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Would You Like Your Snails Salted?

Blog Post #39

escargot-on-a-plate

Escargot or Babbaluci

My nine-year-old grandson recently told me he couldn’t wait until he could try pouring salt on a snail. I fear I’m to blame for this reckless desire. I once told him how, as children, my sister and I had explored the chemical reaction and scientific wonder of salting live snails. We did it in the name of Science, for isn’t the spirit of inquiry—isn’t downright curiosity—the basis of all science? A child’s mind is curiosity itself. We had heard an intriguing hypothesis about the effect of salt on a snail, and we performed the experiment to prove or disprove it. So fascinating was it, we experimented more than once, just to see the foaming, frothy miracle occur.

snail-trail

A Snail’s Trails

Snails were in abundance in our area when I was a child, leaving their slimy little trails all over the sidewalks and lawn around our home. We stepped with caution across the dichondra that was our lawn, maneuvering as through an arcade game avoiding all the little round spiral hazards. If by accident, the sole of one’s avatar foot came in contact with these hazards, the result would be a terrible crunching sound, and goosh splattering all over said avatar.

La Puente House Jan 1956 b

The ivy was newly planted around the border of the lawn in this photo taken in 1956. After it filled in it became inundated with snails.

Even before the salt experiments, Karen and I were harbingers of destruction to the poor snails inhabiting the ivy in our yard. Shod with flip-flops we tramped through the ivy just to hear that crunching sound so reminiscent of the satisfying snap of crisp fall leaves. I don’t know what we imagined made that sound, but it never occurred to us that each crunch was a tiny life, crushed away by five- and seven-year-old giants. One day our mother saw us and put a stop to it. She told us what was hidden beneath the ivy, and didn’t want the slime tracked through the  house, or her ivy smashed. (No doubt the hearty ivy better survived our stomping than those poor, unsuspecting snails.)

english-ivy-r

It’s been decades since I’ve seen a snail traversing our yard. I don’t know where they all went. They seem to have packed up their tiny camper shells and moved on to greener pastures.  Or the real story may hearken back to those experimental days when we came in to grab a salt shaker from the kitchen and our mother wanted to know what we were going to do with it. We dragged her out to the sidewalk to show her, expecting her to be “wowed” just as we were. But she wasn’t wowed. She showed sympathy for those poor little creatures in the face of our rank brutality, convincing me I shouldn’t do such a thing like that again. Sometime after this speech, she went to the garage, got the snail bait, and scattered  it all over the yard. Like them or not, snails are notorious for eating and destroying garden flowers and crops (things immensely valued by my mother). They are, in most cases, considered pests, and though my mother had a tender heart for all living creatures, she did not welcome them, favoring the lives of her garden plants more.

Corrys-Slug-And-Snail-Death-300x300

This leads to other scientific questions: Which would a snail consider to be worse? Salting—a rapid death by osmosis and dehydration? Or a slow demise by poisoning? Science will never be able to accurately answer this question, since it requires interviewing a snail.

Even though she thought salting them was inhumane, my mother really wasn’t crazy about snails. Once, when I was five or six, my grandparents (both of whom were born and reared in Sicily, and could barely speak English) came to visit our Southern California home from Detroit, where they lived out their later years.  Apparently, my grandmother thought to do a great favor for my mother. Wandering in the garden for some time, she at last returned through the back door of the kitchen. Though I was quite young, I will never forget the expression on my mother’s face when she saw her best Wearever pot in my Grandmother’s hand, filled to the brim with mucus-y, tentacled snails slowly slithering over the rim, and leaving disgusting trails of slime crisscrossing every square inch of the pot . (It was a sight I have never forgotten!) Grandmother was going to cook them for dinner. My poor mother. It was clear that repulsion followed hot on the heels of shock. In addition to accosting her delicate senses, how could my mother, (though 100% Sicilian, yet unable to utter a single word of Italian herself ) nicely tell her non-English-speaking mother-in-law, that Escargot (Babbaluci in Sicilian) was NOT happening in her kitchen using these revolting snails and her best cooking pot?

18674326-live-edible-snails-in-a-brown-basket

The snails in my mother’s pot looked something like this.

 

I think my father was there and handled that uncomfortable conversation, explaining that snail bait had been spread throughout the yard in an attempt to eradicate these little calcium carbonate delicacies, and it wouldn’t be safe to eat them. It seems those garden variety snails (Helix aspersa) might have been first class for cooking had they not been exposed to poison.

The looming question became who would clean the pot? Certainly not my mother! (Thankfully, I was too little.) After some unlucky person (who, in fact, probably was my mother) did the initial cleaning and escorting of escargot from the pot, I suspect my mother put said pot through a rigorous disinfecting.

snail-kid-14018726

Fast forward four decades or more. I am sitting in an elementary school classroom in Colorado. Teachers had ordered, through a science catalog or some such, some long awaited specimens for the children to study. I happened to be acting as an aid in the classroom the day the surprise specimens arrived.  I watched with rapt attention as the children’s excitement increased. Would it be some rare butterfly or chrysalis? An ant farm? I was completely surprised when, placed on the tables in front of the children, (with strict instructions as to how to handle—or not handle—them) were none other than humble garden snails (Helix aspersa), just like the ones we had so conscientiously exterminated from two of our home gardens.

garden-snail_200-623x200

Helix aspersa

(Suddenly, I thought I could account for the exodus of a multitude of snails from our neighborhood. Perhaps some enterprising person gathered them up and sold them as scientific specimens, and perhaps as food stuff, gleaning sheer profit for his efforts.)

The children did not experiment with the effect of salt on live snails, although in the interest of science, I thought the children might find it extremely intriguing and informative. I thought about mentioning it, but, first of all, it was not my place, and secondly, I knew it would have the same effect as it did on me, my sister, and my nine-year-old grandson. It would create an intense desire to perform a scientific experiment and observe the results. I didn’t want to be responsible for the destruction of those expensive specimens, even in the name of science, so I kept quiet.

(I did find myself asking the air, “You paid for these?”) Maybe when all scientific observation was over, the teachers were planning an extraordinary feast.

I have never salted a snail since my mother encouraged me against it. While I recognize that many a gourmet (or Italian grandmother) relishes snails (Escargot or Babbaluci) as a delicacy, I sincerely hope I don’t meet them in my garden or on my plate from this time henceforward.

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My First Blog Post EVER!

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© May 19, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.

 

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Home School Daze (other appropriate rhyming words: Craze, Maze, Praise, Ways, Ablaze!)

Country Cousins Celebration

My sister’s and my kids on a typical home school day – dressed up for a “Country Cousins Hoedown” 1990

Blog Post #4

In the old days, those long-ago days when I home schooled our five children—back, back, during the 1Jurassic Period of home schooling, before home schooling was integrated into the educational world and accepted as a viable option as it is today—our house was bustling with creative energy and vibrant learning! (…Our kids had great creative energy, too.)

We studied all the disciplines….yup!…integrating them into a year-long theme. History, literature, math, music, science, geography, art, and more, all blended naturally via year-long themes, such as “Adventure Down the Mississippi,” “Raiders of the Renaissance Minds,” and “The Voyage of the Frugal Frigate,” to name just a few.  

Scientific inquiry was something that came naturally to our kids, making it an easy task to identify principles and laws associated with daily activities.  At any given time, our children (five to be exact—three girls, two boys) were busily engaged in dynamic and scientific learning associated with movement, gravity, heat, and potential forms of energy. 

Example #1—Kinetic Energy

ki·net·ic en·er·gy
noun
PHYSICS
1.     energy that a body possesses by virtue of being in motion.

Teaching five siblings of varying ages and temperaments can be like trying to spoon-feed soup to a troop of monkeys while riding a roller coaster. The kids were ever in motion—kinetic energy in abundance.

The proper tools and materials funnel that energy into useful occupation. Those tools were always plentiful and readily available to our children. Naturally, my best (and only) steak knives were needed to saw a refrigerator box into pieces in order to build a 2pirogue for use at the local marshy area near our house. (They wore, rather than rode, the boat; stepping into its bottomless hull, and holding it up by hand around their waists. Their free hands were needed to juggle clipboards and pencils for recording sightings of flora and fauna, to hold the orienteering compasses, and to push and shove each other and their cousins, who were also wedged into the pirogue, to insure they were all “rowing” in the right direction. Fortunately, our children were each born with an additional set of hands, or so it often seemed.)

Access to premium workspace was a must for such a large-scale, and energy-funneling project as carving out and building a pirogue, which is why said sawing took place in the most spacious room in the house—the living room. The back-and-forth motion of the knife sawing, of course, was a splendid example of reciprocating motion. The din issuing from knife on cardboard was equal to the roar of a helicopter overhead, creating the useful educational illusion of simulating real chainsaws when only using steak knives.

This activity was followed-up with an equally scientific display of pressure differential: that of suction. I ably demonstrated this necessary scientific principle by running the vacuum cleaner as quickly as possible after the completed study in reciprocating motion, restoring my front room to its former state of disarray by sucking up every particle of the cardboard shavings created by my very productive children. (All of whom had scattered at the sight of the vacuum, allowing me a few precious moments of not-so-quiet time to myself.) An impromptu and energetic lecture by our school principal (my husband) was later given to an innocent looking, but guilty group of spectators on the avoidance of clogged vacuums.

Examples of kinetic energy representing the physical prowess of our sons was particularly evident, and remains recorded for posterity on the multitude of videos they created illustrating ninja techniques, and back-flips off the block wall in the backyard. Extremely effective was the dubbing-in of sound effects to staged fight scenes  in which they clearly missed striking their opponents by a good arm’s length, yet the THUD and BANG sounds appeared right on cue—about two seconds out of sync with the action.

 Example #2—Gravitational Energy

 

  grav·i·ta·tion
   noun
  PHYSICS

1. a. the force of attraction between any two masses. Compare law of gravitation.

b. an act or process caused by this force.

2. a sinking or falling.

3.a movement or tendency toward something or someone: the gravitation of people toward the suburbs.

Not to be outdone by Galileo’s experiments on gravity at the Tower of Pisa, our boys were great experimenters in illustrating this principle of physics, dropping everything from small toys to themselves from the second floor landing. Their enthusiasm for learning was so great, they were often found conducting experiments after school hours.  

 

 

On one such occasion, I had strategically maneuvered myself into the kitchen, where I was performing my own experiments in chemistry as it pertains to cooking, when I heard an enormously loud KERTHUNK! near the bottom of the stairs. I turned to see one of the boys lying prostrate on the floor—arms sprawled out to the sides. I cried out and ran to the motionless body, heart in my mouth, only to hear laughter above me.

The boys were apparently performing two experiments at once: one on the effects of gravitation on a large, homemade, stuffed doll (dressed in their clothes), and the other following definition number 2a as listed above: “a sinking or falling.”  The sinking and falling had more to do with the condition of my heart and stomach than with Newton’s apple.  Definition #3a was exceptionally illustrated as my “tendency to move toward something or someone” standing at the top of the stairs defied all principles of gravitation and speed.  In spite of all the “fallings and sinkings” I’ve experienced, I’m lucky to be alive today—and so are my boys!

 

 

If dropping dolls didn’t satisfy their gravitational objectives, dangling from the top of the stairs themselves was a good alternative. However, they did this when I wasn’t looking. (Probably one of those rare moments when I retreated into my room for a few minutes of quiet time—called “using the restroom.”)

Principles of gravitation and momentum continued as the kids were often seen zooming down an inclined plane (our street) on a “Cool Runnings” type of sail-bedecked and wheeled bobsled of their own making.  A separate scientific experiment on the effect of friction was conducted simultaneously, as they did their best to see how quickly they could completely wear out the soles of every single pair of shoes they owned in stopping the contraption.  (Their feet proved to be excellent substitutes for failed brakes. I’m happy to report that an alternate lesson about heat and friction was not lost on their feet.)

Example #3—Potential Energy

 
  po·ten·tial en·er·gy
  noun
  PHYSICS
1       the energy possessed by a body by virtue of its position relative to others, stresses within itself,   electric charge, and other factors.

Our children were expert in their demonstrations of potential energy, especially when sitting at the dining table working together on collaborative learning projects. As one child used his or her power of expression to stress the importance of certain learning options (AKA bossing the other kids), the others were building up a good store of potential energy. This stored energy was later released in the form of a combination of kinetic energy, definition #3a of gravitational energy, and an arm (or fist) perfectly poised to demonstrate potential energy.

Example #4 – Heat Energy

  Heat en·er·gy
  noun
  PHYSICS
1.        Energy that is pushed into motion by using heat. An example is a fire in your fireplace.

Our next-door neighbor approached me when we were both tending our front yards one day, and with an abundance of good nature said, “We never know what is going to explode from your back yard!” I smiled sheepishly, and waited for her to explain. She continued, “ Sometimes rockets on strings come blasting through the gate, and sometimes it’s kids on skateboards and other contraptions…[such as the sail- and wheel-bedecked bobsled before mentioned]….We never know what to expect!” She was very kind and even particularly cheerful when telling me this. At first, I took it with a small sip of pride in my children’s inventiveness and accomplishments. Later, as I pondered her words, I gulped down gallons of humility as I wondered if she were really issuing a gentle warning: “I may appear to approve of the goings on at your house, but inside I am as frightened and poised for action as a coiling snake just waiting for disaster to strike my home!” Being so close in proximity to the unpredictable activities bursting forth from the other side of her fence, I’m almost certain the latter was the more correct message she intended to send. I’m sure she also heard the cacophony of noise that accompanied all our activities—especially since my sister’s six kids sometimes spent their days at our house, as we participated together in school activities. The decibel level of eleven rambunctious children was sure to have rung inside her house like a clanging bell, and probably created a ruckus all the way up the street. I was so used to tuning out incessant racket I didn’t even notice it.

 

 

 Many years have passed since the Jurassic Period of home schooling. Our kids—all of whom are grown—now tell stories about that time period that make my hair stand on end. Where was I?! Right there, at home, wearing a plethora of hats, (mother, cook, spiritual advisor, chauffeur, guardian, teacher, seamstress, piano instructor, nurse, nurturer, counselor, and on and on), and always savoring with relish their creativity and the time I spent engaged in learning adventures with our wonderful children. Although I hide the gray hairs accumulated during those twenty years, I am not about to hide the fact that I would do it all over again! It was worth every white hair, and every second.

 
 1 The Jurassic Period of Home Schooling is characterized by three special facets: (1) the time-period in which it began to take shape— for us, the early 1980s; (2) the climate in which it took place, which was relatively unstable among average parents, educators and lawmakers; and (3) the lack of state-provided resources now available to home schooling families.  In addition, a characteristic of the Jurassic Period of Home Schooling as pertaining to our family was the attempt to buck the system, and to do something creative, engaging, “brain-compatible,” and memorable. Latching onto Susan Kovalik’s “Integrated Thematic Instruction” model (ITI), currently called the +“HighlyEffective Teaching” model, we had a marvelous experience with our children.

2pirogueA small boat used in the bayous.

 
 
 

My sister Karen has developed her own Home School model, loosely based on our experiences with ITI, called *EPIC ADVENTURES, which can be found at her Courageous Beings web site. 

 + We home schooled so long ago, those from whom we gleaned so much inspiration have also retired. Such is the case with Susan Kovalik. It appears she has passed on her mission to The Center for the Future of Public Education (of which we were never affiliated). We were involved with her ITI model in the late 1980s and 1990s. It was wonderful–inspiring innovations of our own.

 *One of the innovations prompted by ITI was Karen’s EPIC ADVENTURES–which was, essentially, what we produced from year to year during our home school days. Karen tweaked it to fit her own personal agenda, created a web site, and continued our former enterprise of putting on workshops for home schoolers for many years afterward.  My dear sister, Karen, passed away in November of 2015. Her web site is no longer active, so I have removed the link. 

 
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© Copyright April 19, 2014
 

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.


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The True Measure of a Man

Blog Post #2


“Till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me.”
Job 27:5

My father just celebrated his 91st birthday, which has spurred me to reflect on his remarkable life. Not until recently did it occur to me how truly remarkable many of his life choices were. As a child, I was oblivious to his strong will, drive, and determination. But with each passing year, his focused effort, tenacity, self-initiated learning and dedication to family set an example even a child could not miss. 

From humble beginnings, he saw his deficiencies and worked diligently to overcome them. His mother withdrew all of her children from school when her own mother died. Because of this, Daddy became two years behind his grade school classmates, putting him in an awkward position. Because he was older and stronger than the other kids in his grade, he was a defender of the younger kids against bullies and got into scrapes to protect them.


After failing to complete an assignment during the second grade, his teacher made him stay after school to memorize the poem he hadn’t prepared earlier. He not only memorized the poem, but still recites it today: 


 “It Couldn’t Be Done” by Edgar Albert Guest

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he [started] right in with [a powerful] grin….
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it!


(I have written it the way he always recites it, which is slightly different from the original.)

That was the beginning of a long and deliberate exercise in committing to memory everything from facts and figures to complicated family pedigrees.

Moving to Italy with his family at age thirteen, he spent three years in Sicily—never attending a day of school during that time. Circumstances bordering on the miraculous made it possible for him to leave Italy prior to WWII, where he was being tracked for entry into the Italian Navy. He was a U.S. citizen and did not want to serve a fascist country. Patriotic to the core, he has always been an advocate for America.

Fast forward to 1942—World War II. Daddy enlisted, and was stationed in Bermuda with the Naval Air Corps, serving in the North Atlantic Theater as a Photographer’s Mate 2nd class, and an aerial gunner. 

My Father

One of his buddies bet Daddy fifty cents that he would take up smoking before the end of the war. Guess who won the fifty cents! He never took up the habit. The dollar amount was less important than the principle involved. His iron will and the inner drive to win the bet did the trick. He also abstained from swearing and drinking—deliberate choices. It never occurred to me how remarkable this was until I was much older. 

Equally astonishing was how he spent his free time. When his navy pals were carousing in bars, you’ll never guess where Daddy was! He was in the library memorizing poetry such as Poe’s Raven. He had quite a repertoire when I was a child. On our outings, he recited poetry and sang opera arias that I also grew to love. 

He tells the story of when he was scheduled for a routine air patrol at night. A specified number of  hours in the air had to be logged by a deadline each month if he wanted to receive more pay; this particular flight would accomplish that. When the time for the flight arrived, he found his buddy—who was also scheduled for the flight—totally inebriated. Rather than leave his friend for the better pay, he helped him get home, cleaned up, and to bed, only to find out in the morning that all men on the flight they missed were never seen or heard of again. 

PB4-Y2

I have always felt the significance of this story, and the impact on Daddy’s life, and on mine! Now that I’m older, I realize how critical his choices and preparation were to the outcome. 

After the war, he set high standards of fidelity, hard work, and dedication to family for which I’ll always be grateful. Earning two college degrees without first having a high school education was a feat of sheer determination. Married to our mother for nearly fifty years before her passing, he was devoted to her and to our family. We knew where he stood because his feet were firmly rooted in living what he believed, and because he shared his convictions with us through word and deed.

My father often qualifies his stories about the war with the fact that he never saw any real “action” during the four years of his service. But in my mind, his “actions” in the navy, in marriage, and in life in general are noteworthy—deserving a medal for strength of character, compassion, faithfulness, generosity, love, and courage. He has always walked a path of individual integrity, and in doing so, has often stood alone. 

That makes him a true hero to me.

© Copyright April 7, 2014