or location. “Alberta” is a fixed spot on the map of Canada, for example. Especially for Americans, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Texas, those are all places with a set and fixed location, in saecula saeculorum, amen. OK, those of us who grew up in the Cold War are aware that countries split (Czechoslovakia) or reunite (Germany). For people who studied the 20th Century, countries appeared and borders could be briefly fluid (The Austro-Hungarian Empire became: Austria, Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Ukraine, Croatia, Slovenia, and a bit of Yugoslavia). But things don’t move all that much, just get parceled out and redistricted. You know, like Congressional districts in the US every ten or so years.

At this point, my European, British, and Medieval historian readers are laughing mightily at the innocence of a Yank abroad. Saxony was a descriptor loooooong before it became a specific region of a country called Germany. Saxons moved into a swath of Central Europe in the 300s or so, give or take, maybe later. “Here be Saxons” was for the Romanized peoples of the south akin to “Here be Dragons.” Just not always as friendly as dragons. Charlemagne dealt with them, several times in fact. His successors, and the later Ottonians, dealt with them farther to the east as they pushed the Holy Roman Empire away from the original Frankish core. Always, Saxony was where you found Saxons.

However, when borders got set for various administrative districts, Saxony as a German Land (state) locked into place. After 1945, for now.

Saxony is northeast of Bavaria, with the Czech lands between them, more or less. Fair use under Creative Commons. Original found at: https://www.mapsof.net/europe/central-europe-political-map

So, there I was, tracing out some things with Frederick Barbarossa and his peers, and looking at the push to settle northern and eastern areas with cities and people, and to establish trade. This is all 1100-1150 or so. And I was reading about Henry “the Lion” Welf of Saxony and Bavaria. The linkage of the two areas made perfect sense, since they have almost-common borders.

But wait, what the heck’s Henry doing up around Hamburg, and Lüneburg, and that area? That’s not Saxony. Lübeck is certainly not Saxony. Why is he interested in things there, when he’s east and south?

*waits for snickers and eye rolling to stop*

Yes, you guessed it. I know better. I was imposing the modern map on medieval German lands. When I finally found a good map of the area at the time of the events described, I felt more than a little foolish.

Note Saxony, well north and west of the modern official Saxony. Because that’s where the Saxons had been and still were. Ouch. Fair Use under Creative Commons. Original source: https://www.theapricity.com/forum/showthread.php?206172-Holy-Roman-Empire-Central-Europe-and-European-Empires

Oh. So Henry the Lion had good reasons to be encouraging development of the northern areas, and the development of the Hanseatic League. And that explained why he controlled so much territory for so long (until his ego wrote a check his skills couldn’t cash.)

Places move, in the sense of “regional names associated with places.” Part of modern Saxony had been in Polish lands or claimed by Bohemia, or both at the same time (until the early 1300s and Casimir III of Poland.) Modern Saxony, and Lower Saxony, and Saxony-Anhalt, had Saxons in them, but were not necessarily Welf Saxony entirely. Yes, I thumped my head lightly against the desk. I know better, much better, but the books I’ve been reading don’t have maps in them. [Insert long cartographic rant here]. So I defaulted to modern maps, and went far astray. No excuses, and I kicked myself once I really started thinking about who was where doing what.

Overheard in the Halls: Episode 30 or The Wildlife Edition

Fr. Martial: There has been a slight change of schedule for the quarter-break.

The faculty rustle quietly.

Fr. Martial: Instead of Monday being a full day off, it will be a half day, with a short faculty meeting in the afternoon.


Faculty: Grrrrrrrrrrrrr


Me: Oh, froggy!

A medium-sized frog was hopping around the end of the high school section.

Miss Verbum: Catch it!

Nimble Sophomore: Yes, ma’am.

After several attempts, the gentleman carefully caught the tidy brown frog.

N.S.: It’s slimy, ma’am.

Me: I wonder if Sr. Botanica is missing anyone.

Miss Verbum [grins a little]: We need to get it out before Sr. Parabola sees it and gets upset.

[The secondary math teacher dislikes reptiles with great vehemence and verbosity. I do not know why]

The young man escorts the frog out to where frogs belong. Sr. Scholastica appears from a meeting and hears the report.

Sr. Scholastica [in a thoughtful tone]: I wonder if the biology department is missing anything?

Great minds . . .


Startled Senior [who is new to the area]: JesusMaryJoseph it’s a snakewithlegsohmygosh!

Br. Vector, Fr. Gonzales, and I all drift toward the commotion.

Judicious Junior: No, snakes don’t have legs. It’s just [reverses rapidly] . . . a really, huge, um, large centipede. St. Patrick save us!

Very large. And attempting to visit the lower-division English class currently in session.

Fr. Gonzales deflects the large insect, and it is sent to the Happy Hunting Ground.


There I was in the classroom, minding my own business when . . .

Bang, rattle, bang, thump, thump, thump, all muffled, from outside the room.

I get up and ease to the open door, peering around.

Fr. Jerome [the Latin instructor, pounding on the outside door]: Thump, rattle, rattle.

I hurry and let him, a dozen or so students, and their standard bearer, into the building.

Fr. Jerome [irked]: Thank you, Miss Red.

He and the students go past, loaded for bear. I know they had been marching to pronouns, but further I dared not inquire.

Culture Warriors – Give Me Lactobacillus or Give Me . . ?

OK, that’s probably not what most people think of when the term “culture warrior” is tossed around, but it would certainly fit the lady I overheard opining with great vehemency and intensity – but relatively quietly – from the dairy section at the Organic, Fermented, and Free Range grocery store (of which we have two in town). I was getting tea. I think she was Kirmhilde Schmidt’s spiritual sister, based on the firmness of her opinions about certain brands of fermented stuff. Apparently certain bacteria are better for you than others, and certain brands have higher concentrations of microbes.

[As an aside, some years ago, I got called for a medical flight just as I had removed a carton of yogurt from the fridge. Off I went, and returned some hours later to discover that the “live and active cultures” had gotten very, very lively and active. A blueberry volcano now flowed over my counter. The pressure of fermentation had forced the yogurt out of the container, under the foil and plastic lids, and it was merrily wandering across the formica.]

When most people hear “culture warrior,” we tend to think of, um, someone who writes books, or has a podcast, or a TV or radio show, and who talks about modern culture and what’s good and bad about it. I’m not sure the term is used outside of the Anglo-sphere, although there certainly are active groups in other places, notably Germany, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Austria, and France to an extent. I’m not sure if you’d say that Russians are defending Western Civilization or Russian national culture. There’s some overlap, but also some clear differences.

So, what about a culture is worth defending, fighting for? I’m pretty sure everyone around the world, including westerners over a certain age, can list things about their particular way of believing and living that they’d defend and that they value highly. I’m equally certain that not everyone else would agree with those things. I can respect a lot of things about, oh, Japanese imperial culture prior to the 1900s, or certain aspects of Arab Muslim culture, and Iranian/Persian culture, without wanting to protect and defend them. I respect Mathias Corvinus and Vlad III Tepes, Mehmed the Conqueror, and Elizabeth I. I would never invite any of that worthy company over for dinner and conversation. Ditto Oda Nobunaga and Tecumseh. Certain cultures have aspects that I admire, or respect, and acknowledge that those facets made survival possible. I don’t have to want to keep those things around, or to have them imposed on me!

What is culture, anyway? Besides the stuff that ferments yogurt, and sauerkraut, and beer, or that appears on long-ignored food in the back of the fridge, or in petri dishes? “I know it when I see it.” OK – carpets and miniature paintings and wine poets? Weapons and armor and fighting styles and martial arts and the faiths that encourage or discourage those things? Foods and architecture? Is Middle Eastern culture kebobs and shawarma and hummus and belly-dancing? What about tribalism, and religious intolerance (often linked with tribalism), and deep suspicion of outsiders and outside technology? Is Western culture Christianity and Judaism, and Renaissance art, and classical music, freedom of speech, and roast beef with Yorkshire pudding or pizza or CFS*? Is it “Dancing with the Stars,” and Facebook, and hip-hop, and fiery protests, and pink pussy-cat hats? Yes? No? All of the above?

How you define a culture, and the people who follow that culture, shapes everything that follows. If culture was “what grows in the lab or in yogurt,” life might be simpler. Probably not. Three people, four opinions, to paraphrase several religious jokes. You can agree that Western Culture is worth protecting without agreeing on all the details. Likewise other things.

Except Icelandic fermented shark. That can go away, far away, and stay there, thank you.

*Chicken fried steak, as opposed to chicken fried chicken.

The Right Knife for the Job

How many knives do I own? Not counting the dedicated kitchen knives, because those live in the kitchen, let’s just call it “probably enough for now, except when I really need one.” You know, Sharpes’ Corollary of Murphy’s Law – whenever you need a cutting blade, you can never find a cutting blade. Or the one you have will be 1) too small, 2) too large, 3) a good knife you don’t want to louse up on cardboard or other junk.

The idea percolated up after an on-line conversation about carrying or having access to a junk-knife to loan to people who are the sort who mess up tools. Or who don’t know enough to know how not to mess up tools.

Swiss Army knife – one, the checkered handle officer version. This is my every-day go to.

Two heavy-duty Spyderco clone lock-blades – gift from Sib-in-Law, one of these will go in a bag, because they are a little big to fit easily in a trouser or skirt pocket. Serrated and very sharp. Do not give to the clumsy or careless.

Truck knife – hunting-style fixed blade, because you need a knife in your vehicle.

Cutting Bean – a handy little gizmo for when you need a small cutting tool (opening boxes, cutting tape) but are not supposed to have a knife. Yes, locking open a pair of scissors can work, but this is safer for all involved.

Little Black Knife – no, not the one that goes with your evening wear. The one you never carry, officially. And hope never to need to use.

[Junk] knife – the one reserved for knife-killing jobs, because it’s a piece of [junk], was free, and never will be missed when it finally dies.

Small multi-tool – because why not.

Large multi-tool – because sometimes you do need a whatsis, even if it is not a dedicated whatsis.

Plus a few others that live in drawers, a desk shelf, and the one I’m always forgetting is in a bag. And three specialty blades, one of which is South American and silver, and that I have had for decades. Because vampires. No, seriously. That’s what I joked when I asked for it as a teen. To my surprise, Santa gave it to me.

Piu Mosso? Didn’t He Play for the Dodgers?

No, that was his cousin, Meno Mosso. You’re thinking of Pie Jesu*, who was the shortstop for the Dodgers back in ’74, before they traded him to the White Socks.

Actually, those are both musical terms, describing how a composition is to be played or sung. Composers generally include descriptive terms to indicate the “mood” and pace of a piece, beyond just the notes on the page. How many quarter notes (or half notes, or eighth notes) in a minute, the feel of the tempo – fast as in driving, fast as in lively, fast as in frenetic – and how connected the notes are supposed to be. Instrumental composers, since they don’t have a text to use to clue in their musicians, lean a lot on “andante” “largo,” “piu mosso” and their cousins. Often, a full symphony will be divided into movements titled after the tempo. “Andante,” then “Largo,” then “allegro,” and so on.

The slowest I’ve seen, and that rarely, is “lento.” This is slow, often mournful. “Piu lento” means a little more lento, but don’t drag. In choirs, we tend to push really, really slow tempi, often because we feel the need for air. Orchestras can go even slower, and do, but choirs need to breathe. Or at least, we think we do. Timing a “lento” is up to sixty beats per minute, or one beat a second, but usually slower. Often the eighth note will get one beat, slowing things even farther.

More common in the music I’ve done is “largo.” Largo is thoughtful, dignified, but not painfully slow. Largo reminds me of paddling slowly across a lake. These are your deep, swelling chords, rising and falling like great waves on the sea. Next comes “adagio”, stately and steady. The so-called “Albiani Adagio” is probably the most famous adagio. Often a movement in a symphony will be labeled adagio. There may be faster bits in the over-all adagio feeling, but the general “push” of the music is slow to moderate.

Andante is a steady walking pace, if you are not walking with me. (I walk allegro). It’s your basic not too fast, not too slow, we’ll get there tempo. Choirs like andante. Orchestras see andante as a lead-up to allegro or presto, or a respite from allegro and presto. String players appreciate andante and slower, while the woodwinds and brass sometimes express doubts. (Remember, orchestra brass and woodwinds don’t breathe. Choirs breathe. Strings and percussion can do whatever the heck they want, and the pianist has a beer on the music-rest so he’s not worried about anything!) When in doubt, andante.

Allegro and vivace are “trot” and “look lively and run fast.” Allegro can be used for choral tempi, but vivace is not all that common. Usually, the composer just changes the time signature, so that instead of a quarter note getting one beat, it is the half note. That means the music suddenly goes twice as fast. At least. Beethoven, I’m looking at you. (The second half of the “Credo” in the Missa Solemnis, the “Et vitam venturi saeculi” portion.)

A musician may also see French, German, and English terms as well, and their general sense is understood. I’ve not seen much French annotation aside from organ music, but I’m very familiar with the German (organ again, and other things) and English.

“Piu” means more of whatever it was. “Meno” means less of it. So a piu mosso direction calls for a bit more speed and a more sprightly style. Meno mosso is a call to rein it in, slow a little, connect the notes more so the tempo sounds slower.

Conductors are free to shift things around, and all these instructions are a range. Some choirs and orchestras or soloists can do certain things faster, or slower, and the conductor’s job is to work within the broad sense of pacing and speed to get the most feeling or precision, or both, out of the group. Unless the composer is standing there, correcting things. Then you listen to the composer.

*”Pie Jesu,” pronounced pee-ay yay-sue, is Latin and is also the title for a movement in the mass. Although I’ve heard a conductor order a choir to “sing it like the Lloyd-Weber ‘Pie Jesu’.” It worked, because we all knew what the composition sounded like.

For more than you ever wanted to know: https://theonlinemetronome.com/blogs/12/tempo-markings-defined

Overheard in the Halls: Episode 29

*cue “Morning” from Peer Gynt Suite*

A teacher strolls down a long hallway, savoring the relative quiet. She raises her can of soda pop to her lips . . .

Voice from Around the Corner: AaaaaiaiiiiEEEEEEEEEEE!

Me: [races down the hall, cuts the corner and skids to a stop]

Jolted Junior: Spider! Spiderspiderspider Biiiiiiiig spider!

Me: [studies wolf spider heading for the outside door] You are quite correct. I’ll get the door for him.

The spider went in peace under his own power. Headed for the van used by the teaching sisters to commute to Day Job.

* *******

A confused soul wanders into my classroom during chapel hours.

Me: Can I help you?

Confused Soul: Um, I think this is my first period class?

Me: You are?

C.S.: Mumbles name

Me: No, you are in Brother Vector’s math class next door during first period. This is chapel period. Which chapel are you in?

C.S: Um, Protestant Two? I think? I left my schedule at home?

Me: Let’s go check with Mrs. Hutchinson.

C.S. [As we go up the hall to Mrs. Hutchinson’s room]: This is kinda my second first day. I’ve been sick.

Me: That’s quite alright. Some days are like this.

Indeed, she was in Protestant Two, and Mrs. Hutchinson took over.


I was being invisible behind the desk, covering a study hall while Sister Scholastica was on retreat.

Frazzled Freshman [sprawled in chair at study carrel] Uuuuugh, I’m doooomed.

Sober Senior [looking up from calculus book]: It’s only the second week of school. No one is doomed until the fourth week.

Secular Senior: Unless you are among the reprobate, not the elect. But that’s only if you’re Protestant. The rest of us are safe. [returns to history book]

Frazzled Fresh: I skimmed the stuff for English and I still busted the quiz.

Sober: There’s your problem.

Frazzled: But that’s what you do, right? Find something on the ‘net, answer the questions, get an A. That’s what we did at my other school.

Sober: You went on the net? For English? How do you think you can learn it without actually reading the story?

Frazzled: Magic?

Sophomore Standing at the Printer: Just read it. One short story won’t kill you.

Secular Senior [muttering from behind history book]: No, but Sr. Mary Conjugation will.

I stayed where I was, invisible, and trying hard not to laugh.


Sister Scholastica (aka The Dean) returned from her retreat refreshed and out of the loop. We crossed paths in the secondary workroom.

Me: Good morning, Sister.

Sr. Scholastica: Good morning, Miss Red. [stirs coffee] How have things been?

Me: Mostly quiet.

Sr. Scholastica: Mostly quiet?

Me [counts off on fingers of hand not holding tea mug]: First hairy spider of the season, two misplaced student laptops, major communication lapse between here and the usual place so Señora Piñata is rather irked, and the junior students have been counseled about how to return to class when they come back from off-campus chapel.

Sr. Scholastica [sips coffee]: Generally normal, in other words.

Me: Yes, ma’am.