Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Last Pictures of 2006

Well, they'll probably be the last ones of 2006, unless something spectacular happens that I have to post about. But... probably not, so here you go:

This is known as the Grandma Tree. Can you see the eyes, nose and mouth? The big difference from the last time I photographed this tree is the burnt, hollow branch on the top, from when the house burned down.

Note to filmmakers: you can make a pretty scary-looking potion by adding tomato sauce to black bean juice. We were making enchiladas.


Of course, this was on the day that we had an open house, with 30 guests planned, and plenty of food prepared... with a winter sorm warning in effect, we got a total of four brave guests. We had a good deal of fun with them anyway.

My New Year's Resolution this year is to lose some weight. Or stop leaning back in chairs. Or both.

Friday, December 29, 2006

The eyes still have it

My mother-in-law, Carolyn, went in for treatment today, which involved injections directly into the eyeball. [[[shudder]]] Her central vision in that eye is still gone, but hasn't deteriorated further — but there appears to be some sort of allergic reaction to the medicine they used, which is causing her a lot of pain. She'll be meeting the doctor at the emergency room shortly...

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The eyes have it

An update on my mother-in-law: She's been in and out of doctor's appointments for most of the day, and is scheduled for treatment tomorrow. She has what's known as AMD, or Age-related Macular Degeneration. There was inflammation and bleeding behind the retina, some of which has leaked through and done some damage to the retina itself. She is suffering from headaches, and her vision in her right eye has degraded over the course of today. As a note of providence, the machine needed to make the correct diagnosis was installed in the doctor's office... yesterday.

I'll post more updates as I know them.

The Rise and Fall of the Church

Our Lady of the Held-Up Steeple


And now, a word from the head deacon on the Building Committee...


As could be reasonably expected whenever a whole family is together, we trooped down to the local photo studio for a family portrait. Yes, we did that today. And they're all already in frames. Gotta love digital photography...

I'm not really that tall. I'm standing on a box. And I'm holding Aiden's hand so he doesn't keep pointing at the camera.

It's all relative(s)

Today I got to meet some of the interesting members of Deborah's extended family. They invited themselves over on the pretext of teaching us how to make kim-bop, which is apparently sushi rolls without the sushi. It was fun, but it wasn't what we had originally planned for the day. One of the biggest surprises was getting to see Katana again ("Like the sword, not the motorcycle" — what, you have something against Suzukis?) and have her be taller than me, at age 11. Last I saw her, before Deborah and I were married, she was being carried around; now she passes for a high schooler easily. Weird.

Sara, May, Katana.

They left, and we had a relatively humdrum day (none of us were feeling too chipper; I think we've all shared our cold viruses) reading and hanging out. When I awoke from a nap, I discovered that another set of relatives had arrived, and we were trying to talk great-grandma into taking care of their enormous dog.

They left when we mentioned we were going out to eat. While I was still recovering from the previous conversation (ordering a new video off of eBay to replace one that was fragged by the airport X-ray machines) my mother-in-law said, offhandedly, "Hey, do you know what makes your eyes do that, see all these flashes?" Somewhat alarmed, I did a Google search for "Amsler Grid" and showed it to her. Not good. No central vision in her right eye. I talked her into calling an eye doctor, despite the hour, and she made an appoinment for the next morning.

We capped off the evening by trying to go out for scallops. Well, some of us made it — the rest of us waited at home for Paul to come back to get the second carload, but he got lost on rural New Hampshire's wandering, unmarked back roads. I could sympathize, though; last time I was here, on the motorcycle, I would stop after each turn, turn around in my seat, and memorize what the turn would look like for the trip back. And that was just to got to the store!

What a day!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A very full day

Fiona gets acquinted with her great-grandma Renaud

Deborah and Sara compare notes on child-rearing

May, the youngest, begins the stocking stuffing in the MSS (Multiple Santa System) before calling out, "Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas!" as the signal for the next-oldest Santa to appear.

It took an hour and a half just to open stockings. With twelve people, we had a lot of Santas. Presents went well into the afternoon before we took a break for lunch.

During a break from unwrapping, a number of people tried their hands at the ball puzzles that we had gotten as stocking stuffers. Apparently, hunching over with one leg cocked to the side helps with one's concentration.

Deborah shows us how it's done

After lunch, we got back down to business with the presents. We kept that up for another three or four hours...

May really liked the wand. :-)

We took another break, and started preparations for Christmas dinner. The turkey had already been cooking, but there were squash to brutalize (my job) and potatoes to mash, and dishes to wash, and...

By the time we got back to opening gifts, it became apparent where my mother-in-law kept disappearing to: her room, to wrap more presents! There was serious talk about continuing tomorrow. About 8 p.m., though, we finally ran out of presents, an could finally sit down to feast. I rarely indulge in a traditional American-style feast, so it was very enjoyable for me. I'm still full, in many senses; it was a very full day for all.

A visit from the luggage fairies

We stayed up talking until nearly 2 in the morning, by which time we were all so silly that we were laughing at anything and everything. The luggage fairies showed up around 3 a.m. — two way too cheerful ladies in a Dodge Magnum appeared to swap our car seats for theirs and drop off our luggage — but not Paul and May's, oddly enough. They were back again an hour later once they discovered that the lost baggage office had mis-typed the address for Paul and May's claim, despite the fact that they were right behind us in line to make the claim. Oddities aside, it was good to see it all again.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, y'all, wherever you may be!

This is the lone nativity scene on the island, and half of me has always admired it. The other half of me thinks, "Ah, the Alien Nativity. Beam me up, Jesus!" Sorry, I'll go back to being solemn and reverent now....

In the air... and on the ground again

All of these are going to fit into our suitcases?

Fiona, fascinated.

Sorry, Aiden, you exceed the maximum size for carry-on. We'll have to do a gate check.

We gave the kids some of their presents once we were in the air, one or two at a time. Since both kids are just nuts about books, it was easy to stretch the enjoyment over both flights.

We made all our connections — barely — but our luggage just couldn't keep up. Fortunately the folks at United had spare car seats for just such an occasion, and our car seats and luggage will catch up with us sometime tomorrow. All the other presents were in our luggage, though, so a few things will have to wait...

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Early Christmas Presents

Today, Paul, May, Deborah and I got together and exchanged all the presents that wouldn't easily fit in a suitcase. The gist of that was that Fiona and Aiden got a few early Christmas presents apiece.

Aiden got a very cute rocking-zebra from May.

Fiona got some fun paintcan stilts (and a few hundred stickers to decorate them with) from Paul.

Aiden got a toy train from us that I swear is going to drive me insane. As soon as we get back from New Hampshire, I'm going to see about adding some sort of volume control. Otherwise it's very spiffy.

For the sake of present parity, Fiona also got a puzzle. Thing is, we weren't exactly sure what was going to be on the puzzle. It turned out to be a very yellow pup in a very green basket, like the photo suggested.

Two gift exchanges down, one more to go!

The Culturally Confused Item of the Week

America, the melting pot. Where else can you buy Jewish soy sauce?

I saw this one while I was looking for some sesame seed oil. At first, I glanced over it, and my mind said, "Hey, that wasn't the usual faux-Aisian font they usually use on soy sauce..." and upon a second look, I recognized the font as being faux-Hebrew, and chuckled that they would misuse such a font... and then I read the thing and realized they were perfectly serious about having a Hebrew font on a bottle of soy sauce — something about a Jewish boy marrying a Chinese girl, and making lots of good condiments together.

America, what a place.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

My favorite gift that I'm giving this year

This is the second Harry Potter-themed post today. Hmm....

This is a project that has very much taken on a life of it's own, and, in a way, I wanted to document it somehow just because it has been fermenting in my imagination for so long. It's a Christmas present for May (who is totally into [a] fantasy books and [b] dolphins). It's four days until Christmas. I'm counting on the fact that May doesn't read my blog...

A magic wand with a dolphin carved into the handle.

I thought a starfish on the end would be a nice touch...

Of course, a fine wand requires a fine box to keep it in. So I made one.

And, of course, I couldn't leave well enough alone. I had to create a wrapper for the box, too.

After all that, I hope she likes it!

An early Christmas Present from J.K. Rowling

If you...

  1. Are a Harry Potter fan;
  2. have a relatively quick internet connection, and
  3. have time to go clicking on stuff semi-randomly for about five minutes
...then you, too, can discover the title to the seventh (and last) Harry Potter book at

Is it any coincidence that tonight is the longest and darkest night of the year? Given the title, I would guess not. Hmm.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

C.S. Lewis on "Exmas": A Lost Chapter of Herodotus

I'm always delighted to find another piece by C. S. Lewis that I haven't seen before. This one was sent to me a week or so ago by a friend. If it doesn't seem like Lewis' usual style, I have been assured by several people at work that it is a very good imitation of the writings of the ancient historian Herodotus.

A Lost Chapter from Herodotus
by C S Lewis

And beyond this there lies in the ocean, turned towards the west and the north, the island of Niatrib which Hecataeus indeed declares to be the same size and shape as Sicily, but is larger, though in calling it triangular a man would not miss the mark. It is densely inhabited by men who wear clothes not very different from the other barbarians who occupy the north-western parts of Europe though they do not agree with them in language. These islanders, surpassing all the men of whom we know in patience and endurance, use the following customs.

In the middle of winter when fogs and rain most abound they have a great festival which they call Exmas, and for fifty days they prepare for it in the fashion I shall describe. First of all every citizen is obliged to send to each of his friends and relations a square piece of hard paper stamp with a picture which in their speech is call an Exmas-card. But the pictures represent birds sitting on branches, or trees with a dark green prickly leaf, or men in such garments as the Niatribians believe their ancestors wore two hundred years ago riding in coaches such as their ancestors used, or houses with snow on their roofs. And Niatribians are unwilling to say what these picture have to do with the festival, guarding (as I suppose) some sacred mystery. And because all men must send these cards the market-place is filled with the crowd of those buying them, so that there is great labour and weariness.

But having bought as many as they suppose to be sufficient, they return to their houses and find there the like cards, which others have sent to them. And when they find cards from any to whom they also have sent cards, they throw them away and give thanks to the gods that this labour at least is over for another year. But when they find cards from any to whom they have not sent, then they beat their breasts and wail and utter curses against the sender; and, having sufficiently lamented their misfortune, they put on their boots again and go out into the fog and rain and buy a card for him also. And let this account suffice about Exmas-cards.

They also send gifts to one another, suffering the same things about the gifts as about the cards, or even worse. For every citizen has to guess the value of the gift every friend will send to him so he may send one of equal value, whether he can afford it or not. And they buy as gifts for one another such things as no man ever bought for himself. For the sellers, understanding the custom put forth all kinds of trumpery, and whatever, being useless and ridiculous, they have been unable to sell throughout the year they now sell as an Exmas gift. And though the Niatribians profess themselves to lack sufficient necessary things, such as metal, leather, wood and paper, yet and incredible quantity of these things is wasted every year, being made into gifts.

But during these fifty days the oldest, poorest and most miserable of the citizens put on false beards and red robes and walk about the market-place; being disguised (in my opinion) as Cronos. And the sellers of the gifts no less than the purchasers become pale and weary, because of the crowds and the fog, so that any man that come into a Niatribian city at this season would think some great public calamity had fallen onto Niatrib. This fifty days of preparation is called in their barbarian speech the Exmas Rush.

But when the day of the festival comes, then most of the citizens, being exhausted, with the Rush, lie in bed till noon. But in the evening they eat five times as much supper as on other days and, crowning themselves with crowns of paper, they become intoxicated. And on the day after Exmas, they are very grave, being internally disordered by the supper and the drinking and reckoning how much they have spent on gifts and on the wine. For wine is so dear among the Niatribians that a man must swallow the worth of a talent before he is well intoxicated.

Such, then, are their customs about the Exmas. But the few among the Niatribians have also a festival, separate and to themselves, call Crissmas, which is on the same day as Exmas. And those who keep Crissmas, doing the opposite to the majority of Niatribians, rise early on that day with shining faces and go before sunrise to certain temples where they partake of a sacred feast. And in most of the temples they set out images of a fair woman with a new-born Child on her knees and certain animals and shepherds adorning the Child. (The reason of these images is given in a certain sacred story which I know but do not repeat.)

But I myself conversed with a priest in one of these temples and asked him why they kept Crissmas on the same day as Exmas; for it appeared to me inconvenient. But the priest replied, It is not lawful O Stranger, for us to change the date of Crissmas, but would that Zeus would put it into the minds of the Niatribians to keep Xmas at some other time or not to keep it at all. For Xmas and the Rush distract the minds even of the few from sacred things. And we indeed are glad that men should make merry at Crissmas; but in Exmas there is no merriment left. And when I asked him why they endured the Rush, he replied, It is, O Stranger, a *racket*; using (as I suppose) the words of some oracle and speaking unintelligibly to me (for a *racket* is an instrument which the barbarians use in a game called *tennis*).

But what Hecataeus says, that Exmas and Crissmas are the same, is not credible. For the first, the pictures which are stamped on the Exmas cards have nothing to do with the sacred story which the priests tell of Crissmas. And secondly, the most part of the Niatribians, not believing the religion of the few, nevertheless send the gifts and cards and participate in the Rush and drink, wearing paper cars. But it is not likely that men, even being barbarians, so suffer so many and great things in honour of a god they do not believe in. And now, enough about Niatrib.

Monday, December 18, 2006

A most excellent gift

A few days ago, I received an amazing gift: a CD of pictures. Not any pictures, mind you, but more than 800 scans out of our family photo albums, arranged by date, with descriptive filenames. I can't imagine how much time was spent sitting there, listening to the scanner's whine to produce that.

I will, of course, share.

Part of what was interesting here is that the file name included a bit of information I never knew: the name of the girl next to me. It turns out to be Chisuzu Tanaka. Why didn't I know it? All I can figure was that either she was very shy or I was (and the latter doesn't seem very likely). I seem to recall asking her in both English and Spanish (If you don't know one, you must know the other, obviously!) but not getting any answer.

Meanwhile, check out the details here... my amazing sense of style (plaid shorts with a tie-dye shirt and black socks), the similarity to any other shot you might see of a kid on the way to his first day at school... the fact that it's anywhere but North America...

I hadn't realized how much the Costa Rican landscape was burned into my memory.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Since y'all asked...

The photo I posted last week of the mist on the lake has proved to be very popular, and I've consistently gotten two requests from quite a number of people:

  1. Can I get a bigger version, to use as desktop wallpaper?
  2. Can I get a version without those poles and wires?

I'm happy to oblige you all with both. Click on the small photo here to open the large, edited version in all its 2 megabyte glory.

I'm not going to muck it up by putting a copyright notice on it, but I know most of the people who visit here, and I trust that you all will be wise in this matter. Credit where credit is due? Thank God for his amazing creation.

Edit: Apparently Blogger doesn't want to store a 2 MB file; if you're discontent with the size of the 140 k file linked here, email me and I will send you a larger version.

Tastebuds? We don't need no steenkin' tastebuds!

World's Hottest Pepper grown in Dorset, England

I've eaten a Red Savina. Just one. I ate the whole thing. 577,000 Scoville units, give or take a few. I saw things. I went deaf for 5 minutes. I was rendered incapable to do anything but pant and drool for about 20. And here they come with one that's more than 60% hotter?

I hereby update my Christmas Wish List....

Thursday, December 07, 2006

By the light of the moon, by the light of a streetlamp

A few photos from my (very early) morning commute. None of these bear viewing at full size; they all look better when viewed at a smaller size. I'm still trying to figure that out.

This one takes a minute to explain. It's the first thing I saw this morning. It's the view out one of the windows in the front door, and initially, I didn't think much of it, until my mind said, "Hey, the shadows weren't right..." and I went back and looked to see that it had snowed during the night. I like this one because it captures it exactly as I saw it, and makes you go, "Hey, what was that?"

Making the News

A friend of mine in Anderson, IN, was reading the local paper on his break at work, and said, "Hey, that looks familiar!" Turned out to be a regular column on 20-somethings, and that day, they were profiling MKs. They seem to have quoted from our book quite a bit, too.

The article is here.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

What would Jesus do?

You've just poured yourself a cup of coffee. There's half a cup left in the carafe. Do you leave it? Or do you make a new pot? What would Jesus do? (Assume, for a moment, that Jesus was up all night praying, and wanted some coffee with his morning figs.) Jesus undoubtedly wouldn't leave someone else stuck with only half a cup. But then, Jesus probably wouldn't waste half a cup of perfectly good coffee, either. Aaaagh!

So here is my solution: leave the coffee, but draw the water and have everything ready for the next person who comes along and wants more.

I guess we'll find out what my co-workers think!

Bakery, yes; Clocktower, no

Yesterday, there was a huge sign outside the Clocktower announcing an auction. This morning, when I stopped in, it was gone. Don looked hurt, and I asked what was up. Turns out they sold the business before the auction was necessary. They didn't get what they wanted for it ("That's to be expected, I suppose") and the new owner didn't buy the name, or a few pieces of what Don thought would be essential equipment.

So, it looks like there's still going to be a bakery of some sort on that corner, but it won't be called the Clocktower. The baked-goods-buyer in me felt relieved, but the rest of me was left wondering if the Bergers still have enough to retire on.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Misty Morning

Here's a view I only see once per year. On the first truly cold day of the year, when the sun hits the lake first thing in the morning, the surface of lake billows with mist and fog. Some years it's thick enough to make driving a real challenge.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

O Christmas Tree...

Funny, I don't remember it being quite so scrawny last year...

Ah, that's better!

The cat lay here, totally content, the whole time we were walking around the tree, putting on the lights, being stepped over five or six times per minute. What trust. What contentment.