On Thursday evenings, we have a little gathering at the local parish where, over the course of an hour, I attempt to go over the feasts and saints of the upcoming week. About 20-25 people show up, which I can only explain by mentioning that there are snacks, often prepared by my beloved wife or some other good cook.

 Figure 3 The landscape of 350 million years ago—Illinois under water.
Like the seas that covered the fly-over states 350 million years ago, my knowledge of history is broad and shallow, and infested with monstrosities.

These little presentations do tend to lead me off into philosophy, history, art, music, architecture and so on. Like the prehistoric seas, my knowledge in these areas is, at best, broad and shallow.

Hey! I spent most of a year at an art school! Been to the Uffizi – twice! I’ve read Tacitus! And Herodotus! More than once, even! And a bookcase or two full of pretty much random history, art and philosophy books. And – I got nothin’.

Even more surprising than there being 20-25 people willing to show up for this is that, repeatedly, I’ve been told by these dear souls that they *like* the digressions into art and history and such.

The snacks must figure into this, somehow, but it’s tricky to see how.

Image result for Late Silurian sea life
Monstrosities, such as lurk in the broad shallow sea of my mind.

The danger here is that – you, my 12.5 regular readers, will be shocked – I *like* rambling on about things I kinda maybe understand a little. There are dangers in encouraging me to blather, similar to the dangers associated with throwing gasoline on a flame, as observed by Dr. Lazarus.

Dr. LazarusThe other danger: I’ll be having a thought, know that I don’t know, hit the interwebs, and come up for air an hour or two later, my head full of half-understood, poorly contextualized (is that a word? Probably shouldn’t be.) FACTS.

Oh, boy. This is how I came to be thinking about Geats. Actually, not Geats, per se, but all those scary Germanic tribes that ended up strongly represented in the gene pools of just about anybody with European ancestry.

Image result for galaxy quest gasoline

And how, one might ask, did I get to thinking about Geats in a presentation on feasts and saints? St. Isidore of Seville, naturally. He was more or less a Visigoth – a Western Goth, as opposed to Ostrogoth, an Eastern Goth. The words Goth and Geat are closely related, along with a number of other similar terms.  Jutes might be Geats, too. There is no end to speculation, invariably the case when the topic is interesting and the facts few. Doubly so when smart guys are involved.

Anyway, dipping a toe into the shallow sea: in 410, when Alaric the Visigoth sacked Rome, the The Romans cut some sort of a deal where the Visigoths got a nice chunk of Gaul, the central western part, in exchange for going away.

The funny thing: the Romans could not have been sacked by a nicer, as it were, bunch of barbarians. The Visigoths had for a long time been mercenary partners with the Empire, fighting its wars and defending its frontiers. The Visigoths, especially Alaric, had understandably begun to think of themselves as Romans for all practical purposes. They didn’t just want the money, although they certainly did want to be paid. They wanted respect.

Alaric’s beef with the Empire was that they were happy to treat him like a Roman when they needed his army to save their necks, but treated him like, well, a barbarian mercenary when they didn’t. This did not go over well with Alaric, a proud Germanic king. After a series of insults and having to threaten the Empire to get paid, he started in getting even. He couldn’t sack Constantinople, which was well defended. Not that he didn’t try. So he went after Rome, by then certainly a second-class target but symbolically still the heart of the Empire.

But, as a Roman wannabe, he didn’t want to burn it to the ground and slaughter everybody, and so Rome came through the sack with surprisingly little damage.

And then Alaric died, and his troops move on to Gaul, from which they were fairly promptly driven south into Spain – by other Germanic tribes, who, in turn, were under pressure in the East from yet other Barbarians – Huns, I think, but don’t make me look it up! I’ll be gone for hours!!!

Image result for Kingdom of the Visigoths
Orange is the color of the Kingdom of the Visigoths – dark orange where they settled after sacking Rome; light orange for the greatest extent of the Kingdom; middle orange for the kingdom circa 500 – a half century before Isidore was born.  Also note the green area – the Suevi (except those that stayed in Germany and became the Swabians) were a scary but less sophisticated Germanic tribe that the Goths eventually conquered; the Vandals in yellow are yet another – they persisted until wiped out by the Islamic invasion.

So the oddity here is that the Visigoths were the high class barbarians by the standards of the other German tribes. They proved this by settling down in Spain and putting together a nice Kingdom, comprising most of what is now Spain and a good piece of France. Into which Kingdom of the Visigoths St. Isidore was born. And so on and so forth.

(The Ostrogoths ended up settling in – Italy. Along with the Lombards, the Germanic tribe from which St. Thomas Aquinas is descended. The Ostrogoths conquered Italy by defeating Odoacer, King of Italy, who was Scirian, the Scirii being yet another Germanic tribe. This stuff never ends!)

Geats, on the other hand, were Swedes – sort of. Beowulf was a Geat, probably. Their neighbors  along the shores of the Baltic and North Seas included the Jutes (Jutland being pretty much modern Denmark) , the Angles and the Saxons – who ended up in the British Isles, partly, displacing to some extent the Celts, who seem to come from Bohemia, who no doubt displaced the Picts or somebody.

It. Never. Ends.  This of course occasioned a search for a quotation from Will Rogers (I’m almost sure) about how there’s not a man in the world living on land he has any real right to. But I couldn’t find it.

Updates & Trivia & Writing

A. Busy at work, which means I’m avoiding even more work than usual. Plus, somehow, I ended up with stuff to do every night this week except Friday.

Cuts into the blogging. Yea, yea, boo-freakin’-hoo.

B. Tonight, for an RCIA class, I got volunteered to do some Church history, which, to my naive mind, isn’t any different from plain old history everywhere the Church has ever been. As in, you can hardly talk of secular history in those places and times without the Church, nor can you talk about the Church without knowing what was going on in the larger world (if, indeed, the world can be said to be larger…).

This pitch is right in my wheelhouse, so I’m all rarin’ to go. I was assigned the period of 1200 through the Counter Reformation – woohoo! – and given a 15 minute slot. Well. As no one has ever accused me of being too terse, it might be a *slight* challenge to fit 400+ tumultuous and critical years of history that happens to include, among other things, discovery of an entire hemisphere, into 15 minutes. If I gave 3 minutes each to Gregory VII,(1) Francis, Dominic, Gothic architecture, Wittenberg and Trent, I’m already 3 minutes over, and haven’t touched on Charles Borromeo, the way the Counter Reformation influenced music (I could do an hour or more just on O Magnum Mysterium...), and about a dozen more topics that spring to mind before I’ve even researched it. We will be pruning with the ol’ intellectual chainsaw, here.

Since I’m already doing Feasts & Faith, I probably should hold off doing a Church History seminar-thing for another year. At that point, I’m thinking 10 1.5 hour lecture/discussions, which would barely scratch the surface. What I’d bring to the game: blending art, music and philosophy into the narrative.  There’s only like a library of books on this topic – my only excuse for doing this would be bringing in threads from many sources. There’s probably already a book or 50 that do just that….

C. One thing I wish I had time to discuss: the relationship of the Church & State, and how it differed in the East and West, and how the West’s division of Church and State helped bring about the artistic, cultural and technological revolution in Medieval Europe. I doubt there could have even been a Dante of the Eastern Churches – a man passionate about the complementary and divinely-given rights and duties of Church and State. Instead, the East retained more of the ancient Roman practice of religious careers being government careers – I should say, religious careers *of course* being government careers.

The fragmented feudalism of the West allowed for layers of duties and rights across several dimensions, such that a serf, even a serf’s wife, had a position where an emperor or pope owed her a certain inviolate respect. The battles of the Middle Ages seem to be over who owed whom exactly what level of fealty, with the Church presumed beyond discussion to be distinct and hold honor and duty apart from the king.

Not so much, in the East, where emperors from the earliest days saw it to be an obvious right and duty of theirs to meddle even in theology, let alone in who got to be patriarch. (2)

But, alas! No time for that in 15 minutes.

Related imageD. So, writing. Only able to throw an hour here and there at it for the time being, but it may be that’s just a well – I think I need to reach a critical mass of ideas, and I’m not *quite* there.

What’s happening: I started with a broad arc that ended in a life-or-death decision being made by a young girl in an intense situation. I’d outlined a lot of the social conditions that would lead up to this point, as well as the technology that would be required – it’s space stuff, trying to keep the science pretty hard. Now, details: I had to describe in detail where they were going, including describing and naming all the celestial objects (complete with backstories), describe how they get there, and – this is still skeletal – describe the culture(s) involved.

Then, I reached the point where I needed to name and describe all the people. Um, I’m guessing other writers do this first? Because it’s not a story unless people care about the girl making the decision and the people whose lives are in the balance. So, now, in this background – and the background still needs a lot of work – I’m outlining 3 or 4 (going with 4 for now) families who travel together with thousands of other explorers/colonists to the stars, marry into each other, feud – and produce this remarkable girl upon which the fate of many – including many of the members of these families – depends.

And that, my friends, is the actual story, not the tech and the alien worlds. It’s Sci Fi, as the story could not exist without the science, but these people now crowd my brain. These people, so far, only lurk in my head. Once they start to keep me up at night, I’ll have something.

One of the ancestors of the girl, a great-great grandmother, is introduced here. (BTW: much cleaned up that preface – thanks for all the feedback.)

All in all, fun, but not tending to produce any pages I might throw up here.

  1. Yes, St. Gregory VII is 11th century, but he had a big hand in starting the whole medieval dawn so beautifully described by Chesterton in Ch II of his biography of St. Francis. 
  2. Gregory VII was the last pope to ask and receive imperial permission to be pope, in the late 11th century; yet, over the centuries, many kings and emperors claimed veto power exercised through their cardinals. The last cardinal to veto the decision of the College of Cardinals in the name of his King was the Prince-Bishop of Krakow, who vetoed the leading papabile on orders from the Holy Roman Emperor – in 1903! The outraged Cardinals then voted in Pius X, who promptly and strenuously rejected any idea that kings could overrule the Cardinals. Only took 1900 years!

In Search of One Good Hat

Something like this. I might be sold on a tasteful brown; black is too hip for the room. And patterns/white are right out. 

Off later this afternoon to a conference in, of all places, the Mall of America. I’ve heard rumors. Never liked roller coasters much, and am too old for that sort of thing. So: since my doctor wants my bald head covered (that 20 years of sunburned SoCal youth/melanoma thing), I’ve decided to make lemonade: there’s got to be a decent hat somewhere in a place with the chutzpah to call itself the Mall of America. Right?

Am taking an extra day to rent a car and drive down to La Crosse, WI, to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The church building is a masterpiece by Duncan Stroik, whose presence at Notre Dame single-handedly raises my opinion of that otherwise mephitic institution out of the gutter. (1)

He also designed the chapel at Thomas Aquinas College, which it is interesting to compare with the near-contemporary building of the Cathedral in Los Angeles. It is safe to say that, barring disaster, generations of faculty, students, their families and visitors will love and find great inspiration in the chapel of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity at TAC. They do now. It is also safe to say, I think, that a cathedral designed so that you need an ‘overview’ section – a program, like in modern art museums – to explain what you’re looking at stands to be as baffling, if not out and out as repulsive, to future generations as it is to any lover of beauty today. The tapestries are gorgeous – and they don’t need a program. The statue of Mary at the Annunciation that graces the entrance, while a beautiful work in itself, is a baffling choice as a statement piece – again, you’d need a program to explain it. The building itself is such a self-conscious rejection of the traditions and feeling of the millions of Catholics who inhabit LA as to be hard to understand as anything but a conscious insult. A big beautiful church building based on beloved church buildings from *any* of the myriad cultures represented in LA – Mexican, Filipino, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese would work as well as anything strictly European – would have been instantly loved, instead of in need of constant explanation.

The bad news: because of its cost and its construction – thousands of tons of steel reinforced concrete – it is likely to be a century or more before it gets replaced. I fantasize about a billionaire convert cutting a deal with the Archdiocese – here’s a billion to pay off debts and fund new programs, provided you let me build you a new cathedral. We can convert the existing into the (weirdly designed) parking structure or warehouse it more closely resembles.

And then he hires Stroik.

A man’s gotta dream.

This Thursday, my beloved is taking the Feasts & Faith group for me at church while I shop for a hat. This week, we’re observing the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, a commemoration of, among other things, Christendom’s surprising victory at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. The 15 to 30 people who show up are going to get, in addition to the stories of saints, pictures of artwork and church buildings, and the Sunday Scripture reading, a brief recap of the situation leading up to the battle and from the battle up until today, largely based on this. (2) The things my wife puts up with.

Feasts and Faith is an experiment. What if you spent an hour a week trying to get a feel for Catholic culture and tradition as a gateway to discipleship? There are a million ways to God, and I’m biased by my own experiences, of course, but I find it inspiring and comforting to see that the Church, despite the many and grievous failings of us, her sheep, has nonetheless spread to the whole world and inspired and fed sanctity and beauty everywhere. As is her job.

That I should appoint myself to do this, to lead the tour, as it were, is laughable. Inspired by St. Phillip Neri, I’m trying to embrace the absurdity and do good anyway. All our efforts are ridiculous in and of themselves, why should mine be any different? Then, to top it off, I make my poor wife lead the day I’m gone. May God have mercy on us!


  1. Am sorely temped to quip that Notre Dame’s relationship to Catholic higher education stands in the same relationship as Bill’s and Hillary’s partnership stands to marriage. But that would be mean. To at least one of the parties.
  2. A better and much more detailed explanation of the background situation by Mike Flynn can be found here, here and here.

Updates, News, Sheepishness

As mentioned earlier, in a fit of not exactly sure what, I volunteered to lead a discussion group at our parish, and the pastor and parish administrator surprised me and said yes. First meeting was this past Thursday, the Feast of the Nativity of Mary. About 28 people showed up, 20 of whom signed in. It went well, for the first meeting of a new program I’m making up as we go along. I’m putting together a blog/website: Feasts & Faith. All the materials, plus links to sources, will be posted there.

I mention this to explain why I’m not posting here more. Other reasons: the shingles hurt, and won’t go away. Sure, I’m only 2.5 weeks into a 2-4 week disease, so it’s not unusual for it to hang out for maybe another 10 days. Vicodin is good, but I don’t want to pop ’em like candy – just use them at night so I can sleep.

But really, I’ve got like another 7 or 8 drafts of posts pending, that just need a little something to meet my (really pretty low) standards of blogability. And I have read a bunch of books, to add to the pile of ‘books I’ve read and would like to review’: Thomas More’s Utopia, John C. Wright’s Swan Knight’s Son, most of Gulliver’s Travels, Forming Intentional Disciples, Chesterton’s Tremendous Trifles, and I think I’m forgetting a couple. Working on Brian Niemeier’s Dragon Award winning novel Souldancer now, will probably take me a while. And all kinds of Wright, Flynn and Wolfe beckon from The Pile…

I’ve also got not one but two epic home improvement projects going on at the same time, both outdoors just as the post-work daylight is starting to get scarce. To make it even crazier, I’m once again haunted by thoughts of the stories *I* want to write. So far, it’s like Mark Twain said about exercise – I should probably just lie down till it goes away. So far, that’s worked depressingly well…

I have one draft post in particular, that’s sat there for a month now, on an article in fivethirtyeight that is a particularly egregious example of apologetics for the pseudosciences of sociology and psychology caught, once again, with their pants down. I got to the point where some actual research wants to be done, like visit a physical library/college bookstore type stuff. The soothing noises emitted by all the Usual Sources whenever events make it unavoidable to honestly conclude that the Soft Sciences (sic) can make no legitimate claims on our loyalty are as predictable as the sunrise: Science is hard! Look! Self-correcting! Can’t stop now! Because people just barely might notice that these same frauds are responsible for all the ‘discoveries’ that have made sexual perversions the new normal.

Barely possible. Our well-schooled population, which tries to please teacher by proper regurgitation of the expected answers, is about as likely to notice as Pavlov’s dog is to suffer dry mouth. How much nonsense can our training accommodate? Don’t answer that! I don’t think I want to know. The experiment is still running. For now.


Being Rash for Christ

When reading the lives of the saints, it’s common to see both a relentless practical disposition and utter spontaneity side by side in the same person. This is that whole Catholic both/and thing Chesterton among others likes to go on about. Thus, great saints will typically devote themselves to a rigorous, no excuses life of prayer and discipline AND run off to convert the Saracens at the drop of a biretta. Or kiss the leper, give somebody the clothes off their backs, take a condemned man’s place – that sort of thing.

A certain tiny rash act on my part, not remotely in the league of anything an actual saint would do reflects,  I hope, a tiny bit of the spirit of the thing: I will, it seems, be in charge of a bit of continuing Catholic education at our parish. Because the director said I could do a class, and so I submitted an outline and that was that.

Here’s what I’ll be trying to do. First note my abiding hatred of the graded classroom model, so imagine this as being done in a way to defeat that model (which lurks, after 12+ years of Pavlovian training, in our minds despite our dislike of it and despite even efforts to root it out) so as to allow actual personal relationships to be formed – which is by far my most obvious weakness as a ‘teacher’. People are just so much more demanding than living in my own head! Anyway:

Feasts and Faith: Continuing Catholic Education Continue reading “Being Rash for Christ”

Week 4 in American History for Teenagers – How’d It Go?

File:Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze, MMA-NYC, 1851.jpg
Sit down! Sit down! Sit down! Sit down! Sit down, you’re rocking the boat! Managed to mention the Little Ice Age in this context as well. Tee Hee!

Ruthless editing brought the handouts all the way down to 32 pages: an American Revolution to Constitution timeline, a map of key battles and troop movements, brief bios of 5 Founding Fathers – and, what the heck, the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and  Bill of Rights.

Was way late – the stupid printer was off-line for some reason, took me – with IT help – 30 minutes to get it back going. This is twice in 4 classes that I’ve been late. Great model of adult responsibility, me.

Finally got going at 3:50. 2 kids skipped out because it was so late – they’d gone on to the next interesting thing. So, 5 kids. The only feedback that really matters is that they show up, but they did seem to get into it. Tried to emphasize how iffy the Revolution was, how support for it was hardly universal among colonists, and that some of the battles were basically colonists versus colonists, revolutionaries versus loyalists. It was only after France and Spain got involved that victory started to seem likely. The Founding Documents were given for reading on their own. We’ll go over them a little next time, as we cover the early Republic up to the Civil War.

So: picked 5 Founding Fathers for whom to give short bios. Which 5 would you pick?

Middle-School History: Today – Revolution!

What is it with geniuses and hair care? Or lack thereof? But wait – Mozart had tidy hair (or at least, a tidy wig) , as did Bach. Is it just Beethoven, Einstein and their imitators? Deep question.

America is Revolting! Here, we refer only to the events of the later half of the 18th century, Six years after Bach died, Mozart launched the whole baby genius thing.  and 16 years after that Beethoven was born.  But other things were happening as well.  Kant, Hegel and Fichte were all born around this time, too, although only Kant was doing much damage before the 19th century. The finding of the longitude got productized, making sea travel and trade much safer, more predictable and profitable.

The Enlightenment was grinding toward its ultimate expression, the Reign or Terror. Enlightened despots – roll that around in your brain for a bit – all over Europe were trying out all these cool ‘scientific’ ideas, using their own people as lab rats, something their poor unenlightened predecessors never dreamed of.  This project of enlightened, powerful people experimenting on us chickens (to maximize egg and meat production) goes on to this day, cheer-lead by the bastard spawn of the unholy union of Darwin and Hegel. The ideas of the Age of Reason succeeded, finally, in killing rationality entirely.

Somehow, representative democracy arose out of all this. Like the 1960s, only way more and way more truly, one can say: well, at least the music was good. How something as good and sublime as the American Constitution could arise from these roots is still a mystery to me. This is one point where history seemed truly balanced on a knife edge – it clearly could have turned out much differently – and much worse.

So, here’s the problem: in my original outline for a 10-week course of once a week one hour seminars on American History for teenagers, Week 4 was to be devoted to the Revolution up to the Constitution. For the first 3 weeks, my handouts were about 15 pages, mostly maps and timelines, just to give the kids a feel what was happening when and where.

Week 4? I’m up to 32 pages, and that ain’t close to done. I’m guessing 40 – 50 pages of materials, which are just a high-level overview. For comparison, last week’s class ran 10 minutes long, and the handouts were 14 pages.

The problem is I’m leaving work early to do this, which is why I settled on once a week for 10 weeks – that will fly under radar. If it gets any more frequent or longer, I fear it won’t.  So, what to tell and what to cut? Painful, and it’s not going to get any better going forward.

Middle School American History 2: How’d It Go?

Columbus Discovers America. More or less, depending on the historian.

Friday was Day 2 in the American History Class at Diablo Valley School. Went OK. 2 kids couldn’t make it (out of town, but they had arranged for their friends to get the materials for them) and one of the staff who audited last time dropped out, so we had 6 student. 3 girls, 3 boys, age run from about 13 to 17 – so, maybe this is high school history. Doesn’t really change anything.

Started with a map showing the approximate territories occupied by various tribes at the time of first serious European discoveries, mostly to point out where it was clearly wrong – today’s major lesson was: consider the source, check it out yourself. (This is a serious issue with the early explorers: Columbus: hero or murderer? Drake:  brave explorer or bloodthirsty pirate? Cortez: liberator or a man consumed with greed? Depends on who you’re asking – and even then, even after the out and out lies have been accounted for, the truth may not be well presented by any one perspective.) Talked about sources – you don’t have to to trust everybody, you don’t have to trust me. You can look it up.

Then, ripped through the early explorers, with an emphasis on those setting foot in what is now the US. Cabotto, Desoto, Coronado, Spanish exploration of the Southeast and Southwest. Finished up with Jamestown and the Pilgrims, with emphasis on what it meant to get a royal charter and a couple of the fun characters -Pocahantis, Squanto, John Smith.

Started to say that there was a common theme among early English settlers, and a young lady jumped in: they were really stupid? Absolutely! It was near-miraculous as many survived as did.

This week: colonial period. Man, am I ripping through this.

Middle-School History – So, How’d It Go?

Large Clovis point from Washington state.
Clovis point from Washington state. One does not hunt rabbits with this thing.

Yesterday was Day 1 in the American History Class at Diablo Valley School.

It was fun.

Since this was an extremely busy week at work (thus the lack of posts), I was scrambling to get the materials together an hour before class. 25 minutes before class, I had it all together – just had to send a few sets to the printer. I was at work, and get to use our printers, so I sent to the nice color one that does collating and produces these nice packets, ‘natch.

After a couple minutes of nothing, I ask an IT guy – Oh, that printer is broken. I’m 10 minutes away from school – OK, which one works? The B&W one in the receptionist’s area. Resend to that printer, which will (it is assumed) just produce one big one-sided pile of materials. I got time, but it’s getting close.

Click print, trot over to the printer – sloooowly, one set of 11 pages comes out. OK, where are the other 9? Run back, print again, but the Word default has set itself back to the broken color printer. So, nothing happens. Print again, to the B&W printer – one more set comes out – with a nice note from the printer about how it can’t complete the job because buffers are full yada yada.

Now, I’m getting late. So, why not email the file to the school, and ask them to produce a few copies? They can do that while I drive over, I’ll get there on time, it’s all good! This brilliant solution occurred to me about 5 minutes into my drive over, after having wasted more time with the printers and getting even later.

So, I get there 10 minutes late, setting a great precedent for my students at the very first class. One of the staff grabs one of my copies and goes to make copies. Later, returns with photocopies of B&W print-out of material that was in color: maps are basically smudgy gray scale Rorschach tests.

Here I am, model of adult preparation and responsibility.

Anyway, about 8 kids and one of the staff showed up. Ran through the topics pretty much as outlined in the previous post. Spent a lot of time explaining how growing grain (and developing tea or wine/beer rituals) are all but essential to having cities. Pointed out how prehistory is and always will be uncertain – that some things we can be pretty sure of, such as the approximate dates of the Clovis culture, and that they used those big stone points to take down big animals, while others, such as how and when and how many different time, exactly, people first got to America will always remain speculative to a high degree.  Talked about ice ages, sea level, migration, how glaciers were a pretty effective barrier to hunter/gatherers.  Had a nice drawing someone did of San Francisco Bay 18,000 years ago, when the sea level drop made everything from the coast to the Farallon Islands a big rolling plain, with the islands as coastal mountains – thought it would bring the point home in a way Beringia would not.

Finished up talking about corn, how it’s this tropical grass, and how, in order for the Aztec corn-based culture to make it to America, they’d have needed corn that could grow in the desert, more or less. So, unlike cultures based on wheat and other near-east grasses which could easily spread east and west, Aztec culture was up against some pretty difficult food supply issues to move north. But – corn is such a good grain that, somehow (via trade?) it did eventually make its way as a crop to New Mexico, and then out into the plains.

Cue the Mound Builder cultures. Wanted the kids to know that there were in fact many fairly high civilizations in what is now the US. This lead to a discussion of disease and how a population drop can wipe out a civilization.

Finished up by pointing out that, by the time Europeans started showing up in any numbers, maize – and beans and melons and squashes – had made it up to New England, that tribes of American Indians built civilizations around a small set of tropical plants in a place with a decidedly non-tropical climate.

So, for next week: a brief discussion of Vikings and others, followed by Zuan Chabotto, followed by Pilgrims and one of the most incredible and fascinating people in all of American history – Squanto. Then, all that boring colonial stuff.