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Thursday, February 28, 2008
This is what we had for supper last night...all amounts are very approximate.
Slow Cooker Chinese Beef
1 lb. stew meat, cubed (comes that way in the package)
good squoosh of hoisin sauce
8-oz package whole mushrooms
two cups leftover broccoli
squirt of soy sauce, 1 tbsp. cornstarch, half a cup of water
In the very busy morning, put the thawed stew meat in the slow cooker and add enough hoisin sauce to sort-of cover the top. Let it cook on low for the rest of the day. Or put it in later if you forgot, and cook it for a few hours on high.
Partway through the afternoon (so they don't get mushy), rinse and add the mushrooms.
About half an hour before supper, stir the cornstarch into a little water and add a bit of soy sauce for extra flavour. Turn the slow cooker up to high if it wasn't there already, and stir in the cornstarch mixture and the leftover broccoli if it isn't too mushy. If it's really soft, then just add it at the end. Let the whole thing finish heating together. If it's too thick, you can add more water.
Serve over rice or noodles. This has kind of a nice dark taste, I think because of the beef juices mixing with the hoisin sauce and the mushrooms. Warning: we ate it all, even with the youngest Squirreling offering regrets; so if you have more people or hungry eaters, you'd probably be best to double it. Just use whatever size package of meat you think will be enough and go from there.
Strawberry Upside Down Cake
about 3/4 of a bag of frozen strawberries, thawed and warmed in the microwave along with the end of a container of homemade pancake syrup (optional)
Standard muffin batter:
2 cups unbleached or all-purpose flour
1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar or whatever you like to use instead
2 tsp. baking powder [corrected! 2 tbsp. would be horrible]
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1/3 cup oil
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Grease an 8-inch square pan and put the warmed berries into the bottom of it, mashing them slightly if they're large.
Mix the dry and wet batter ingredients separately, blend gently and spoon over the top of the fruit.
Bake 30 to 40 minutes, until the cake tests done. I put the pan on top of a cookie sheet because I was worried that the fruit might gush over the side, but it was fine. The cake was delicious but I think we could have happily used the whole bag of berries.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
"....I wish to place on record that I am in unrepayable debt to Francis of Assisi, for when I pray his prayer [Make me an instrument of Thy peace], or even remember it, my melancholy is dispelled, my self-pity comes to an end, my faith is restored, because of this majestic conception of what the work of a disciple should be.
"So majestic is this conception that one dare no longer be sorry for oneself. This world ceases to be one's enemy and becomes the place where one lives and works and serves. Life is no longer nasty, mean, brutish, and short, but becomes the time that one needs to make it less nasty and mean, not only for others, but indeed also for oneself."--Alan Paton, Instrument of Thy Peace
Monday, February 18, 2008
Thursday, February 14, 2008
The best book I've read so far this year isn't on my Bookstack Challenge List, but it was on the shelf, so I guess it counts. I'd seen it recommended in one of Terry W. Glaspey's books, and had been meaning to read it for awhile--and one night I just picked it up and started in.
The book is A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken, published in 1977. The plot of the story is no secret (just read the back of the book): Van (the husband) meets Davy (the wife); they go sailing; they become Christians; Davy dies; and life goes on.Oh, and the middle of all that they go to Oxford and become friends with C.S. Lewis.
This is a book about falling in love: intensely, desperately, "intoxicatingly" (to quote Terry Glaspey). With another human being, and with Christ. Van and Davy don't do anything by halves. At the beginning of their relationship, they set up rules that most of us would find extreme: they will do nothing apart, they will have no separate interests or activities that would interfere with or change their love. In their view, that includes having children, since children might cause an imbalance in their two-ness. They are more interested in pursuing both outdoor and intellectual adventures--together, of course.
However, this isn't a brief "Love Story"; the Vanaukens' marriage lasts for about eighteen years, and they become Christians in their thirties. When they start to consider Christianity, naturally they turn to books: the whole Christian literary canon, C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot's later poems, Chesterton, Sayers, Newman, the medieval writers. But, interestingly, it's Christians rather than books that help convince them that Christianity might be true. The Christians they meet at Oxford are intelligent, joyful, and not very "Puritan"; they drink wine, spend evenings (often at the Vanaukens' flat) discussing everything in creation, and sing liturgical goodnights to each other at unholy hours. This is community; this is a kind of magic circle that's all the more magical because of the realization that it's both temporary and eternal. Most of the people involved will leave Oxford for whatever comes next; but at the same time there are bonds being formed that will last the rest of this lifetime and into the next.
In the same way that Van and Davy first fall in love with each other, the two of them fall in uncontested, unswerving love with Christ; and one of the only points of friction between them is that Davy seems to take her new relationship with the Lord even more seriously than Van does, if that's possible.One might ask if this love story with Christ is just as much about falling in love with England, Oxford, and stimulating friends, including Lewis, as it is about God. Does that make it less true? Obviously not, because the real test comes when the Vanaukens return to the U.S. (Van gets a college teaching position). Although they are disappointed by mainstream churches and miss England a lot (they drink a lot of tea and find the houses way too warm), God begins to build a growing circle of believers and seekers around them.
This part of the story sounds much like the beginnings of L'Abri: a student has questions and comes over to talk; then she brings a friend...I found this fascinating because it proves you don't have to live in the Alps to reach out to people, or even hang a "Knock for Christian inquiry" sign on your door. If God's writing the story, He opens the door at the right time, or at least provides the right person to knock.
All too soon, the partnership comes to an end with Davy's illness and death at the age of forty. In some ways, I found this less interesting (or at least less surprising) than the first part of the story, although it continues to show the Vanaukens' devotion both to each other and to the Lord. (At one point, Van coaxes Davy out of a coma by talking to her for hours on end.)
The last part of the book focuses on the period afterwards, especially on Van's continuing correspondence and friendship with C.S. Lewis, through the time of Lewis's marriage and then his death.Would I want a marriage as intense as the Vanaukens'? Not if it meant forgoing our children--but they made that decision long before they became Christians. (Did they ever reconsider their choice?)
Still, there's much to learn from them about love that serves the other person's needs and pushes aside a lot of the small daily irritations, just for the sake of the relationship. The detailed discussions on faith (including C.S. Lewis's letters to Van) are worth reading and re-reading; we are privileged to observe great minds sharpening themselves on each other. Sheldon Vanauken's descriptions of that time at Oxford are so good that we can almost feel like we were there, on one of those unforgettable winter nights with bells ringing out all around.
Saturday, February 09, 2008
I just made this version of Breakfast in a Cookie (with adjustments) and I think they turned out pretty well. (Note they can be dairy-free too if you substitute for the butter.) I chopped up the dates and apricots with scissors and added them to a container of raisins in the amounts directed: but my baker's instinct told me (rightly) to hold back on adding the full amount of dried fruit. You want some batter around all these add-ins, after all! I kept the rest for another time.
I also used margarine (because that's what I had); cut the honey in half (to a quarter cup) and changed the flour to whole wheat. I think they're sweet enough with only a bit of honey, because you're adding all that dried fruit (even if you cut the fruit back). I also cut back a bit on the spices (personal taste). Also you might want to check before the 15 minutes are up, depending on how big you've made them--my rodent nose told me they were done a couple of minutes ahead of time.
The Apprentice was doubtful about adding in the Cheerios, but they seemed to work fine. The whole effect is a kitchen-sink type oatmeal cookie. If you didn't want to go to the trouble of chopping things, you could use packaged trail mix instead.
I got about three dozen cookies out of the recipe.
I try to stay away from most of the ignorant anti-homeschool articles and letturs-to-the-edditor out there; and heaven knows, there are lots of them, especially after any homeschooler gets into any trouble with the law or does some other antisocial thing. Occasionally I've posted my own rebuttals about homeschoolers/homeschooling not being so weird/scary.
But it's time to set things straight.
The question is, who's weird here?
First, you go ahead and define weird. OK...
"Synonyms: These adjectives refer to what is of a mysteriously strange, usually frightening nature. Weird may suggest the operation of supernatural influences, or merely the odd or unusual: "The person of the house gave a weird little laugh" (Charles Dickens). "There is a weird power in a spoken word" (Joseph Conrad). Something eerie inspires fear or uneasiness and implies a sinister influence: "At nightfall on the marshes, the thing was eerie and fantastic to behold" (Robert Louis Stevenson). Uncanny refers to what is unnatural and peculiarly unsettling: "The queer stumps ... had uncanny shapes, as of monstrous creatures" (John Galsworthy). Something unearthly seems so strange and unnatural as to come from or belong to another world: "He could hear the unearthly scream of some curlew piercing the din" (Henry Kingsley)." (Bolds are mine.)
You know what's really weird, is that a lot of people looking up those synonyms (if anybody did) probably wouldn't have read anything by Conrad or Dickens or Stevenson. Whereas some--not all, mind you--of our unearthly and unsettling homeschoolers will take those books as their common currency.
If you read, you tend to go looking for friends who read...or you like to read about people who like to read, like Father Tim in the Mitford books who hangs out at the bookstore, pondering Churchill's History of the English-Speaking Peoples and waiting for obscure books by John Buchan to arrive (also one of Mr. Fixit's favourite writers).
Not that Father Tim is a homeschooler. Just that he's weird in kind of the same way as some homeschoolers. (Not all homeschoolers are bookworms, just not all vegetarians eat nutritiously.
Some homeschoolers would rather be doing than reading.)
Weird is listening to little kids at the park talking about the sexy hot singers they're supposed to like.
And the rest of us just go on scaring people (unsettling them?), just by doing our thing. My six-year-old kind of blew some people away at church when she did a reading with her sister a couple of weeks ago. I don't think they've ever had somebody under seven lead the responsive reading before. But she would have done that even if she wasn't homeschooled. It's a famly thang.
Weird is standing behind mothers in line at teachers' night and hearing them talk about how they get up to commute at 5 or 6 in the morning, drop the little ones at daycare, get home at 5 or 6 at night, and still have to make dinner for everybody including the teenagers. [Oh--you want to know what I'm doing at teachers' night? If you've just climbed up here, our teenager takes most of her classes now at the public high school. Homeschooling-all-the-way isn't a doctrinal thing with us; figuring out what works best for our own kids takes priority over dogma.]
So here's my request: Stop writing those letters telling the powers-that-be to swing their blackjack a little harder at us. Stop writing the breathless articles that always have something in them somewhere about how deprived of real lives homeschooling moms are, or how we'll suddenly become incompetent once the kids get to algebra, or how we need to be sending our kids into the school system so that they'll absorb whatever version of socialization you think is best for my family. It's not like your deathless prose is going to give me the sudden revelation that I've totally messed up my kids' lives. (Although the collective blast of them might eventually make homeschooling more difficult or in some places illegal, depriving the world of some great independent thinkers and people who would have dropped through the cracks, educational and otherwise.)
Some of what's fantastic (unbelievable) to behold in homeschooling is truly fantastic (unbelievably great). Not everything about homeschooling is wonderful. Not every homeschooler is wonderful--kid or parent. What else would you expect?
But we're not all weird either. Some of us watch the Three Stooges. Some of us listen to KISS (as if that defines normal, but for some people it might). Some of us can even read, write, spell, and think through what the the world can offer to our kids--and what we can offer back.
And that's the trooth.
Last Sunday night we made a special treat for dessert: Pizza Cake. We adapted our recipe a long time ago from an April Fool's idea in Family Fun Magazine. We don't use red frosting for the tomato sauce, though; I prefer to make a sauce out of jam or preserves.
This is how we do it: I bake half of a white cake mix in a foil pizza pan. (You can bake the rest of the batter in a cupcake pan at the same time and save it for another time, if you want just one. One pizza cake serves about six eager eaters.) Usually I like to make cakes from scratch, and you could use any plain cake recipe you like; but for this recipe it seems the toppings are the exciting part and a mix will do fine underneath. If it bakes slightly unevenly, that's okay.
I make a sauce from a good dollop of red jam (say half a cup), enough water to bring it up to a cup, and a tablespoonful of cornstarch, cooked together until thick and clear. You might want to double that if you like lots of sauce (I did). (Note: jam thins as it heats, so you might want to try a bit less water than the math would say; I think my water level came up to about a cup and a half rather than two cups.) Raspberry and strawberry jam both work fine. This time around I used about half a jar of E.D. Smith Triple Fruits Raspberry. You could probably just use straight preserves too, if they're thin; but I think that would be too sweet.
When the cake is baked and fairly cool, spread it with the fruit sauce. Sprinkle it with something to resemble grated cheese; some people might like coconut, but we prefer a square of grated white chocolate. You can sprinkle it on after the fresh fruit (see below), but we think it looks better sprinkled on first. And then decorate, randomly or in lovely patterns, with your choice of fruit toppings.
Since our grocery store featured blackberries this week (an unusual treat, even in the summer), we got a small box of them and put them on the cake along with sliced bananas and canned pineapple chunks. But you could also use kiwi fruit, strawberries, small orange sections, or whatever else is available. (Note if you're using bananas or anything else that might turn brown: serve as soon as possible after decorating. We made the cake in the afternoon and refrigerated it until dinner, and the banana slices were already starting to discolour just a bit.)
If you're feeling creative and have a pizza box, you can serve it from the box as Family Fun shows; but otherwise it's just fine from the foil pan. Actually I baked it in three foil pizza pans stacked together, for stability; and when I served it I had the foil pan sitting on top of a glass cake plate. I put our pizza cutter out for fun, but a cake lifter will do just as well.
Now Ponytails and Crayons both want pizza cake for their birthdays.
Friday, February 08, 2008
However, I do like the premise of the book, and it did try to make some good points. It’s a novel about an (imaginary) self-help book called What I Learned On the Mountain that--astonishingly--works. And its impact (mostly negative) on the editor who discovered it and society in general. Some of the initial effects:
“People no longer felt estranged from their bodies. They felt connected. For the first time, possibly ever, Americans began to feel comfortable with who they were. Cosmetics went unsold; department stores stood half-deserted. Expensive perfumes were marked down and sat gathering dust. GQ magazine switched its emphasis from men’s fashion to articles on ‘fostering happiness.’ Dour Calvin Klein models stood on street corners holding up signs: ‘Will pout for food.’” (Happiness™)Unfortunately, the spreading move of “happiness” not only begins to destroy the economy (the alcohol and tobacco market dries up alongside the cosmetics industry), but it (whatever it is) destroys people's minds and emotions as well. The editor, Edwin, comes to this conclusion:
“[It’s] a world without a soul. A world without laughter. Without real laughter. The kind that makes your heart ache and your eyes go blurry….we need our vices….because life is sad and short and over far too soon.”One could argue that this version of happiness isn’t happiness at all, but some kind of selfish, mindless seeking after bliss. (bliss n : a state of extreme happiness [syn: blissfulness, cloud nine, seventh heaven, walking on air]) Edwin pleads for what he calls “joy” instead of “happiness.” However, you could also argue with Edwin’s definition of “joy” since it seems to be based only on celebrating the ugliness, pettiness and vices of humanity (accepting and enjoying what makes us human) rather than looking outwards from ourselves (e.g. to a supreme Being).
I hear echoes of Brave New World in this--the Noble Savage "claiming the right to be unhappy." However, Edwin isn't the Noble Savage by any means, or even Brave New World's questioning Bernard; he's a frustrated Gen-Xer who can't stand his wife, or his cat, or his boss, or his job, or the city he lives in. His only redeeming characteristic is that--somehow--he's one of the few people who read What I Learned On the Mountain and aren't taken in by it. This implies that he's worthy of telling the rest of us what supposedly makes life meaningful.
And I suppose he's right, in a general way. Too much seeking after "happiness" is just self-seeking and self-defeating; yes, there's something deeper out there. But I felt reluctant to accept much of his pontificating on how life was meant to be lived, considering the mouth it was coming from. I think you can get a just as good a read on happiness-as-human-experience in Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine, and without the profanity.
Right as I was finishing Happiness™, I thrift-shopped a copy of John Piper’s book Desiring God (Multnomah Publishers, 2003 edition; the link is to the e-text) . The motto of Piper's ministry: "We take happiness seriously."
Piper, who calls himself a "Christian hedonist" says this:
"I had never in my whole life heard any Christian, let alone a Christian of [C. S.] Lewis's stature, say that all of us not only seek (as Pascal said) but also ought to seek our own happiness. Our mistake lies not in the intensity of our desire for happiness, but in the weakness of it." (Desiring God)As I posted yesterday, I've also been profoundly touched over the past month by the Mitford novels. Perhaps they're too good to be true. On the other hand, they illustrate two truths about happiness that seem to escape Will Ferguson's theories. One is perhaps a cliché, but it's true anyway: that you create your own happiness around you; if you want a friend, you have to be one. Mitford's mayor wins elections based on slogan "Mitford takes care of its own," and the books constantly repeat this theme of human love and concern. The best that Ferguson's Edwin comes up with is deciding to kill the author of the self-help book (to save the world from Happiness); his concern for others is limited to another editor (his sometime girlfriend) and, eventually, to that same author (probably the most interesting character in the book, and we don't get to meet him until the end). In other words, he doesn't do a whole lot to make his world a better place.
The other is, as I suggested before and as John Piper preaches, that happiness--or joy--or whatever you want to call it--may not be complete until we find it in a relationship with the One who created us. It's all very well for Edwin to celebrate our human weaknesses along with our good; but that doesn't seem to take into account the genuine pain caused by sin and suffering in the world, and our need for an answer that lies outside of humanity altogether. Belief in God doesn't have to be as mindless as Belief in Happiness.
And when I get done with Piper's book, I think I'll pass it on to my friend at church.
Thursday, February 07, 2008
Meaning no disrespect to Jan Karon, it's not necessarily the writing that draws me into these books. As a matter of fact, after you've read a few of them, you could almost write a parody full of some too-often-repeated phrases like "his good dog," "Consider it done," and "Well done!" Throw in a bit of nature description (not as bad as Hessie Mayhew's, of course), a Reader's Digest joke, and a couple of coincidences, and consider it done. It doesn't seem too complicated. You can read an excerpt from Out to Canaan here.
It's not the writing. It's the feeling that--book after book--I am being personally ministered to as I read them. Not preached at, although some people might feel that way. It's a sense that a lot of the people in these books, although they have their struggles too, have their spiritual acts together, and that you can learn an awful lot by hanging around them for awhile. Even if you disagree with some of the theology--and I actually like it that the main character is a priest in a liturgical church. It does away, right away, with some of the Bible Belt stereotypes (not everybody in the South is Baptist). I like it that, even in a small town, there are several churches, and that there's even some church-hopping among them; people aren't bound to one or another for life. I like it that Father Tim has lunch at the diner with the same two guys for twenty years, and that it's still only in the last book that he gets into any serious God-talk with one of them. That's called extreme patience.
I like the way these people pray with each other. I like the way some of the characters move towards faith, and the places God takes them. I like the way Father Tim draws on Scripture. I like the way he manages to talk to some of the difficult and unlovely people, and to genuinely love them even if his responses are of the "Imagine that" variety. I like his struggles to get into e-mail. I like the way he buys lipstick--he even remembers the favourite shade--for an old lady's Christmas present. I like it that he adores his wife with such passion. I like it that many of the people in the book--including Father Tim and his wife--aren't quite as young as they once were, and that they deal with some very relevant issues of aging.
I like the hard-won words of wisdom that come in one of his sermons:
"Some of us have been in trying circumstances these last months. Unsettling. Unremitting. Even, we sometimes think, unbearable. Dear God, we pray, stop this! Fix that! Bless us--and step on it!....I started with the Christmas book Shepherds Abiding, several books in. I didn't realize it followed so closely on the heels of In This Mountain, the book that contains the sermon I just referred to. Those two books together are my favourite of the series: In This Mountain because of its struggles and triumphant faith; and Shepherds Abiding because of its beauty. It's something like an unexpected sunny winter day (today) after days of unending storms; it's like snow on Christmas Eve, and a candle in the window. Like Good Friday and Easter, it's difficult to fully appreciate the second one without having experienced the first.
"I want to tell you that I started thanking Him last night--this morning at two o'clock, to be precise--for something that grieves me deeply. And I'm committed to continue thanking Him in this hard thing, no matter how desperate it might become, and I'm going to begin looking for the good in it."
And in fact, I wouldn't have cared if the series had ended there. For me, that was enough. But there is still Light from Heaven to read.
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
Mama Squirrel: "Could you find a more grammatical way to say that?"
Eager smaller Squirreling: "Yeah, that's not right, because you did used to do that."
Monday, February 04, 2008
- Author unidentified
Last weekend Coffeemamma, Birdy, PirateMum and I got together and talked some CM--mostly math. How do we apply Charlotte Mason's ideas to our math teaching?--especially when "what Charlotte said" ranges from saying that she had no special insight into teaching mathematics, to making very pointed comments about the overemphasis on pure mathematics in the English public school system, to setting out bean exercises, and recommending domino games for flittery little girls.
I mentioned how the first chapter of Galileo and the Magic Numbers has such a wonderful description of Galileo being taught about triangle numbers by his new tutor, using a bag of white pebbles; and how (when we read the book, usually in about grade 3) I try to incorporate the Miquon Math lessons on triangle numbers into our Galileo readings. That's one connection I've found between "everyday math" and people who've done wonderful things with numbers and equations--and the fact that this part of the story is about a young boy makes it even more relevant. But I wish there were more opportunities like that...
Afterwards I had time to think about some of what we talked about, and it occurred to me that Charlotte Mason herself--and I could have this wrong, I'm just positing something here--may not have been that different from many of us in her attitude toward mathematics. That is, although we know she was very well versed in literature, history, and botany, she may have been limited either by education or simply by a slight lack of interest in things mathematical.
That is not to say that I don't think she had some excellent insights about math teaching: for instance stressing problem-solving skills rather than doing rows of repetitive sums; and having children work through things themselves (such as writing out their own times table chart) rather than giving them pre-made manipulatives and charts that take the teeth out of the learning experience. However, doesn't this still apply mostly to arithmetic rather than to the larger world/universe of mathematics?
We know that she enjoyed keeping up with the latest scientific and archaelogical discoveries (and encouraged her students in those areas), but is there any evidence that she had as much enthusiasm for mathematics (and, by extension, physics)? Was she interested in what Einstein was doing during her lifetime?
And if Charlotte Mason felt like this, must this then be typical of a CM education?
Some might say yes: you can't be everything, and one must admit that the classical loop into which CM fits seems to encourage literature and history majors (or perhaps entomologists and ornithologists) rather than future mathematicians and physicists. Perhaps parents whose own bent is in those directions will naturally find themselves drawn more to other styles of homeschooling. Don't forget, though, that CM's own high school students studied three branches of mathematics at once--the subject was not neglected, although it would be interesting to see whether it was handled with as much imagination and insight as the other courses were. It would be worthwhile to search through the online Parent's Review articles from that time (mostly written by CM's colleagues) and see what their collective approach was.
On the other hand...I would say no. The sense of wonder that Charlotte Mason encouraged can be brought into mathematics as well; and a CM education in general can benefit "non-typical" CM students whose first love is not history. I say that because I have such a student. The education that she received at home benefitted her by teaching her that the world is "so full of a number of things" and that she was capable of learning about whatever interested her. Unfortunately, that doesn't particularly include history; but it does include chemistry and aesthetics and computer systems and a number of other things. She's also developing a good writer's voice.
If we want to teach mathematics or at least arithmetic CM-style, are we limited to either picture-book-math or Victorian arithmetic textbooks? No, I wouldn't want to put such limits on what CM math teaching is when there are so many good approaches out there (besides some of the public-school math mess). I would say that any approach claiming to be CM-friendly must balance the fun picture book side of things with a cumulative teaching of solid arithmetic skills, not too heavy on re-inventing every wheel but still allowing students to reason things out. I would definitely recommend what my own school days missed completely: books of math history and biographies of mathematicians; true accounts of significant developments; readable, interesting stories for younger children comparable to the wonderful books that are out there about Marie Curie, Thomas Edison and Galileo. And for the upper years, not just puzzles, which mostly just irritate the less mathematical of us; but any kind of "popular mathematics" writing that would give us a sense of what and why it's all about. The weekend newspaper book sections often review such books--the kind written for the general public. Good libraries will have a shelf of them too, or can get them for you. There really are books out there that are written to make what happened (and what's happening) in mathematics accessible and even interesting for the masses of us who graduated feeling rather clueless about higher math (and not caring much if we did).
Maybe I'm wrong about Charlotte Mason's interest (or disinterest) in what mathematicians were up to. I wouldn't have blamed her, either, if all she ever heard about in math class was theorems! But I think we can use her larger philosophy, and her methods, to open up an even bigger world for today's students. And perhaps we'll have a little less vexation for the next generation.