Monday, March 30, 2009

Paschal Candle Making--setting up the mold

We are making a Paschal candle for our church group. Last year, another member made the candle and I helped with the process. This year, he is out of town so it's fallen to us. We made our first pour last night and let the candle cool in the garage. To make next year's candle easier, I decided to chronicle the process for whoever winds up making the candle.

The first thing to document is the web site we used to guide the candle making process. The good thing about the web site is that it goes through the process of making a pillar candle step by step with clear instructions and with pictures (something we failed to do, sorry!). The bad thing is that it describes using a metal mold, which we are not using for this candle.

We are using a four-inch diameter PVC pipe that is about four feet long. We have a cap for the end of the pipe through which a small hole is drilled. This serves as the base of the pillar and it's where the wick goes through. Before assembling, though, we sprayed the inside of the pipe and the cap with candle mold release so that it will come out of the tube more easily at the end.

Tacky wax is used to seal the hole so that hot wax does not leak out of the mold while it cools. To hold the wick up straight, we tied it to a chop stick. Any stick would do; we have plenty of chopsticks in our drawer that never get used. We twisted the wick around the stick until it was tight. This set up should keep the wick centered during pouring.

Everything is set, except for melting the wax and pouring, which will be a separate blog.

Jacob is a helper

At Jacob's 15 month pediatrician appointment, I had to fill out a questionnaire about his development. One question asked, "Does your child help around the house?" which definitely had me circling "no." When it came to household chores, he was the opposite of helpful. If we folded clean laundry in a basket, he would spread the clothes all over the floor. If he found a basketful of dirty laundry, he would spread the clothes all over the floor. When we picked up toys to vacuum, he would redistribute them. The two ways to solve this problem were (1) to be quicker than him, so eventually everything would be picked up (even if picked up several times) or (2) to wait for him to fall asleep and then pick up and vacuum. At meals, he liked to drop some food on the floor for a snack later. The closest he got to helping out was when we'd sweep up the kitchen. He'd take the broom from us and walk around all over the house. Too bad he held the bristles up in the air.

Now, things have changed. When I take him downstairs to put on some laundry, he actually takes items from the basket and puts them in the machine. He'll even push the start button on the washer, and if I lift him up he'll push the start button on the dryer. Whether clothes are in the dryer or not is of little consequence to him. In the garage, we have to push two buttons simultaneously in order to open the garage door from the inside. Jacob has his button and I have mine. We have a great time opening the door when we head out for errands. He'll even put books back on his bookshelf and toys back in the bin. Not always, but definitely more often than he used to. He even puts his laundry in his basket when we undress him for bath time. He still drops food on the floor at meal times. I guess you can't win 'em all.

We go back to the pediatrician next week for his 18 month check up and shots. I hope they still have that question on the development questionnaire, because I can't wait to circle "yes"!!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Abraham is done!

Today was the last meeting we had in our church group for Abraham. I had a good time with the preparations but I am also glad it is done. A lot of work went into it from the entire group. It was really great to get to know the other members of the group more closely. I hope others experience this same benefit with their groups. The next topic is Exodus; I'm sure that group will do well.

Sorry for the short post but Sunday is a day of rest, so I will now go to rest.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Daddy is a superman

I've come to discover that in order to be a dad, you have to have the powers of Superman. Consider the following examples:

1. X-ray vision--a dad needs to be on watch even when you can't physically see your son or daughter. If you sense trouble, you need to be able to look quickly and assess the threat. You might need some assistance with a device, which I suppose makes you more like Batman than Superman, but why not fudge a little?

2. Super hearing--Even a toddler has enough sneaking powers to get into troublesome spots without making a lot of noise. You have to hear the slightest creak on a staircase or the silent slide of the steak knife drawer (which really should be secured some other way, shouldn't it?!?). Which brings us to the next attribute...

3. Faster than a speeding bullet--You see Junior from across the room, hall, gym or mall about to pull over a wobbly shelf or get down from some piece of furniture where the only landing is a crash landing. You need to be there in an instant. If you get their fast enough, nothing will happen. It's when you can't quite get there in time that the kid has a bump which starts a massive crying fit. You know the one where the first cries are silent, waiting for lung capacity and dramatic tension to build to bursting.

4. More powerful than a locomotive--Sure, your toddler can toddle along for a little while. Eventually he or she will tire and need to be carried back to home, the car, the hotel room, etc. Since the child is tired, most like he or she will fall asleep while being carried, which increases his or her weight by a factor of four. If you don't believe this violation of the laws of physics is true, ask any parent. If you are lucky, they will just tell you and not let you experience it for yourself.

5. Super-cold breath--How many times has a young one spit out a forkful or spoonful of food because the parent forgot to make sure the food was cool enough? Maybe you can't freeze a lake with your breath, but you'll need to put some chill on your chili.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. So be warned and be ready if you become a father. You'll also have to become Superman.

quick update

Just a quick posting before bedtime. Jacob was up several times last night, so we were zombies at breakfast. No, we did not eat brains instead of cereal, we just shambled around and mumbled incoherently. Also, yesterday Jacob bowled me over and I banged my head against his little plastic rocker. My neck was very sore yesterday, so I put off tae kwon do with Dave to tonight. I recovered quiet a bit, but a full night's sleep would have been better. Hopefully tonight will see some uninterrupted snoozing. Dave did not reinjure me, so all is well. I can't believe March is almost over. Where is time going? More tomorrow.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Movie review: Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure

I've finally watched one of the staples of 1980's cinema, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. It definitely represents its era well, back in the days of synthetic pop music, big hair, silly clothes and when suburbia was still considered a normal place to be (i.e. not a repressive hell or insane or a fairy tale).

Amazingly, the time travel is handled very well, i.e. without any paradoxes. At one point, future Bill and Ted run into themselves in the present, but they just provide vague advice that won't fracture the space time continuum. At one point, they are smart enough to realize that after their history report is done, they can intervene on their own past behalf to get through different problems, like going back and stealing keys to the jail and leaving them in a convenient spot at the right time. The movie is even smart enough to set up the lost keys at the beginning, long before they become a plot point. Such intelligence was a pleasant surprise among the general silliness of the story.

Time travel paradox is a pet peeve of mine in films. The first Terminator film did a great job of avoiding paradoxes; the second film didn't have any direct paradoxes but surely Sarah Connor thinks that Judgment Day can be averted. I chalk that up to her craziness. One of the great things about Terminator 3 is that they didn't cave in to the "we can change the future so there is no robot army that sends back the cyborg that we just destroyed" thinking of Ms. Connor. The TV show is awash in paradoxes, so much so that I've lost track. But the show has a certain charm about it. They have a sense of humor if not of consistency.

Having a sense of humor is what also saves the Back to the Future trilogy. It also suffers from paradoxes (if Marty changed his parents' lives then he shouldn't remember their slubbish ways because it never would have happened), but consistently thought out time travel isn't really the point. Plus, the third film is really fantastic. Of course you know Marty is going to make it home, but what about the Doc and the teacher? Christopher Lloyd (the Doc) and Mary Steenbergen (the teacher) have good chemistry and since they are a secondary story line, a happy outcome isn't guaranteed.

A rather unhappy outcome is the movie Primer from 2004. The filmmakers focus on the ideas and schemes of the group of scientists who stumble into creating a time travel device. The characters use it to make money at day trading and try very hard to avoid any paradox by having people run into themselves, etc. But the filmmakers fall into the old trap of wanting to have some big drama and they descend into paradox. The main appeal of the movie is supposed to be how well thought out and serious it is, and in this it fails. They should take a tip from Bill and Ted, lighten up and have an excellent time.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Abraham and Mary

My church group is coming to the end of its study of Abraham. I am supposed to give an opening reflection (called an admonition) for tonight's bible study. In order to get my thoughts together, I'm using the blog to draft out my idea. We shouldn't read from notes or a script, so I'll just read this over a couple of times beforehand and wing it as best as I can when I am in front of the group. Here it is:

Brothers and sisters, today we come close to finishing our study of the great father of our Faith, Abraham.

Abraham did not search for God. Remember in the catechesis, Emanuele said that Abraham had nothing to lose. That is not to say that Abraham had tried everything else, so the Hebrew God was next on the list. No, this was a totally original event. God came to Abraham and led him out of Ur. God manifested great generosity to Abraham, saying he will be blessed among men, blessed in his offspring, blessed with land. This miracle was all the more impressive because of Abraham’s circumstances. He was a nomad, he had no land. His wife was old, beyond child-bearing years. He himself was old. Nevertheless, God fulfilled His promises and gave him a land and a son. But God asked him to sacrifice his only son, so how could he have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky or the sand on the shore? Abraham depended completely on God’s power, he had faith. God did the rest

Today is also March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. This too was a totally original event. God chose someone to continue His saving plan, to be the culmination of the promise to Abraham. God spoke a promise through an angel to Mary. This promise was even more impossible—she will bear a child before she’s ever with her husband or any man, and that child will be the Son of the Most High. Eventually, at the cross she became the mother of all the faithful who believe in Jesus. Mary depended completely on God’s power. God did the rest.

God has chosen us as He chose Abraham, as He chose Mary. He calls us to depend on His power, and He will do the rest.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Toddler Tales and Tunes Time's Up

Today was the last day of the Toddler Tales and Tunes program at the library. The theme was a visit to the playroom, so songs and activities revolved around playtime and playthings. Jacob had a good time. The lady handed out little drum sticks that we used for banging on the mats or banging together, sometimes slowly/softly, sometimes quickly/loudly. Jacob really liked that, but wasn't very good at being slow or soft. At least he wasn't tossing them across the room like some others. We sang a jack-in-the-box song and pretended to pop out. And the usual tray of toy instruments was brought out. This time as it became empty, Jacob tried to climb into the bin! Luckily I was there to stop him. At the end, she almost forgot to hand out these cute little jack-in-the-box teddy bears. It's a styrofoam cup with a straw poked through the bottom and a little cardboard bear attached on the end of the straw. Pushing the straw up "pops" the teddy bear. Jacob likes it.

This program has been inspirational. The lady running it kept forgetting to do certain songs or activities and would say so. She also didn't like the children to run around and do their own thing; parents were to model appropriate behavior and if one got out of hand, the parent should take the child out of the room. This included not sitting still and quiet for stories. She didn't have a whole lot of energy or animation for the stories. And today was the third of four weeks of almost forgetting the handout at the end.

How is this inspiring? I am inspired by this to volunteer to lead a story time or two. I'm sure I could do at least as well as she did, if not more. The only difficulty is how to get in. I'm sure I'd have to go through some screening/profiling/training/indoctrination before the Howard County Library would let me lead a program for the pre-school set. One of the moms in the group today is a librarian at another branch that knows Jacob, and by extension me. Maybe I can chat with her about what it takes to be a volunteer.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Child Abuse

I really need to find a number to call for help. It's Jacob...someone has got to stop him, or at least make him sleep!

He woke up at 4 a.m. last night. I went in to check on him. I offered him water, he refused. I gave him a back rub, he continued to cry. I picked him up after he begged me to, then he pushed me away. I put him on the floor and he went straight to his bookshelf and started picking books for me to read. After about an hour and a half of trying to convince him to be soothed back to sleep by sweet readings, Angie came to check on us. I was at my wit's end, so she took over the Jacob watch. I think he fell asleep within half an hour for her.

He slept till 7:30, then got up and wanted to read some more. I finally convinced him to come downstairs and have some breakfast. After three bites, he decided he was done. No amount of cajoling, coaxing, singing or podcast listening would convince him to eat any more. We went to the family room to play with blocks and such. Eventually, I finished my breakfast around 9 a.m.

At 10 a.m., he pretended to be sleepy. So we went upstairs to his room to read some stories and hopefully start an early nap for him (and also an early nap for me!). Two hours later, we came downstairs for lunch without a wink of sleep being gained by either of us. As you might guess, he had three or four bites of lunch and was done. And he started to pretend to be sleepy again.

By 1 p.m. I was totally desperate. He had picked up Curse of the Were-Rabbit from our DVD shelf, so I took him to the Mac to watch some of it. Thankfully, he fell asleep 20 minutes into the movie. And stayed asleep for 3 hours, during which I managed to have a little catch up nap.

After dinner (which he finally ate a good deal at), we were hanging out upstairs. He took some books into our room to read in our bed. Angie and I lay down on each side of him. At first, he would toss finished books aside right into Angie's face, but he switched to me soon enough. Finally, bath time came for which Jacob was excited. He splashed a lot (on me). Then we dried him off, pajamaed him and got him to sleep.

So far he has been sleeping well tonight. But who knows when he will awaken again! I'm leaving the DVD in the Mac in case of an emergency.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

quick update

Just a quick post today--we had a fun visit to the National Zoo with some friends from our church group. Pictures should be up on Facebook in a day or two at the most. The weather was really great, in the 60s. It was actually nicer to be outside than to be in any of the buildings at the zoo. Usually visitors flee the heat of DC summers in the Great Ape House or the Reptile exhibit. Not today!

Jacob's favorite thing was seeing the cows fairly closely. A hippo the size of a small minivan was quite impressive, too. The famous panda bears weren't so fascinating to him. The elephants were too far away to get a good look, so we'll have to go back. Jacob also enjoyed having popcorn for the first time. After we convinced him to try one, he kept coming after us to get more. We're doomed if he figures out we can make it at home...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Game Review: Red November

Red November is a cooperative multi player board game in which the gnomish attack submarine Red November is succumbing to multiple disasters. The gnomes on the sub have to run around putting out fires, pumping flooded compartments, fixing malfunctioning on-board systems, collecting supplies and drinking grog. And a kraken is looming close and ready to attack the sub. If the gnomes can stay alive and keep the sub from getting destroyed for 60 minutes of game time, they win.

We played this game today (our third or fourth time) with some friends (their first time). We unfortunately (or fortunately) ran out of real time to play, so we declared ourselves victors by the fact that no gnomes had died and no major disasters were pending.

The game itself is fun. The premise is very creative and well-thought out. Many potential disasters are brewing: air is running out, heat is on the rise, pressure is building up, fires are breaking out, water is leaking in, inebriated gnomes are passing out. Players work together to avert these disasters using random tools they have/get. Cooperating always brings fun discussion and problem solving into the game.

The border of the board is a time track with sixty spaces. Each player has a time-keeper on the track and as he or she moves around and fixes things the keeper advances. Along the way are red stars denoting disaster events and red spots indicate when gnomes get to draw from the supply pool without going to the supply room. Disaster events are determined by a deck of cards, where things like fires breaking out or the missiles preparing to launch. The interior of the board is a map of the sub, where the players' gnomes move around into the different rooms to fix things.

Unfortunately, the rules aren't written very well. We still have to refer to them constantly, even on the fourth playing. Some related ideas are not written anywhere near each other, e. g. in the set up the players put the Kraken disaster card to the side; there is no mention of what to do with it until almost the end of the rules, where the players are told that once the disaster deck runs out, shuffle the discard pile and put the Kraken card into the discard pile, viola a new disaster deck. Some mention of this in the set up rules would be convenient. I found some FAQs during my search for links, so I will add them to our game box.

Overall, I'd say it is a very good game. The premise is fun; the disasters are interesting and cause good problem-solving and cooperation; the materials are well-constructed and fun to play with. We'll bring the game with us to San Francisco in a couple of weeks. It'll be fun to play with Angie's brother and the in-laws! We can re-read the rules on the flight out.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Jacob's day

Jacob's had a tough day. First he and Angie wake up before I do. Typically he likes to bring a book into our bed and read. He does this at pretty much any time of the day. Apparently, he tried this morning but Angie let me sleep. Thanks, my beautiful wife!

The day proceeded fairly normally--breakfast, getting changed, getting ready to go to the library. 10 a.m. story time was our destination. I gave Jacob his froggy sippy cup to drink from on the way there. By the time we got there, his pant leg was pretty wet from a leaky cup (sorry little man for not tightening it enough!). It looked like he had a diaper overflow. Searching the diaper bag yielded a clean top but no clean pants for him to wear. Not wanting to submit him or me to shame, I took him back to the car to drive home. He was very upset about that, as was I. We were supposed to go grocery shopping too. That didn't happen in the morning either.

When we got home, Angie came carefully down to see what was going on. When she heard us coming in, she thought someone was breaking into the house! Jacob and I put some laundry on and played with his blocks and such.

He went down pretty easily for his morning nap, but woke up early from the nap and wanted some lunch. After filling him up, we headed out to the library again (I promised to make it up to him). This trip was much more successful. We found some cool toys to bring home. He actually tried to put on the elephant hand puppet and play with it. Elephants have become big for Jacob. He always demands the elephant marching song from Disney's Jungle Book. We also got the Sandra Boynton book Hippos Go Berserk. I hope it's okay. How berserk can they get? But I digress. The library is having another summer reading program, so we'll probably have Jacob do that again. Last year the theme was "Catch the Reading Bug"; this year's theme is about creativity. I hope it's lots of fun like last year.

The grocery store visit was okay. Jacob didn't go berserk over the bananas we bought, which is unusual. Normally he wants to hold/eat them right there in the store. Maybe the fact that I back up the cart to the banana stand and snuck our purchase right under his seat worked out well. We picked up a 64 oz. bottle of apple juice, which Jacob insisted on having right by his seat. He tried to drink it by biting on the cap. To bad I started an embargo on the sippy cup! One of the other patrons laughed when she saw Jacob giving so much attention to the apple juice. He did get cranky at one point so the pacifier came out. He still charmed everyone at the checkout (where he usually gets cranky since I invariably pick the slowest line).

After dinner, we went to Rita's (caveat clickor: the linked web site has a lot of sound), a local Italian ice and custard stand. Since today is the first day of spring, they were giving away a free small Italian ice. The only difficulty was it did not feel like the first day of spring. The temps were in the mid-40s. Surprisingly, such low temps didn't result in shorter lines. Free is a powerful draw. Angie and Jacob had to flee for warmer stores (the Rita's stand is outdoors) while I awaited our turn. The ices were good. We tried to give Jacob some but he still doesn't trust very cold food. Someday he will understand the joy of ice cream and such treats. Until then, Angie and I will have to pick up the slack for him. We are caring parents. No sacrifice is too great for our son.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Why do philosophy?

I've read Josef Pieper's In Defense of Philosophy for our philosophy club. The next meeting is on "Why do philosophy?" so the book seems a natural fit. In order to get my thoughts organized, I'm using the blog to come up with a summary of the ideas in the book.

The object of philosophy is the totality of things, that is, all of objective reality. One is tempted to say it shares its object with science, but philosophy includes not only the observer with his faculties, flaws, etc., but also thought, history, art, religion, faith and many other intangibles that science does not touch upon. It includes all of human experience. Moreover, science usually focuses on understanding more and more about one particular object or phenomenon, excluding distractions and irrelevant data. For the philosopher, no datum is irrelevant. If something happens that is not accounted for in a person's philosophy, it cannot be rejected.

The method of philosophy is different from that of science. Science is done through a systematic application of a method; philosophy comes from an existential disposition. Scientific method can be taught in school; philosophical reflection is caused often by some shock or trigger like facing death or confronting Eros in the classical sense of a passionate love and wonder (not a sudden sensual desire).

Above all else, science seeks practical answers and practical results. How can we harness the energy in the atom to light up our cities? What is the value in keeping the great variety of species alive on our planet? And so on. Men and women work together on problems to solve them and contribute to the betterment of mankind. Philosophy does not seek to build a better mousetrap. There is no absolute certainty or achievement in philosophy as a system because it is the act of an individual. Since it depends on the individual's openness to reality, progress is hard to measure and each generation rediscovers the wonders of reality. In trying to comprehend all of reality, success is not guaranteed. In fact, the better one is at philosophy, the more one realizes how little one knows about the totality of things.

Which is not to say that philosophy results in frustration. Pieper makes the distinction between the useful and the enjoyable. Philosophy looks at its object, not with a useful end in mind, but contemplates it and accepts what it receives as good because it is true. Philosophy looks to the good as such and is thus meaningful for human life. When a person knows reality (even in a limited or incomplete way), he or she takes possession of it the most immediate and intense way. It is the "a-ha!" moment, the light bulb that goes off over the head, that is the experience that philosophy grants. Philosophy can give sublime moments of satisfaction.

Since man is not a purely spiritual being, he cannot spend all of his time in contemplation. Even so, he should seek opportunities to retreat and reflect on things. It leads to true fulfillment.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The end of Theology of the Body

I've finished Theology of the Body by John Paul II. He writes a fascinating thing at the end. "These reflections do not include multiple problems which, with regard to their object, belong to the theology of the body (as, for example, the problem of suffering and death, so important in the biblical message)." (p. 420) Its amazing to think that after 400+ pages, he's only discussed one aspect of the theology of the body.

The theme of his work is "the redemption of the body and the sacramentality of marriage," which looks at Revelation, Church Tradition and philosophical anthropology to explain the fundamental meaning of marriage and human sexuality and how to live these to the fullest. He looks at Genesis, the Song of Songs, the Sermon on the Mount and selections from Paul to discuss marriage, celibacy, lust, mature fatherhood and motherhood, etc. He finishes by discussing how Humanae Vitae is a culmination of these and of the teachings in the Second Vatican Council.

It would be really interesting to write about the theme of "the suffering and death of the body and the ultimate purpose and destiny of man." I imagine such a reflection would draw from Genesis again, the Exodus, Job, Isaiah (the suffering servant), and the Passion accounts. Lots of important topics and ideas could be discussed: why do the innocent suffer, why does God not punish or relent on punishing the wicked, is there a meaning to human suffering and death, how should human remains be treated, why is resurrection important to the dignity of the human person. I have no idea who would take up such a study (I am so unworthy), but it would be a really great contribution to the Faith.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How to use up a six pack of Guinness without drinking it all...

Since it is St. Patrick's Day and I am half Irish, I had to celebrate. Rather than go the corned beef and cabbage route (which is an Irish American dish, unrecognized on the Emerald Isle) I made Guinness Beef Stew. The recipe is quite specific about using Guinness Draught and not Guinness Stout as the key ingredient. Since you can't buy just one bottle (I didn't think to ask if I could buy just one), I had some extras for other purposes.

One purpose was celebrating the Eve of St. Patrick last night. One was celebrating tonight. Then Angie found a recipe (chocolate stout cake) to use up some more and also provide a dessert. In an attempt to protect my supply for imbibing, I noted that the recipe calls for Stout and we only have Draught. Curse the Internet, because she quickly found another similar recipe that would deprive us of another bottle of that fine Irish beverage. Luckily, by the time of the discovery it was too late to make dessert. But we may have to celebrate St. Joseph's Day (March 19, and much more significant for the Catholic Church) with what's left of our six pack.

The Guinness Beef Stew turned out very well (better than last time) and I think it's a keeper, even though prep takes forever. And it would be nicer if we had a larger crock pot so I wouldn't have to halve the recipe. Maybe I should put it on my amazon wish list..

Monday, March 16, 2009

Dollhouse Demise

We are big Joss Whedon fans here in Columbia (Maryland). Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a great show that slid into being a really good show. The first three seasons really are some of the best TV ever made. Angel is the rare TV show that got better and better as it went along. Firefly was cruelly cut down in its youth, before it fully gelled into greatness. It was certainly the most detailed and well thought out vision of the future ever on TV.

Naturally, we were excited about Dollhouse, his new show on Fox. The premise is intriguing: a secret company that provides made-to-order people who can fulfill your romantic fantasy, negotiate a tough kidnapping situation, crack an "impenetrable" safe and steal fabulous art, or anything else someone might want a person to do. The company is called Dollhouse and the "Dolls" are men and women who have no personal identity and are given new composite identities based on the clients needs or wants. After the job is done, the identity is wiped until a new job comes up.

The pilot was okay; the following episodes have been a steady decline. Normally, it takes a while to get to know all the characters and what is going on. With Buffy, Angel and Firefly, the early episodes had interesting premises that helped to fill out information on the characters and the situation they are in. So far, that has not been the case with Dollhouse. Interesting premises have led to let downs. But some background first.

Eliza Dushku plays Echo, a young and troubled girl who signs up to be a Doll under mysterious circumstances. We then follow her on her various assignments. Naturally, for the show to be interesting, the identity imprinting and wiping has to be faulty in order to stir things up. Several hints are given that she remembers things that should have been wiped and the viewer wonders if she is some sort of double agent infiltrating the Dollhouse to bring it down.

In one episode, she's imprinted as a safe-cracker but then her safe-cracking identity gets wiped while she's in the safe so she doesn't know how to get out. The other safe-crackers (who don't know about Dollhouse, they were just hired for the job) eventually have a shoot out with the security of the building. One of the safe-crackers has a smoke bomb which he throws and he and Echo duck around a corner and escape. Interesting premise, lame ending.

Another episode has Echo hired as a bodyguard in secret for a pop singer who is so famous that she has a stalker fan who threatens to kill her and she herself has a lot of problems with being famous. It's an idea seen with a lot of real female pop stars and celebrities. They become self-destructive to the point of being suicidal. Which is what this episode is about, but there is nothing new or original in her character. Bad writing lets the viewer down.

Which brings us to last week's episode, "True Believer." In it, Echo is imprinted as a blind woman who has a sincere religious faith and is sent into a Waco-like compound of religious zealots. Their leader has led other cults under other names and was supposed to be in jail for life but got out on a technicality after two years. Some of the people in this compound were in another compound in Texas that had a meltdown. It is unclear if he led that compound or just led some of them out to his new compound. At any rate, they follow him more or less blindly.

The ATF uses Echo (who's been given some sort of eye-implant camera, just go with it) to gather evidence to allow them to go in and take out the leader. She does that; the leader assumes that she is a mole and slaps her around some. She can suddenly see again after being slapped, which she attributes to a miracle. The leader comes to accept this and decides to burn down the building all the people are in while Echo reads from the Bible about the three men in the fiery furnace from the prophet Daniel. In Daniel, the three man are unharmed by the flames through a miracle of God. The leader claims another miracle will happen here--the flames will protect the true believers and consume the bad guys. People start coughing and choking; he reassures them that they will be safe. Echo clonks him over the head and tells everyone to get out to save their lives. They believe her and rush out to safety with the ATF.

A lot more goes on in the episode, but I think the significant stuff has been covered. See, the episode is a metaphor about Joss Whedon. No, he is not Echo, infiltrating the compound of bad TV and leading his fans to safety. Rather, he is the cult leader and we his fans are blindly following him, waiting for the show to get better, even though we are choking on bad scripts and some really mediocre dialogue. We are being told to stay in the burning house. Angie and I have decided to flee for our lives. Join us and live!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Yesterday was a Great Day (sequel to Today was a Great Day)

After leaving Leslie on her way to the airport, we headed off to Ikea to begin planning for Jacob moving into his own room after baby #2 comes and is ready to be in the nursery. During the drive out of DC, Jacob dozed off in his car seat. At Ikea, he stayed asleep with occasional attempts to wake up.

We wandered through the children's section of Ikea looking for some specific things and hoping to run across some things randomly that would be useful to have. The specific items we were looking for were a dresser and a bookshelf for his room. We picked out a shorter dresser that he could use and found a bookcase of which we might buy two since he has plenty of books and toys. It's also a good height for him. We also ran across some plates for him to use (so we don't have to keep washing the Mickey Mouse plate after almost every meal) and a sandbox toy kit for the next time we visit the park across Vollmerhausen. These last two items we actually bought after finding our way through the labyrinthine pathways of Ikea.

The other thing we were shopping for was something to serve on Sunday when BJ and Amy would be here to watch Let the Right One In, a Swedish vampire flick that came out last year but we missed in the theater. Since they're coming for brunch the famous Ikea meatballs seemed like a bad idea. All the cinnamon rolls were sold out! Nothing else caught our fancy, so we'd planned to make baked oatmeal again (we always measure out a second set of dry ingredients and put it in a ziplock bag for the next weekend). We headed back to the car with our two items and our info on the furniture we will buy in the future when the income tax rebate comes.

We then returned to Silver Spring for dinner before going to the Neocatechumenal Saturday night Mass at St. Michael's Church. We ran into two of our fellow neocatechumenals walking towards the restaurants and had a nice chat before heading to Baja Fresh for filling burritos. We enjoyed it especially as a trip down memory lane. We used to eat out in Silver Spring a lot, because we'd meet there as I metroed home from work and Angie drove from down from her work. We ate at most of the restaurants in St. Michael's vicinity. It was fun in a new way to have Jacob along.

After dinner, we killed some time by wandering through Whole Foods supermarket. We looked for more brunch inspiration there, but the only things we found were Blood Orange Tea, creepy-looking whole fish and Irish soda bread. We still didn't make any purchases. The other odd thing we saw was vegan cane sugar. We'd never heard of such a thing, but check out the hyperlink for more info. I guess we could have used that if we'd been watching that other adolescent vampire film from last year. Vegan vampires, indeed!

The Mass was really great. Msgr. Tolentino always gives good homilies and it was good to reconnect with the community after about a month of being away. And we got to go to Chick-fil-A for a milkshake afterwards! A great end to a great day.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Today Was a Great Day (part 1)

Today was a great day. We got to sleep in a little bit (almost to 7 a.m.). We had a wonderful breakfast, our usual baked oatmeal and bacon. Then we played with Jacob for a while until he started showing signs of sleepiness. He took an early nap, which meant we could get chores done and also shower in the morning! What luxury.

I managed to get my spiritual reading done (working through the final part of Theology of the Body, I should be done sometime next week), said my decade of the rosary, put the first coat of paint on the oven panels in the kitchen and made some more progress on income taxes. The only thing missing for me was a nap.

Jacob woke up about 11. We were able to eat an early lunch and then head off to DC to meet up with Leslie, Angie's college roommate and maid of honor. Parking right in front of the Old Post Office Pavilion astounded us. We thought that we'd be wandering forever trying to find parking near the Museum of Natural History. A brisk walk through light rain brought us to Leslie. She was shepherding the last of the children onto the buses to return to their school in Boston. Leslie was to fly later from Reagan National Airport, so she had a couple of hours to spend with us.

We went for lunch to the Old Post Office Pavilion. Leslie and her friend Catherine had lunch; we snacked. One of the pastry places was serving bread pudding, so I couldn't resist that. A jazz quartet played for us while we dined and chatted.

After lunch, we went to the National Gallery of Art to see the Pompey Villa exhibit. Since the rain continued to pelt us, we entered the West Gallery and went through a complicated set of elevators and tunnels to reach the 2nd floor of the East Gallery where the travelling exhibits are usually housed. The exhibit was great. I let Angie go through first while I watched Jacob, who wasn't ready for the slow and measured pace of appreciating a museum exhibit. She went through the first floor and then came back for me. I managed to blitz through the whole exhibit, checking out the pater familias, the dining room frescoes and several wonderful statues. I wish I had more time, though we were lucky to get this opportunity, because the exhibit is closing next week.

We said our goodbyes to Leslie and then headed off to Ikea, which I will talk about in tomorrow's post since midnight is almost here.

Friday, March 13, 2009

This week has been a mixed bag for Jacob and sleep. Two nights this week he woke up for a couple of hours starting at 11 or 11:30. He had a shorter than usual day nap today, which wound up with a second nap from 3:45 to 5:30. Now he won't go to sleep (it's 9 p.m. now; usually he goes down easily at 8 p.m.)

Consequently, Angie and I have had to live with some alternate sleep lifestyles imposed on us. I tried to nap today when Jacob did, but after getting my chores done and eating lunch, he woke up. After Angie got him down in the afternoon, I took a good nap and am hopefully ready if there is a need tonight. Maybe he is getting it out of his system now and sparing us the late night shenanigans. I'm running out of Netflix to watch! I suppose I can switch over to the on-demand viewer, but will I find anything worth watching? I hope I don't have to find out.

It looks like I will have to take a shift now, so I will write again tomorrow.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A better death penalty?

Last night I saw episode four of season three of Babylon 5, a sci fi TV show from the early 1990s. This episode deals with the death penalty sort of. The show is set in the year 2260, so naturally there have been many advancements. One is a reform of the death penalty. In stead of killing someone convicted of a capital crime, the criminal's personality is "wiped" from his body and a new benign personality is substituted. The person is given a new identity and purpose, to serve society in some way. Also, the person is moved to a different part of the galaxy to prevent any revenge by those harmed by the person's crimes. The situation is described as "more humane" and the penalty is called "death of personality."

The episode is really well-written and well-acted, so rather than discussing how this plays out in the episode (which would require spoilers), I'd rather talk about this new version of the death penalty.

One reason for inflicting the death penalty is that the criminal is assumed to be beyond the point of being reformed. The person is a danger to society and also to himself or herself and the only way to prevent that danger is to remove the person from society. Classically, removal is achieved by death or by banishment. In our time, life imprisonment without parole also fulfills this function, assuming the prisoner does not escape. "Death of personality" also achieves this end by suppressing the criminal personality and substituting another state-imposed personality. The result is the same body with a "different person" inside. The unreformable criminal is thereby removed from society.

Regardless of whether this substitution could actually work, my question is, is it really more humane? There is no indication that the criminal feels pain or physically suffers in any way during the treatment. The memories, feelings, inclinations, attitudes and desires are gone. The criminal is for all intents and purposes in a vegetative state. The new personality is an artificial construct imposed by the state in order to receive some benefit from the continued life of the body. Maybe the state feels more humane for not having killed the body, but putting it to any use the state sees fit is contrary to the dignity of the person (even when the person is a criminal). I really don't see any difference between "death of personality" and using the bodies of the executed for whatever scientific or medical purposes one could imagine. It's even worse than that. It's a form of benign enslavement. Programming someone to want to do good is far different from them freely choosing to do good. The human is turned into a well programmed robot; the freedom of the person is no longer respected. It may feel more humane, but in actuality it is not.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

We host a small group church meeting here at home tonight. One of the topics we discussed was God's judgment of us and our own judgment of us. Some pretty heady stuff but we did make some headway.

A couple of us agreed that if we were God, there'd be a lot more wailing and gnashing of teeth here and in the afterlife. It is easy to make judgments about other people's action, motivations and lives. More tempting is to judge our own actions, motivation and lives harshly. Meting out punishment to malefactors gratifies a strict sense of justice and a desire to see criminals get their due.

Luckily, God does not judge the way that we judge. A law student in our group pointed out that she's seen judges who she admires greatly. When it comes to sentencing criminals, they give sentences that will help the criminals to reform, that will protect them from themselves and that will protect others. The attitude is not to strike back but to repair the damage to society and to the individual who hurt himself by committing a crime. These judges temper justice with mercy and love, with the desire for the good of all, victim, society, criminal. The balance is tough to achieve. But that balance is the true aim of a just society.

God is love and He judges us, not to condemn us, but to bring us back to Him. To bring us back to life, to eternal life. That's why He sent His only Son into the world, not for His good or to lord it over us, but to bring us back to Him with a Father's care, with a lover's embrace. It isn't necessarily easy to accept, because sometimes that path brings hardships and stumbling blocks. God gives us those so that we learn to rely only on Him and not on our own abilities. Our abilities, if we honestly look at them, are pretty meager. God is infinite in power and love. Why look anywhere else?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

One of the great things about Hellboy stories is the use of mythology, history and folklore. Many of the stories were inspired by Mike Mignola's research in these areas and the stories are attempts to retell those tales with Hellboy involved somehow. The giddy, the grand and the grotesque are all brought together in a wonderful concoction of humor and horror.

On our trip to Hawai'i in January, we visited many historical sites and had a taste of the mythology, history and folklore of the residents of the Big Island. One prominent and relatively ancient feature of the island is the presence of petroglyphs. These ancient carvings were the artistic expression of the Big Island's residents. Also, in the Pu'u Loa petroglyph field on the slopes of the Kilauea volcano, parents would carve holes and put in the umbilical cords of their newborns to assure a long life for their children. We thought this was very fascinating and very odd.

One place we didn't get to, though I really wanted to, was the Mo'okini Heiau. Heiaus were the temples of worship for the pre-European settlers of Hawai'i. Part of the religion brought by the Tahitians was human sacrifice. Mo'okini Heiau was the sight of thousands of human sacrifices and the area is (apparently) very spooky and off-putting even in the daylight hours. Our guidebook says the county doesn't maintain the road well (i.e. not even four wheel drives are recommended; you'd have to hike a mile and a half to get to the spot) and almost no historical markers or explanatory signs have been put up. The area isn't just lifeless; it's soulless. I really didn't want to expose Jacob to this though I did want to see just how creepy it was for myself. Definitely good for a Hellboy location.

Another cool spot is the Place of Refuge or Pu'uhonua o Honaunau. Located in South Kona, this area featured a royal house and a sacred area where anyone could flee for sanctuary. Refuge seekers included non-combatants during battles on the island and those who violated the kapu, forbidden acts that invoked the death penalty. The kahuna pule or priest could absolve someone from the violation and he or she would be free to return home without fear of death.

I was so inspired, I bought a book on Hawaiian Mythology. I'm looking for story ideas in there as well. Mythology and folklore are so interesting; finding new ways to express them or to make them live on or just to retell them would be a fun and worthwhile pursuit.

My vague story idea is that Hellboy, the world's greatest paranormal investigator, unravels an ancient case: Some trickster promised a group of villagers to deliver the umbilical cords of the town's latest arrivals to the petroglyph field (for money of course). Instead of taking the long trip to the volcano field, he sells the cords to a witch who uses them for a potion/spell that is supposed to grant success to one of the Ali'i (chiefs) who is about to go into battle with another Ali'i. The spell requires cords from nobility (there's a whole caste system on the island I didn't describe), so the spell doesn't work and the chief and what's left of his army are sacrificed at the Mo'okini Heiau. The chief or one of his lieutenants makes it to refuge and then goes to kill the witch in vengeance. I'm not sure if the witch doesn't get why the spell didn't work or if she does figure it out and explains it to the warrior. I haven't worked out the details yet. I feel like the good ending is Hellboy finding the trickster's soul trapped in the place of refuge (who hasn't been absolved because the priest is so disgusted with him), he has a big fight and manages to get the soul just outside the limits of protection, where the souls of the villagers, the children, the witch, the chief and his warriors all pounce on the trickster.

Please don't steal my story idea or you may invoke the kapu!

Monday, March 9, 2009

post about nothing

Well, the bad news is I've been sitting here for about twenty minutes trying to come up with a blog topic and nothing is coming to me. Of course, I haven't spent the twenty minutes just sitting and staring at the proverbial blank screen. No, since this is the Internet, I've been able to catch up on other blogs that I read and check to see if there is anything interesting on Facebook. My brother has changed his phone number and my brother-in-law was tagged in some "farewell to San Francisco" picture album.

Since I am sitting at the Macintosh, I was also able to finish a tricky widget game of sudoku that has been waiting for my attention. And the podcast feeds on iTunes have been refreshed for the umpteenth time today (imagine that, "umpteenth" is okay with the spell checker!). So I've been pseudo-productive.

I finally decided just to start writing in a stream-of-conscious style and hope that a topic would emerge. Being able to waste time on the computer isn't such a great topic, so I'm hoping something else will show up. Or I could keep writing about nothing, a la Seinfeld. The problem is I never watched Seinfeld that much, so I just know the show is famous for being about nothing. How did they actually pull that off? It couldn't really have been about nothing, otherwise the actors would have just sat around on an empty stage not doing anything. Or better yet, the broadcast could just be a silent, black screen. Think of how cost-effective a show that would be...but who would watch just to see an NBC peacock symbol in the corner of a black screen? Maybe the fun would be in trying to anticipate when the commercials would come on.

Clearly, stream-of-consciousness leads to silliness. I will have to concentrate more tomorrow on thinking of a topic before the evening comes. My apologies to the readers for this useless fluff.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

How to be a welcoming church

My wife and I made a very important discovery today, one that could change church attendance everywhere. We've found the way to be an open and inviting church.

In some places attending Mass starts with the priest asking if there are any visitors. He then inquires where they are from and people usually give more or less specific answers: some say what state they're from, some say what city, etc. The priest then says something like, "Welcome to St. Whoever Catholic Community" and Mass proceeds. This is not the way to be an open and inviting church for several reasons. First, the priest almost never introduces himself in any way. Maybe that would be boring for all the regular attendees but it strikes me as inauthentic when the introduction is one way. Second, there is no real follow up on having people introduce themselves (I know this from experience). Maybe at the sign of peace someone will try to strike up a micro-conversation which really isn't appropriate at the time. After Mass would be the appropriate time; in reality, people either chat with their friends or make a bee-line for their car. The gap isn't really bridged unless the visitors greet the priest on the way out of church, which again due to the situation is more of a micro-conversation but could be a building block to more.

What then is the real way to build community at church? What we discovered today is donuts. Well, not just donuts because we discovered those a long time ago. Rather, we discovered the social power of donuts. The parish we go to about half the time has donuts and coffee/tea/milk/juice after the 9 and 10:30 Masses almost every weekend. Typically, even people who don't necessarily want to be social are enticed to spend a little extra time after Mass for a free donut, at least once in a while. This is where real socializing happens. We got our favorites (chocolate glazed and cake glazed with a blueberry donut for our son) and sat at a table. We were the first to sit at the table. A guy named JJ asked if he could join us. Can you possibly say no to such a request? We started to chat a little. Then a couple with a young daughter also asked if they could join us. We chatted even more with them, since we had the natural topic of children in common. They just moved here in October from England. We also talked a bit about work and that I am a stay at home dad. The wife, Laura, is a stay at home mom. We recommended PATH to her and said she should come to a meeting. I got her email to send on information. We had a great conversation. This really is being open and inviting; community is really built here.

And you can tell it is a very successful parish. How? Not because Mass is well attended. Not even because of the lines for free coffee and donuts. Here's the proof: during the announcements at Mass, the associate pastor recommended people to come to the regular Tuesday evening sacrament of reconciliation, because the lines on Saturdays (especially during Lent) are really long, in spite of having two priests hearing confessions. We went to Saturday afternoon confession the weekend before Christmas and had to wait almost till Mass time (confessions start at 3:30 and Mass is at 5) to get in. People were still in line behind us and the church was definitely filling up for Mass. Good attendance for confession is a sign of a real, serious community of Catholics. I'm not saying coffee and donuts cause this success, but they definitely contribute to feeling like a big family.

Now, I've got to email Laura!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Saturday Night/Sunday Morning

Last week, I blogged about whether Sundays count as a day of penance during Lent. One thing I meant to talk about was the issue of when Sunday starts.

Catholics have it really easy to go to Mass on Sunday. A variety of Mass time are available Sunday morning; lots of parishes even have one or more Sunday evening Masses. You can even go on Saturday night to Sunday Mass. Some churches even have a Saturday "night" Mass as early as 4:30 p.m. Saturday. I've always heard that Sunday begins after Vespers (Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of Hours/Divine Office) on Saturday, which is actually called "Evening Prayer I for Sunday." I guess the earlier you say it on Saturday, the more Sunday you can get. After "Evening Prayer II for Sunday" it's still Sunday till the stroke of twelve. So I suppose you could argue that Sunday liturgically on Saturday night.

Back in my college days, a group called "The Letter of the Law Club" would go out on Saturday nights to 7-11 after midnight to partake in whatever goodies they happen to have given up, or just to celebrate the fact that it was Sunday. They'd even leave campus at 11:50 since it took about 10 minutes to get there. If they'd been wilier, they'd have left at 11:45 so they could finish their purchases at midnight and not waste precious time shopping. We, I mean, they weren't crafty enough to go with a post-vespers scheme.

Tonight if someone were to celebrate "Letter of the Law Club" style, they'd invoke a special penalty. Daylight savings happens tonight, which means the clocks jump forward an hour and we lose an hour of sleep. This change might work to their advantage if the clocks changed from 9:59 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. but the "real" change is from 1:59 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. Sunday morning Mass is closer than you think!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Star Trek Trailer 3

Trailer #3 has come out for Star Trek, the new re-imagining/re-booting/re-tooling/re-etc. of the beloved franchise. When I first heard about the project directed by J. J. Abrams, I was cautiously excited. Alias and Lost are great TV shows, but Mission Impossible 3 was pretty mediocre and I heard that Cloverfield (which he only produced) wasn't really enjoyable until the story stopped trying to make the characters sympathetic or interesting and just got on with the monster. So it seems like he's better at doing action then developing characters when he's limited to a 2 hour movie production rather than 22 hours of a TV season.

The other trailers for Star Trek didn't give me any hope that this movie would be any different. They looked slicked-up and sexed-up with no hint of a story, plot or real interest in exploring the characters. As if they re-imagined it without using any imagination, just digital effects and crazy camera work. George Lucas has convinced me that great special effects do not make a great movie. So my expectations started plummeting faster than the stock market.

This new trailer is completely different. Sure, it still looks extra-slick but they've shown some story. Kirk has something to prove, a past to overcome. There's a bad guy who seems to be after Kirk for revenge. Sure, there's some sort of ice planet involved (or is it just Antarctica?) and they seem to have better technology than when they were on their five year mission, but at least I have some hope now. I just don't want to develop too much hope, because nothing kills a movie going experience more than high expectations that aren't met (not even close). Thanks again, George Lucas.

Hey, I thought of another reason not to be worried about the new Star Trek movie. George Lucas isn't involved!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Book Review: "The Apostles"

I just finished my first lenten reading, a slim volume by Pope Benedict XVI called "The Apostles." It is a conglomeration of the catecheses the Pope delivered during his general audiences from 2006 and 2007. He discusses the early church, the apostles chosen by Christ and the first co-workers with the apostles (those mentioned in the New Testament writings).

He first discusses the origins of the church as described in the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters in the New Testament. The explanations are simple to follow and present lots of really good insights. My favorite from this section concerns the communion of the church: "we have a two-fold univesality: a synchronic universality--we are united with believers in every part of the world--and also a so-called diachronic universality, that is: all the epochs belong to us, and all the believers of the past and of the future form with us a single great communion." Of course, this the idea of the communion of saints, but for me it is a great expansion of the idea. I've always thought of the communion of saints as neatly divided into those in Heaven, those in Purgatory and those of us still slugging it out here on Earth. My silo mentality is completely knocked down in Benedict's description. We are a great, single communion with all the faithful from the past, present and future. It's just awesome.

The format for the apostles and co-workers is fairly straightforward. He reviews what historical information we have about them and then discusses their impact on the church then and now. Some apostles' chapters are longer because we know more (Peter, John, Paul). Others are put together (Simon and Jude share one chapter). Most interesting to me were the chapters on the co-workers. Not only did he include some obvious people like St. Stephen (the first martyr) and Timothy and Titus, but also a married couple (Priscilla and Aquila) and also the women who served to spread the Gospel.

I highly recommend the book. It is easy to read and full of wonderful insights about the foundation of our Church and the people involved.

My next reading will be to finish John Paul II's Theology of the Body, which my wife and I started back in our marriage preparation days. I am surprised to see that I only have about 70 pages left, but the text is a much more challenging read than Benedict XVI, so it may take me just as long or longer to finish.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Does every playdate end like this?

I've joined a stay at home parents' group here in Columbia, Maryland, called Parents AT Home or PATH. The group is made up of parents and other caregivers who have decided to stay at home because of the great value it has for the child's or children's development. One of the activities the group promotes is play groups.

Play groups are small groups of similarly aged children who get together once or a few times a week to play together. The group can meet at parents' homes or go out to activities. The group I was placed in is going to the library on Fridays for story time. Also, we met today at my home for a play date, where the kids play together and learn to interact socially, or even just get used to other pint-sized people playing with their stuff.

Our group is small, just three children: Jacob, Chloe and Caroline. We played in the family room since that had the most toys and is the most kid-friendly room in the house. Things went pretty well. The children played together mostly. Occasionally one would wander off to a different part of the room. The headless musical rocking horse was popular but only once did Jacob and Caroline want to ride at the same time. They played with the musical instruments. Chloe would have decapitated one of her playmates if they had been in the line of the cymbal she threw. Whew, no one suffered from separation anxiety this time!

But toward the end of the playdate, Jacob and Chloe were playing with the blocks by the window and we parents weren't paying attention. All of the sudden, Chloe was crying. Well, not at first. She had that open-mouthed, look-like-I'm-crying-with-no-sound-coming-out face for about 20 seconds and then she hit the high notes. I think Jacob might have whacked her with the block cart, but there was no real evidence. Her mom comforted her. Caroline came over to give Chloe a kiss and hug, but she tripped on the way. Then she started crying in pitch with Chloe. I watched for Jacob to fall next. He didn't. I picked up Jacob. Chloe began to calm down. Chloe's mom brought her over to Jacob to give him a kiss. I was bending over holding him. Chloe clonked my head and started crying again. We parents had a good laugh; I hope the kids understood. We decided playdate was over.

I hope all playdate don't end this way. I hope even more that it wasn't just this play date that ended this way!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Library story time

In case you didn't know it, I am a slave to my 16-month old son Jacob. His will is my command. He rules me with an iron pacifier.

One way to keep him placated is to take him to the library, where a toddler section has fun toys and books to play with. The library also has the advantage of having lots of room to run around in and no stairs to climb up or fall down. The other major advantage at the library is story time. One of the librarians comes in a presents about half an hour's worth of stories, sing-a-longs and games to keep the most tyrannical toddler preoccupied. Today was Toddler Tales and Tunes at the East Columbia Branch!

Jacob and I arrived at the library about 15 minutes early. We returned some books and a toy (yes, this library even loans toys!) and as we headed to the toddler section, I noticed that Jacob's shoe was missing. He wears these slipper-boot hybrids that don't tie, so they've slipped off more than once. So we walked back out to the car and found his right shoe. By the time we got back in, we were only 12 minutes early. Still some time to play in the toddler room before the start of story time.

In the toddler room, we ran into Miss Ellie, one of the librarians from the Savage Branch of the library who hosts the story times there. She was there on her day off with her son Alex, also going to Toddler Tales and Tunes. We caught up a little bit and then headed off to the storytime room.

Toddler Tales and Tunes is a fun month-long program for those aged 12 to 24 months. It focuses on various important aspects of a toddler's life such as being in the kitchen and potty training. Today was kitchen day. Songs were about food (including Humpty Dumpty sung to the tune of 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall; I guess he's always depicted as an egg, though the only egg-like characteristic in the rhyme is that he can't be put back together) and cooking and pots and pans. For the pots and pans song, the lady handed out little plastic frying pans and pots for the kids to bang on or bang together. It was a lot of fun when the kids would actually share.

At the end, Jacob wandered over by the shelves and latched on to a large, slim book about the weather. Assuming he wanted to check it out, I let him keep it. We said our thank yous to the librarian and our goodbyes to Miss Ellie and Alex. At the checkout counter, we picked up our reserve copy of Twilight for Mom. All was running smoothly.

Often, I go to Giant (a local grocery store) after a visit to the library since it is fairly close by. Jacob did not want to come out of his seat without his newly acquired book. Figuring it couldn't do any harm, I let him bring it into the store with him. He's in the shopping cart so he won't be able to subtly drop it somewhere without my noticing (unlike his shoes). As we walked the aisles, we ran into Miss Ellie and Alex again. Miss Ellie had a good laugh when she saw us. At first I could not figure out why. Then I realized she saw Jacob with his book. Whoops! I hope she doesn't report us to the library authorities!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Snowday--a day off

As luck would have it, we live just north enough to get the occasional big (relatively speaking) snow storm but far south enough that the local and state governments really don't invest properly in snow removal resources. Last night's 5-6 inches of snow gave us the day off today. It is a good news.

We aren't quite sure if where we live is a suburb of Washington, DC, or a suburb of Baltimore. We live closer to Baltimore but more commuter buses go south to DC. Either way, it is a suburb and our local street didn't get plowed out till well past noon. Long after most of us had shoveled out our driveways and sidewalks. As I was clearing off mine, I saw the next door neighbor with her two kids cleaning up theirs. Naturally they finished before I did. They got out the toboggan and did some runs down the front lawn. Angie and I waited till the afternoon to take Jacob out in the backyard. We have a well-sloped backyard that makes it tough when the badminton set is up, but it works quite well for our little sled. Jacob enjoyed his first run more than subsequent runs. Both Angie and I had our own individual runs, too. I'll be posting video to our YouTube account later on.

He also seemed to enjoy walking around in the snow. Anytime it got on his hands, though, he'd come to us and hold them out to us to take care of it. If only he would wear gloves! We tried to get mittens on his hands, but each time one hand was mittened, he'd use the other to take it off. It quickly turned into a fun game. A fun game for him, that is. After one or two stumbles in the snow, Jacob was starting to look more like Frosty. By the time we got inside, he was very rosy-cheeked. And very happy. I look forward to many other snow storms in the coming years.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sundays in Lent--day off from penance?

One of the big points of interest for Catholics is the idea that Sundays in Lent are "days off" from giving up whatever you gave up. If you gave up chocolate for Lent, you can have some on Sunday and just abstain from Monday through Saturday, inclusive. I've heard and read a lot of different arguments about when we have to offer something up and when we can indulge.

The crux of all the arguments is that Lent is supposed to be 40 days long, in imitation of the 40 days of fasting and preparation that the Lord did before He started His public ministry.

One argument is the number of days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday is 49, so that in order to hit the magical "40 days" number, you can indulge on Sundays (of which there are six before Easter comes) and also on the Solemnities of St. Joseph (March 19) and the Annunciation of the Lord (March 25) and, if you are Irish, the greatest of all possible feasts, St. Patrick's Day (March 17, like I had to tell you!). So these are all days that you don't have to give up whatever it is you gave up.

Another argument is the number of days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday is 40, so you have to tough it out until Easter sunrise. No breaks for Sundays, St. Joseph, the Incarnation or even St. Patrick (though the local bishop may give you St. Patrick's day off anyway, especially if it falls on a Friday in Lent--we all know that corned beef and cabbage is too tempting and that no true blooded Irishman or Irishlass can refrain on March 17, though the legitimacy of the dish is another controvery I don't want to get into here. Look here instead.)

Another argument is that Lent is 46 days long and just Sundays are off from penance. This is what I grew up with, along with the practice of being "free" from what you offered up at noon on Holy Saturday. I've never really understood this "Saturday noon" thing so I can offer no justification for it except tradition with a small t.

Taking a calendar and actually counting the number of days starting with Ash Wednesday and ending on Holy Saturday, the number is indeed 46. Since every Sunday is the celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord, it makes sense that it is not a penitential day. Though nothing stops someone from continuing a Lenten practice. Clearly, the church doesn't fully celebrate on Sundays in Lent, since the Gloria and the gospel alleluia is dropped for those six Sundays.

I think that obsessing about the number of days that you fast, pray and give alms is really not conducive to receiving the benefits of penitential, prayerful and sacrificial preparation for the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. If you just want to fulfill the law or hit the right number, you aren't really coming closer to Christ, trying to understand His will for you and being open to His influences on your life. Saying "I did 40 days just like Jesus did, so look at me!" is like saying "I have a beard and mustache just like Jesus did, so look at me!" You really miss the point of conversion to Christ that we all should seek and that we all constantly have to renew.