Sunday, January 21, 2018

Gift of tongues

Slightly more than a week ago I saw another friend posting about the Duolingo language learning app. I decided to check it out and was quickly hooked. I then spread the contagion to Joy and to Superstar.

I'm brushing up on my mission German, filling in the many holes in my Spanish, and starting Mandarin with Joy. Joy is brushing up on her mission Spanish, starting Mandarin with me, and has started poking around Dutch as well. Superstar is mostly working on Spanish, but he's also played with Italian and German a little.

Each of us has been diligent for an entire week so far. I can tell a real difference in my own comfort level. I've read the Book of Mormon twice in Spanish, but when it's time for me to actually say something and form a coherent sentence, it took several minutes of concerted thought. Now I can actually share some basic thoughts about my day with Joy and be understood.

So three cheers for Duolingo!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Favorite Books for 2017

I officially finished the last of my 2017 books today and wanted to jot a few thoughts of praise for a year of really good books. I finished about 30+ books during the year.

#1 - George MacDonald by C. S. Lewis
MacDonald was Lewis' inspiration and part of the reason he switched from atheism to Christianity. This book is a collection of quotations from MacDonald's writings - including his overtly religious and his fantasy and fables. I highlighted about 1/6 of the book and look forward to rereading it over and over. I already shared some other quotes here.

#2 - The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize in Literature this year, and I try to sample some of the work of the most recent winners. This is easily my favorite of the works I've read in that endeavor. It tells in introspective retrospective the story of a butler looking back on what his life has meant. We see his attempts to sacrifice everything he held dear for the golden ideal he held - though it is never phrased in those terms - only to wonder at the end whether that sacrifice was really worthwhile. It is a very subtle work, with a great deal hiding beneath the surface. I think I will have to read it with Joy next to get a deeper understanding.

#3 - This is How You Die (Machine of Death #2)
For Christmas 2016 I got this book of short stories about a machine that tells you with 100% accuracy how you will die. Rather than focusing on the machine itself in this second collection, the authors tried to find very different directions to take it. I shed a few tears at the extremely touching first story about a twin sister who [spoiler spoiler spoilers]. I ROFLd at the supervillain's henchman who is assigned to do away with the people who come to stop him in increasingly interesting ways; because obviously, someone who dies by gunshot wound is easy to know how to kill, but what if they die of hypothermia or a bug bite or by Victoria Falls? Then there's the choose your own adventure where you are a guy trying to commit suicide... (that one was tough going!). Cyberpunk, small town America, turning of age story, B-movie horror... A few of the stories I needed to skip over because I am not a mature enough audience for them, so buyer beware. But a few of those stories have stayed with me, so it gets the #3 slot.

Honorable Mentions go to some fellows I enjoyed enough to buy more than one of their books this year:
Nathan VanCoops - I'm really looking forward to the third installment of his time traveler series
Drew Hayes - Who introduced me to the litRPG genre.
Andrew Rowe - I read three of his epic fantasies and am looking forward to more. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

What Nephi doesn't say

[This is part two of a discussion of Hardy's analysis of Nephi and Boyce's charges against that analysis. In part one (see last post) I was trying to speak positively and to praise where I could. That, sadly, is not my point today. I am having a discussion with some other seminary teachers about why I don't recommend Hardy to seminary students.]

The authors of the Book of Mormon (and Mormon in particular) mention repeatedly the difficulty and frustration of being able to include so little of what happened among the Nephites. Nephi has much the same difficulty: an 8 year trek through the Arabian peninsula to the land of Bountiful is shortened to essentially one chapter and one event that was particularly harsh for his family. The next 30-40 years of 2nd Nephi are summarized in a few verses so that he can spend the rest of that book entirely on recording and expounding on the teachings of his father, his brother, and his favorite prophet. If his record is to include only the most sacred writings, then there has to be a great sifting and winnowing to keep only the most important records.

In his book, Understanding the Book of Mormon, Grant Hardy encourages us to ponder the details of what was left out and to construct a narrative that explains what was left out and why. As he put it:
[Literary interpretation] is not a matter of discovering truths about a world so much as assigning thematic significance to component parts of a work. It is a search for coherence and sense. It involves making connections by subsuming more and more elements in a work under a network of thematic elements.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Reblog: Book Review of Understanding the Book of Mormon

In 2011 I was writing at a different blog which is now behind a password. That Christmas I received Grant Hardy's Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader's Guide. I wrote the following review at that time.

Recently I got into a conversation on Facebook on this book and a remarkably lengthy article written by Duane Boyce calling out Hardy (and others) for bad religious scholarship. I find the Facebook format unsatisfactory when someone needs a lengthy, detailed answer. To provide one, I'm copying here my old review and the follow up posts I wrote 6 years ago. Six years ago my goal was to be honest but overall positive, so while I suggest that some parts of his treatment of Nephi (and Helaman) bothered me then, I didn't really go into detail about what exactly or why. In the next post on this blog I will go into a few more specifics about why I find Hardy's treatment of Nephi so unsatisfactory and where I agree and disagree with Boyce's criticism of Hardy's book. I've added a couple comments in [brackets] below.

The tl;dr summary of what I wrote 6 years ago is: "I recommend his book for people interested in treating the Book of Mormon like literature. He does his job and he does it well. I really appreciate insights he helped me see in Mormon and Moroni. Just don't go looking for something that isn't there. ... Hardy's book is not about understanding the messages of the Book of Mormon. There is very little talk about the Atonement or Christianity itself, how Nephite Christianity is different, how the Book of Mormon expounds on and complements the Bible's message of salvation, what the mission of Jesus Christ is or any of the fundamental points the prophets set out to make. ... Of course, given how didactic the Book of Mormon is (one of his favorite words), he may feel it unnecessary: you can't read the Book of Mormon seriously without coming away with its testimony of Jesus Christ. Hardy wants to present something New. This is an intellectual exercise. I like such exercises. The thing is, if this were all anyone read, they would not come away Understanding the Book of Mormon."

Mormon Helping Hands east of Houston

So there was this hurricane that hit Texas a while back. You might've heard about it </hipster>. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called for volunteers from around the area to drive down to Houston and other locales to help.

I went down two weekends ago with 10 other people from my local church and again last weekend with a new group of 10. Someone else was our team leader each time, but I served as assistant since I was going both times. We were joined by 150-200 others from our stake each weekend (that's the Weatherford area) and approximately 10,000 Mormons from Texas and other areas nearby.

No. I AM your father.
We arrived to help muck out houses. Mucking out means we took absolutely everything that wasn't salvageable (just about everything) out of the house to be trashed, tore out the sheet rock and drywall and insulation, and left a barebones skeleton frame in the house. The first weekend we spent the entire time helping one lady, whom I will call "Mary" - about 73 years old, she's a diabetic widow with some pretty serious mold allergies. Mold is one of the biggest problems from this flood as absolutely everything gets thoroughly soaked. Because of the mold, the house smelled absolutely dreadful and I was thankful we had taken the time to buy an industrial grade air filter because of my mold allergies. In the picture you can see the water line that went up to about 4 feet.

But if the water is 4 feet high, then it seeped up the insulation to 5-6 feet and that meant all the walls had to be taken down completely. We couldn't finish her house in one weekend, so we finished the job when we came back the second weekend. We also got to help another couple where the water had only gone up 1-2 feet. It still meant they lost most of their things and we had to remove the drywall up to 4 feet.

Picture dump 2017 - Superstar

Now what has Superstar been up to? Since he is sitting over my shoulder and ready to contribute and correct, I am writing this one in the third-person instead of as if I were him. (This was one thing he noted, clever boy.)

Last school year when we got back from South Africa, Superstar discovered the rest of his honors class had been working on biographies and becoming some famous people. He had a very limited time to pick someone and become them for a living wax museum that would welcome everyone to school. He chose Thomas Edison. He was a FANTASTIC robot, with a big button that said "Hear Tom talk" and he would not talk unless someone pushed that button. He started over everytime someone pushed the button and did so while staying in character a robot of Thomas Edison! It was amazing and highly entertaining. The other kids learned what a fun toy he was, congregating around him to 'push his buttons'. It was wonderful to watch.

"Hello. My name is Thomas Edison. I am a famous inventor who lived a long time ago. I invented many useful things in America history, such as the x-ray and the light bulb. Today is the 85th anniversary of my death."

For this year he is planning to be Colt McCoy, quarterback for the Redskins. From this you might surmise that he discovered American football this year. You would be right! He has joined a football team (with a less-than-stellar win record) where he has a lot of fun as a blocker.

On our way home from Utah, we stopped in Aspen, Colorado to visit my great-Aunt Virginia. While we were in Utah, we learned a bunch of new card games, like Wackee Six, Ratuki, and Five Crowns. He figured out how to combine the Wackee Six cards I got for my birthday with the rules for Five Crowns, so he's been teaching people to play Wackee Six Crowns.

In Aspen, we all went up the mountain for lunch to enjoy the view. Here we are playing very large chess together.

Last week the kids in his class were invited to be a superhero based on a Greek or Latin root. He got ped/pad, meaning foot, and became "The Pedomaster" (peDOMuster). He is fast and can jump.

He likes to dab. This is his (patent-pending) 4-dab, because his legs are also dabbing and are in the shape of a 4.

Walking home from a football game,
we pause for a Tarleton picture
For college days on campus we got him a BYU shirt

Here he is ready for Conference in his tent. He enjoys being a bear scout, having earned his wolf last year. "Tell them I'm the only one in my scout troop that earned Tiger scout" because when we lived in Glen Rose they had Tiger Scouts and our local group here doesn't. Superstar is also very nice to have in the car on our long drives - he hands everyone food for meals or snacks and helps JT whenever he needs some attention.

Picture dump 2017 - Princess

Princess, what's been going on with you this year?

I turned six this year and started first grade! I got to celebrate my birthday several times - at home, at the hometel, and, best of all, with my cousin A. We met up at Las Vegas during the summer because Daddy's great-aunt died and we all came together for her burial. That was sad, of course, but I got to spend so much time with my best friend, A. She gave me a mermaid tail for my birthday! It was so much fun being her twinner.

In addition to being a mermaid, I also like to be Wonder Woman, a baby, a kitty, a princess, and "coocoo baby. And I love coocoo."

I walk to school everyday with my Daddy and my brother. I love my teacher and my class. I'm very good at reading - I passed off over 200 vocabulary words in the first couple weeks of school! At the end of the last school year I joined the Stephenville High Stingerettes for some training in how to be a cheerleader. I danced to Kiss the Girl from Little Mermaid. 

I got a major haircut this year - going from long hair to shoulder length. I like my new haircut. I like snuggling with Mommy in the morning. I learned how to swing all by myself (with a push at the start) but I still like it when Mommy or Daddy give me underdogs. Superstar and I took swimming lessons too. Here we are trying to cross the obstacle course at Splashville.

Picture dump 2017 - John-Thomas 1

Okay, so I'm not going to be able to go through our entire summer vacation in detail. This much is clear. But if there is one thing I learned from accidentally deleting ALL the pictures we took in the last 3 years, we need more pictures of the kids on the blog and maybe a couple stories to go with them! Thankfully we had backups of many of the pictures.

John-Thomas - what's been going on with you this that we haven't shared here yet?

Well, Dad, glad you asked. I turned three years old nearly 6 months ago. Boy, you ARE behind on this blogging thing, aren't you? I didn't want cake for my birthday. I wanted DONUTS. We ate several dozen donuts of all kinds, colors, and varieties and from several different shops. That was fun!

I got superheroes, balls, a fire truck, and a monkey to play in my kitty house. I love them all still!

I love animals, especially my brother's dog. I steal him away every chance I can get. I also love his giant Mickey, the one as big as me - did you remember he got Mickey when he was my age or a little younger? He's the best! Too bad they're both usually hiding in brother's bed where I can't get at them....

I like to read. I love reading with my Mommy and Daddy. Here I am snuggled so cozzily in our summer hometel reading on a Sunday and posing in my sharp Sunday suit with Mommy.

I also like climbing trees and playing in bouncy houses. I run around ALL THE TIME. I like to pretend to be animals, mostly kitties or puppies, but sometimes monkeys. I'm learning how to read the letters A to I. I can count to 20. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

JT's biggest fan

Superstar and John-Thomas sleep in a bunk bed, with 3 year old JT on the bottom. When he figured out how to climb, we took away the ladder to make sure he couldn't climb into his brother's bed. Superstar had to climb up using the headboards. Last month John-Thomas figured out how to climb up his brother's bunk bed without the ladder. To prevent him from falling and hurting himself badly when he came back down, we finally installed Superstar's ladder.

The immediate reaction, naturally enough, was to encourage JT to climb into his brother's bed ALL the TIME. Then one morning he turned on the fan, climbed into his brother's bed, and started jumping up and down excitedly. That's when disaster struck.
"I'm wearing my pajamas
and I look like a pirate!"

Over tonight's hashbrown dinner, I ask him to retell the experience: "Superstar was sleeping. I was climbing on Superstar's bunkbed - not on this night. And I turn on the fan. And I got whacked in the head and I didn't get breaked in the potatoes." On saying this, he resumes smashing his hashbrowns into bits.

He got hit just above his left eye. JUST above. I carried him to our bathroom to wash out the blood, give him a priesthood blessing, and try to calm him. Once we got him some Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, he was feeling a lot better.

We went to three different doctors that morning before we found someone who could see him, and she declared that he happily didn't need stitches. He has been recovering happily since then, much more wary about climbing into his brother's bed.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Reception: Ari and Paula

Here are some pictures from Ari and Paula's wedding reception. I enjoyed being MC, which consisted of telling people the line forms to the right, dinner rolls are on the left, and when it was time for our expert dancers to get their groove on.