March 17, 2014
For Toastmasters this evening, members had been invited to bring stories, jokes, etc. related to St. Patrick’s Day or Ireland in general. Pam, the director of the library where our club meets, brought in this unusually decorated cake.
She explained that it was a leprechaun trap. I’d never heard of this tradition, but apparently it has become very popular in recent years. (I can’t help suspecting that, like most of our St. Patrick’s Day traditions, it is far more American than Irish. But so what?)
Leprechaun traps, she explained, can take any number of forms. Hers is a cake decorated to look like a tree stump, with a hidden hole in the middle for the leprechaun to fall into when he follows the trail of the gold coins.
It makes me wish my boys were young enough to want to try to make one. I’ve always loved arts and crafts, and I was always glad when Al showed an interest in making stuff because I could work on it with him. (Our older son rarely did crafts except when a school project required it.)
Leprechaun traps can be virtual too – i.e. computer programs. I’m sure Al would like it if I could create a computer game to trap a leprechaun, but my programming skills do not include the expertise in graphics that are integral to today’s computer games.
I enjoy looking at some of the ideas other people have come up with, though. Another cute cake idea – similar in concept but quite different in appearance – has a rainbow hidden inside.
I suppose someday I’ll probably have grandchildren. Maybe one of them will inherit my love of crafts and want to trap leprechauns with me.
January 16, 2014
I was driving home from work a day or two ago, and I noticed the newly risen moon in my rear-view mirror. I was trying to decide how close it was to being full, and also trying to stop paying attention to the (beautiful) moon in my mirror and look at the (boring) traffic on the highway in front of me.
I’m used to enjoying the beauty of the sunset during my drive home (only during some times of year, of course), but I don’t often see the moon rising. For a moment it threw me that I was seeing it, then I reminded myself that I was driving west but seeing the eastern sky in my rearview mirror.
That got me thinking about how to figure out when to look for the moon and where in the sky, and about the phases of the moon in general. I have a fairly long commute (at least forty-five to fifty minutes, depending on traffic), so I had plenty of time trying to construct diagrams in my head.
I understand how the different phases work in terms of the relative positions of earth, moon, and sun, in terms of how much and which part of the moon is illuminated, but I never remember how to factor in time of day. And the one thing I just couldn’t make sense of, in my mental diagrams, was the new moon.
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January 10, 2014
When I looked at Christmas poetry on Christmas day, I came across this poem by W.H. Auden. Since it belongs to the period after Christmas, I delayed writing this post until now.
I can certainly relate to a lot of it – the Christmas tree waiting to be taken down, our sons back in school, and the holiday celebration already a fading memory. I certainly stayed up late during Christmas break, and had a lot of leftovers to finish up. We didn’t get together with relatives, but I can relate to that also from past holidays.
And now here I am in the Time Being. Going back to the office was kind of depressing – and my excitement at getting two days off from school (i.e.the college where I work) this week due to the extreme cold seemed more appropriate to a schoolchild than a 50-something member of the staff.
More than that, I can relate to “craving the sensation but ignoring the cause,” looking for something to inhibit self-reflection (FreeCell works well), wanting to redeem the Time Being from insignificance, and enduring “silence that is neither for nor against [my] faith.”
This poem reminds me that W. H. Auden is one of the modern poets I appreciate. I don’t know that it would be accurate to say I “like” his poems, because they are often reminders of how indifferently brutal people can be. But they are thought-provoking, and their language captures my interest in a way many poems do not.
One of Auden’s poems I had not read before is “The Shield of Achilles.” Even before I read some background information explaining about Thetis and Hephaestos (details from the Iliad that I no doubt rushed through in ninth grade), I got a sense of what Auden is saying about the modern world. But it is even more poignant in light of the contrast Auden draws with Homer’s depiction.
January 6, 2014
The Wee Kirk conference we attended in October had a book swap. I took a book which I had not found particularly interesting, and came home with The Story of the Christian Year by George Gibson. I enjoy reading history, particularly when it relates to something else I have a strong interest in (in this case, the Christian church), and the origins of the church year is a topic I had read very little about.
I grew up familiar with at least some seasons of the church year. Lighting Advent candles was the natural lead-in to Christmas, and our Advent calendars always started with the first Sunday of Advent, not with December 1 as I see so many of them today. Lent I considered something for grownups to be concerned with, not children, but I knew when it was and that it ended with Holy Week, which included Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and then of course Easter.
When I began to attend a fundamentalist church as a teenager, I was surprised to find that people there not only did not celebrate these days and seasons, they did not even know what some of them were. Those who did know about them considered them unbiblical, remnants of the Roman Catholic church that mainline Protestant churches had retained because of their own low regard for Scriptural truth.
For the years that I considered myself a fundamentalist, I adopted that attitude myself. After all, the church I had grown up in had never preached the Gospel clearly. It wasn’t until I went to a fundamentalist church that I learned that I needed to admit that I was a sinner, that Jesus had died for my sins, and that I trusted him for salvation. The church I had grown up in was seen as “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” (2 Tim. 3:5 KJV), focusing on the outward forms rather than the truth.
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December 25, 2013
I spent much of yesterday and today reading a book written by an English professor, and thinking that I ought to act on some vague intentions to read more of what would generally be considered “literature” rather than just books. I’m not sure how far I’ll get in this project, both due to time constraints and the thought that having other people to read and discuss literature with would be beneficial.
But for today, I decided a reasonable goal would be to find a good poem about Christmas. Google found me a great many, of course, but I easily settled on a favorite, “Moonless darkness stands between” by Gerard Manley Hopkins. I haven’t read a great many of Hopkins’ poems, but I like the ones I have read, both for the way he writes and for the things he says.
I enjoy much of the traditional activity associated with Christmas – the decorations, the food, the exchange of gifts, and especially the singing. But the significance of Christmas to me is expressed in this poem by Hopkins as well as by anything else I can think of. It is about the birth of “Him Who freed me / From the self that I have been.” Not that it is by any means a finished project, but one that is “Now beginning, and alway: / Now begin, on Christmas day.”
November 30, 2013
Working at a college doesn’t always mean getting an education myself (though I am seriously considered taking a class in German next year, since my 8th grade son says that’s the language he wants to study in high school). But now and then I do learn something new in the course of my work – quite aside from the constant process of learning how the software works that is the focus of my job.
With Thanksgiving approaching, a colleague forwarded an article about turkeys and Big Bird. I really had never thought either about what happens to a turkey’s feathers when it is slaughtered to become Thanksgiving dinner (or any other time of the year), or about where in the world those bright yellow feathers come from that make up Big Bird’s costume. But apparently the two are connected.
While Big Bird is not a turkey (according to Muppet Wiki, Oscar has claimed Big Bird is a turkey, Big Bird has claimed to be lark), his costume is made from turkey feathers. Approximately 4,000 of them – unless you want to take the Count’s word for it that there are over 5,961.
This article, written during the 2012 presidential campaign, when Mitt Romney said he wanted to cut funding for PBS, describes how feathers are prepared for Big Bird’s costumes. This introduces a whole new subject to learn about, which gets into the challenging topics of economics and politics. (I’m inclined to agree with this article.)
I doubt that any feathers from the turkey we ate on Thursday (and yesterday, and today, and probably tomorrow) will ever find their way to Sesame Street. Most poultry feathers are either used in low-grade animal feedstock or thrown out (incinerated or consigned to landfill). But scientists have been working on ways to recycle the feathers into useful products.
July 2, 2013
I have to admit I wasn’t all that keen about reading a book on keeping the Sabbath. I imagined it as an extended rebuke to the modern church for its failure to observe Sunday as a day set apart for God the way previous generations (i.e. before I was born) did.
But I was intrigued by the title, 24/6. And I read enthusiastic reviews, telling what a fun book it is, easy to read, filled with personal stories and a positive outlook. And I did want to know what God wants in terms of keeping the Fourth Commandment. It had always seemed strange to me that only nine out of the ten would still be valid.
Arguments I have heard/read that the Sabbath is not applicable to Christians are that it is not reiterated in the New Testament, that it was part of the old covenant and thus obsolete, and that Paul speaks of one who “esteems all days alike” as making an acceptable choice so long as he is “fully convinced in his own mind.” Those arguments satisfied me to the point that I did not feel guilty for not keeping Sunday (or Saturday) as a day of rest, but I always wondered about it.
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June 29, 2013
This is yet another book I decided to read based on an email sent by my supervisor at the college. I read the linked article, about Douglas Rushkoff’s new book Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now, and found the topic intriguing.
Rushkoff is sounding an alarm about what he calls presentism – an obsessive focus on the present moment, unmoored from its context in the flow of time. He talks about society has lost the idea of narrative, and how people are slaves to the digital devices that demand their constant attention.
Perhaps it’s because I live in a relatively rural area in the Midwest, or because I am over fifty, but I don’t see the extremes he is talking about in my everyday life. I thought perhaps reading the book would help me get an idea of what is happening to people elsewhere, where these trends may have taken greater hold of people’s lives.
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March 24, 2013
Most Easter bunnies are made of chocolate. Some are plush. But this weekend’s wintry weather has produced some snowy Easter bunnies.
And while we’re on the subject of unusual Easter bunnies, check out these unfortunate Easter bunny costumes.
February 16, 2013
A Facebook friend posted a link to this column by Tom Chantry, and adds this comment: “How come many (most?) Reformed Baptists get this and many (most?) Presbyterians don’t?”
I’ve never been a Reformed Baptist (and during the years I was a Baptist I had no idea there was such a thing), but I’ve been a Presbyterian now for over twenty years, and the wife of a Presbyterian pastor for the last fifteen, so I have some idea about what Presbyterians think. And the approach to Lent that is decried in this column is foreign to my experience.
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