Friday, November 28, 2008

Shell Museum

This year, I was more excited about shells than I've been in a while. We put together a puzzle with shells and their names (twice!) and biked down to the east end of the island where the shells are smaller. My brother found two wentletraps (my favorite). Lee was specifically looking for augers, and I was looking for shells with holes in them suitable for adornment.

We also went to the Shell Museum on our last day. These shells were carved for a cameo effect:

In another display, we saw hundreds of tiny shells collected and arranged into patterns in a style known as a "sailors' valentine." Apparently, sailors did not make these valentines; they bought them from women in coastal towns. (The name reflects their motif and popularity as gifts that sailors would purchase and bring back for their sweethearts.) This is a sailor's valentine created by a living local resident of the island:

I don't think I've ever seen those green shells before.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pool Sharks

Lee is intrigued by sharks these days, but she is not quite ready to go swimming with them. Instead, she is building up her strength and skill in the pool. (Once she becomes a strong swimmer, I think she'll be excited to take on the waves.)

We had trouble with the pool at first because someone severed the cables that feed the heater and filter (leaving live 220V wires exposed above ground near the water). After a few days, it was fixed -- to great rejoicing. I don't think I've ever seen this bright green bug before, but he was there to welcome us to the pool:

Lee takes a small break from swimming:

Clara takes full advantage of the kindness of strangers who let her play with their pool toys:

Ruth keeps an eye out from land:

We borrowed a documentary about sharks from the kids' section of the library. For reasons known only to the producers of the program, they decided to explain why and how people are or have been afraid of sharks BEFORE explaining why this fear was misplaced. Hmmm. Might be better to simply present the facts about sharks rather than introducing the concept of fear.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Words, Words, Words

By far, the most popular books of the week were four miniatures by Maurice Sendak: One Was Johnny, Alligators All Around, Chicken Soup with Rice, and Pierre.

I'm not sure any one of them was more beloved than the others, although I got a lot of laughs from both girls when I started messing around with the text of One Was Johnny (I was substituting a rhyming word for the last word on each page).

Clara also really liked it when I mixed up the style for Pierre by repeating the "I don't CARE!" refrain in an angry voice (rather than an apathetic, whiny or supercilious voice).

My grandfather thought that part of the charm of reading to children is the one-on-one attention, and I think he has a point. But I also caught Clara reading to herself on the beach. (Or at least, she was quietly going through the motions while the rest of us were collecting shells. If she really does know how to read, she's keeping it a secret for the moment.)

Me, I read most of Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde (turns out I really prefer the Nursery Crimes Division stories to the Thursday Next series) and leafed through some more of Le Ton Beau de Marot by Douglas Hofstadter.

We played a few rounds of boggle (my brother is now the undisputed champion) and solved a NYT acrostic.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hats Off

At my church, we deacons have to wear black suits in keeping with the sombre and weighty responsibilities of the office, but they don't specify the headgear. I think this should be our new official dress code:

I think they may have been inspired by this new sculpture near the church...

... which seems to be part of a collection of large-scale Hello Kitty sculptures.

I went to the Redeemer 10:30 service with friends, then hustled over to FAPC for FOCUS, enjoyed a leisurely lunch at Papillon followed by a stroll through SoHo, and then headed back uptown to catch a performance of Haydn's "Creation" (really nice) with a lecture by Tim Keller. The surprise was that I knew two members of the orchestra.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Obama in Brooklyn


I've been thinking of defining moments in some past relationships recently. Or more specifically, a moment that makes me smile about the guy when I think of it. For example:

Scene 1: W is a big-time Van Halen fan. We're driving somewhere, and W has offered me the opportunity to request/select a song or album.
Me (tentatively, thinking that a true Van Halen aficionado might scorn a hit appreciated by the masses in favor of a much more obscure and neglected gem): Do you have "Jump"?
W (incredulous): Do I have "Jump"???!!!!
He immediately blasts the song at full volume

Scene 2: X and I had planned to do something with friends in the evening, but when he heard about what I was doing in the morning, he joined me there. After lunch, he was reluctantly walking down the stairs with me to the subway.
X (tentatively): So, I guess you're going back home. Shall I call you when I find out what our friends want to do tonight?
Me: Sure! (slight pause) Unless you want to go for a walk in the park?
X flashes me a big grin and without a word we keep walking forward and march back up the stairs on the far side, out of the subway toward the park.

Scene 3: Y and I are on our way back to the city from yet another wedding.
Y (suddenly blurting out): Are we dating?
Me: No. Should we be?
Y: Yes!
Me: OK, let's give it a shot.

Scene 4: Z and I are washing dishes after a church dinner that I only attended because Z told me he would be there and asked me if I was going.
Z: How was your week?
Me: Fabulous!
Z (light-hearted sarcasm): Why, did you get a raise?
Me: No, but I was awarded a customer service award, a dinner for two at the restaurant of my choice.
Z (kidding around): When are we going?
Me (calling his bluff): Friday. 7 o'clock. Cucina di Roma.
Z (slight pause): Wait a moment, what just happened?
Me: Oh, nothing.

None of these guys are in my life right now, but just thinking about these moments - even for relationships that never took off the ground - really makes me smile.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Constancy in Belief

One paragraph of a NY Times article caught my eye today. I've put that paragraph in bold, but also included some additional background for context:
Type “mind control” or “gang stalking” into Google, and Web sites appear that describe cases of persecution, both psychological and physical.... [A] growing number of such Web sites are filled with stories from people who say they are victims of mind control and stalking by gangs of government agents. ...

[S]ome experts say Web sites that amplify reports of mind control and group stalking represent a dark side of social networking. They may reinforce the troubled thinking of the mentally ill and impede treatment.

Dr. Ralph Hoffman, a psychiatry professor at Yale who studies delusions, said a growing number of his research subjects have told him of visiting mind-control sites, and finding in them confirmation of their own experiences.

“The views of these belief systems are like a shark that has to be constantly fed,” Dr. Hoffman said. “If you don’t feed the delusion, sooner or later it will die out or diminish on its own accord. The key thing is that it needs to be repetitively reinforced.”

That is what the Web sites do, he said.
Sarah Kershaw, "Sharing Their Demons on the Web" (NYT 11/12/08).

Religious faith is also something that needs to be repetitively reinforced. Christians are encouraged to read the Bible and pray daily, to attend worship services weekly, and to enter into Christian fellowship regularly -- all in order to maintain faith in the triune God against the steady atrophying and skepticism of everyday life. Does that necessarily mean our faith is a delusion?

This is not a new theological debate (even for me*), but it got me looking at things from a different angle today.

As I'm thinking about this, I consider what kinds of things do we believe in without repetitive reinforcement. Gravity comes to mind. We constantly trust gravity - our lives depend on it - and we trust with a simple, automatic faith. I know I never doubt it, even though my recollection of how or why it works is pretty shaky. Of course, gravity continually proves itself in an unmistakable, practical way.

Another example is atoms. Probably most American adults believe in atoms, as we were taught as children, even without reinforcement. Again speaking for myself, I don't see proof of their existence on a daily basis - or indeed ever. Then again, I don't see any contradictory evidence, either. Although I don't in any way doubt that matter is made up of atoms, it's probably just because I really don't care (surely the exact makeup of matter simply doesn't matter to the vast majority of us laymen).

So maybe it will be more helpful to think about secular beliefs that require repetitive reinforcement. What comes to mind here is gratitude/contentment, or the belief that we have things in abundance. Objectively speaking, middle-class Americans tend to have lots of stuff - both tangible and intangible. This is most self-evidently true when you compare us with others around the world starving and oppressed under cruel totalitarian regimes. And yet those of us who know that we have our basic needs met many times over still find ourselves regularly losing sight of all that we have. The true belief that I have enough (or even more than enough) fades quickly. I rapidly get used to whatever I have, and find myself pining for whatever I don't have. It requires constant reinforcement to maintain a realistic sense of the richness of my life. It is the feeling of scarcity that is the delusion, and in my experience that delusion can be kept at bay only with constant vigilance.

FN* This is a topic I've explored before by way of C.S. Lewis and Phil Keoghan (see the discussion under "Keep your belief going, no matter what it takes").

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Free-Form Gratitudes

This is as far as I got during the unstructured portion of the mid-week alternative worship service:

For caring doctors and nurses
for sharp mind, sound ligaments, whole bones
for sheer determination
+ great stories
an adventuresome life


For love + affection
and forgiveness
and a good example
for leaping over and beyond me
in grace and maturity
for never being the prodigal or the
things I projected
For being a good dad
and a good brother
and a good son


For innocent sweetness
for finding her way the only way
she knows how
for her love of swimming
and learning to love a rival
for her desire for love and attention
the same we all share


For warmth and courage
of a quiet kind
For strength I could not see
for love and support
unselfish and true
For imprinting herself in expression
and tone and mannerisms
on those she loves
for taking the silver and bronze
and letting him shine
For wanting more for us than
we hoped for

Obviously, there's a lot more to be grateful for. Those were just the first that sprang to mind, tears streaming down my face as I wrote.

I grabbed a bite to eat afterward; unfortunately, my companions were all guys. (I think a girl would have alerted me there was a huge smear of mascara under my left eye.)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Monday Going on Saturday

I took Thursday and Friday off, but the last four days were spent traveling, and were really not all that relaxing. I am so incredibly grateful I took off today as well... it felt very much like a Saturday, given that I have Veteran's Day off tomorrow.

I went rollerblading after the PowerLunch volunteer program (one of my fellow volunteers looked at my casual attire curiously, but did not ask any questions). The Hudson River Bike Path was refreshingly deserted.

At 14th Street, I went inland. The shadows on this roof were kind of cool.

It took me quite a while to find the vintage jewelry shop I'd been to once with G-san and U-chan (I went up 8th Ave, down 7th Ave, up 6th Ave, and down 5th Ave before I found it.) The ring I was curious about was gone, so I was spared that particular temptation. On my way to Union Square, I remembered that Ryan had said to try Paragon Sports for $45 youth ice skates. That sounded like a good deal, so I checked it out. Ultimately I picked up a pair of women's ice skates - my first as an adult - on clearance for $10. I splurged on $5 blade protectors. Now I need to go ice skating again!!

At the end of the day, I went to a trivia night with the N2NY crowd. We tied for 9th place out of about 24 teams - we totally flubbed the "video round".

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Don't Mess with Texas

We flew in to Texas to spend time with my grandfather on his 99th birthday. Here is a performance of the "wolf dance" (the underlying story is about a clever rabbit who tricks a den of wolves into learning the wolf dance as she maneuvers into position to make her getaway, leaving the wolves hungry but proud of their new skill):

Here's the lineup:

We walked from our hotel to a nearby Tex-Mex restaurant, only to learn thereafter that this just happens to be my cousin's favorite local joint!

(The "BE" from the sign in the background was burned out, so at night I was joking around about the silliness of a Japanese steak house named "KO".)

This looks kind of like Disney Tomorrowland, doesn't it? Ah, the transformative power of monorails....

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day

It was quite a momentous day for me this year; two of my friends and I had the day off, and we got to meet Samantha and her grandmother (we already knew mom Sharon).

Samantha was -predictably enough- adorable.

Apparently, Samantha's been having trouble getting enough to eat because she keeps falling asleep while feeding. (Oops!)

Sharon's mom came across as a real pillar of strength and sensibility.

Oh, yeah, and I voted as well. At 2:30 pm when the lines were short. But I bailed out on Dr. Strangejazz's election night party; I was dead tired and every muscle ached. (Maybe Ryan was right that I should not have used my cool but arduous ice skating technique.) I dimly heard sounds of celebration partway though the night, and verified the result in the morning.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

NYC Marathon #3!!!

Runner NYC just completed her third (and possibly final) NYC marathon. (It won't necessarily be her final marathon ever; she's got another coming up in Antarctica in 2009.)

She was a bit better insulated this time, with a wool scarf and Badz-Maru fleece, but still quite cold:

A grand crowd was there to welcome and celebrate with her at Bouchon Bakery, including friends from Brazil and her parents:

Yay G-san!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Skating in Bryant Park

I went skating in Bryant Park for the first time on Saturday night - I'd never even seen the rink before. Nor had I seen this cool mosaic in the subway, showing roots deep down underground:

After skating, we went to Havana Cafe for dinner. I got ropa vieja - yum!

We walked down to Times Square, and decided to splurge on a ferris wheel ride at the local toy store. This was not the car we wanted, but it was pretty funny:

Ryan stood on the sidelines, taking pictures:
Retaliation with my cell phone's built-in camera is a bit of a challenge, unfortunately:

Quite an entertaining evening in Manhattan with echoes of a country fair.