Sunday, September 27, 2009

A great birthday celebration

"What do you want to do for your birthday?" the lovely Carol asked me a couple of weeks ago. Besides that,  she meant.

Which birthday is this anyway? I noticed that if you change my age to another base, the digits switch places. A base-7 example:
32base7 = (3×7)+2 = 21+2 = 23
so maybe I'm 23 (yeah, right). There are surprisingly few 2-digit numbers that meet this condition.

Well, back to my lovely Carol's question. As I sometimes say, there are few things in life better than preparing a meal for people dear to me and having them enjoy it. So that's what we did. Ran over to Sigona's and got mung bean sprouts (very fresh) and some green onions. I went on to our local Key Market and bought chicken, beef, zucchini, peppers, asparagus, kim-chi, tofu and squid. They sliced up the beef for me. The lovely Carol picked up some cucumbers from the Redwood City Farmer's market. (She baked me a cake, for which I picked up cream cheese and crushed pineapple; it was carrot cake -- yum!) I also bought some special wine for the occasion.

Most of the food I prepared using the same old sauce -- soy sauce, sesame oil, vegetable oil, green onions. The cucumbers got a little vinegar added, and the beef got a little garlic. Carol took care of marinating the chicken.

The squid I cleaned (this took about an hour) then divided into two portions: the first I par-boiled and chilled with the above sauce; the other I stir-fried with the peppers, zucchini, asparagus, and an onion. Black bean sauce completed the dish. Note to myself for next time: drain squid well before trying to stir-fry!

Tofu was rinsed, sliced, drained and arranged on a small plate. Chopped green onions went on top, then I drizzled soy sauce and sesame oil.

The food turned out OK (some of my friends brought salads too); the conversation was wonderful. We shared a lot of laughs and caught up some on each other's lives. The 2004 Chateau de la Gardine (Chateauneuf-du-Pape) was great, but I wouldn't want to spend that much money every weekend, or even necessarily every month.

We had just a few couples over -- none from last year. So if you weren't invited, that doesn't mean I don't love you! But beyond a certain size the group dynamics get too complicated for me. Maybe next year....

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A visit to K&L

Some time ago, I received a gift of "1999 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe" which I finally opened in July. It was pretty darned special, but I figured that another bottle like that would be very expensive. Not knowing how to get the next best thing, and encouraged by some reviews on yelp!, I headed over to K&L right here in Redwood City, which is friendly, very well-stocked, and when I arrived about half an hour ago (just before five on a hot Saturday afternoon) not too crowded.

I looked around a bit before asking (hey, I'm a guy, right?) a pleasant and knowledgeable young lady for some advice. She was relabeling the shelves, which apparently had gotten out of whack. Yes, she could advise me. I told her that I recently opened that particular bottle, and said it was very nice ("Yes, I'm sure it was," she remarked). She had some sort of accent, maybe from somewhere in Europe? Anyway, we found a 2004 or 2005 vintage/version/whatever of the same wine I'd liked, and it was like $90. Yow!

She pointed me at a 2006 wine and a 2004 also, from the same "house" (that "appelation Châteauneuf-du-Pape controllee" thing you see on wines, and on bottles of Newman's Own salad dressing). $24 for one and $30 for the other. I brought both home -- whoops, looks like they charged me $30 for each (29.99 + tax); I'll have to give 'em a call about that.


I called them on the phone and they credited me with the difference. Then they sent me an email (I registered with them) correcting my record of what I'd bought there. So I concur with the fans at Yelp.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Take up and read (to the kids)

At this year's first "Good to Great Dads" meeting, the men at my table talked about getting time with the kids. Encouraged by my greatest fan (the lovely Carol), I offered something that worked well for me: bedtime reading.

I'm going to assume you know a bunch of reasons why dads should read to their kids; if not, click for some from and Here's a great summary from the bookdads site:
The changing role of fathers in today’s society asks more of us than ever before. A particular challenge for many of us is finding ways to forge and maintain strong emotional connections to our children as they grow. Reading aloud to our children not only allows us to promote the habit of literacy and to provide positive role models for our children, it also gives fathers a means to foster deeper emotional relationships with them.
And for Christian dads, I'd add that reading the Bible counteracts the stereotypical image of church as Mom's thing.

What, me read the Bible?

Yep. We had a few volumes from the Read-Aloud Bible Stories series; as of this writing, has a few. These books really make it easy. And if you stumble a little, it doesn't matter. What matters is you're spending time with them and giving them something from God's perspective.

You might try a (church or public) library before spending the money on your own copies; this particular series may not be a match for your kids. You could visit your local Christian bookstore and get their advice; if they help you with advice, please support them.

At some point, your kids may want to have a real Bible, a whole Bible -- one that's got everything in it rather than just the stories that the editors chose. You could do a lot worse than going with the CEV; it's easier to read than the NIV. Take a look at the first part of Romans 8 for example: NIV and CEV. See what I mean? "There is no condemnation" vs "you won't be punished."

What if they ask questions?

Well, I certainly hope they do! It used to happen all the time -- I'd read a story from the read-aloud book, and one of the kids asked what happened next, or where this person came from, this sort of thing. I said well, that's not in this book; it's in another part of the Bible that's not in these Bible story books. That's when our older kid asked for a whole Bible.

Did I do that on purpose -- bait the hook, so to speak? Well, not the first time. Afterwards, though, I congratulated myself for stumbling on a trick to whet the appetite, and from then on I did it on purpose.

Now, what if they ask you something when you're reading from the whole Bible, and you don't know the answer? Tell 'em you'll investigate. And go investigate! Do you have a copy of NBCR (or another reliable commentary) on your shelf? If not, you can do some research online, email your buddy, ask your wife -- and by the way, if your wife went to seminary or studied more Bible stuff than you did, that's nothing to be ashamed of. "That sounds like something Mom might know" is NOT a cop-out if you ask her yourself, check out her answer to see if you agree, and get back to the kids on it.

The Bible and...

There are a lot of other great books out there; my wife tried to get me to read literature to the kids, and sometimes I did. I also read the Berenstain Bears and the Box Car Children. (Even when I read 'em "literature" I took a rather liberal interpretation of the word; Wilder's Little House books, E.B. White's Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little and Trumpet of the Swan, L'Engle's Austin family series -- this sort of thing.) Even literary junk food (or "television books" as we sometimes called them) can be useful for encouraging your kids to think about what the books are teaching. The Berenstain Bears books, for example, often portray the father as some kind of ninny. This is entertaining to a point, but I hope you ask your kids what the authors think about parents, about Papa Bear in particular, etc.

How long to spend reading to them?

This is a terrific question, and a hard one to answer. On the upper end, don't neglect your wife. (The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother. Who said that?)

But how much is "enough"? Here are a few random comments. Half a minute is probably too short. Half an hour may be excessive. If you can read one story from Read-Aloud Bible Stories, and maybe 2 or 3 pages from The Trumpet of the Swan, I think that's terrific. That'll take longer than you think, by the way, because the kids will ask questions like "What does 'superficial' mean?" or "can swans really write?" (depending on their age and sophistication).

Here are a couple of ways to think about it: Imagine it's Sunday night. The kids are asleep. There's school and work tomorrow morning. How much time did you spend reading to them Monday night, Tuesday night... up through tonight? Do you think it was enough?

Now fast-forward. They're in high school, and they stay up later than you do. The time for reading is past. Looking back over the elementary and junior-high years... will you say "I wish I had read to them more"?

I've got other things to do.

I hear you, I really do. But there never will be enough hours in a day for everything. Guaranteed! The question is, what are you going to shortchange? I mentioned to the guys at Good to Great Dads that our yard isn't in great shape, I'm at the same pay grade I was 7-10 years ago, etc. Will I regret those choices? Some of 'em, maybe. But taking 15 minutes out of your evening with the kids -- the boss will never miss those minutes, but your kids will.

A few conversations I remember:

We might have been reading Genesis, and one of the kids asked me if, e.g., in the garden of Eden, they had a smaller vocabulary, and if that restricted the range of their thoughts. (She didn't ask in those exact words.) I recalled a controversy about that from my college years, and also remembered hearing about a book, Thinking in Pictures (by Temple Grandin). In the week that followed, I found it in the library, and we read excerpts from it. (Yes, this involved some preparation on my part, but it was a fascinating read.)

I was reading to one of the kids from Stephen Carter's integrity, when I came upon the claim that ethics are based on the golden rule. "H'm, is that right?" I mused. My daughter paraphrased Matthew 22:38-40, or maybe it was Matthew 7:12 (" to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets"), and I was put in my place.

Another: we were reading from Acts maybe, and one of the kids asked, "It seems people don't believe in God and spirits so much these days. Is it because we have TVs and things like that?"

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The new marriage war

The latest First Things arrived the other day, and I came upon What Does Woman Want? by Mary Eberstadt. Lots of interesting stuff: a rise of unhappiness in women, the effects of pornography on middle-aged men's sex drive, a rise in the "narcissism index" (I can spell "m-y-s-p-a-c-e"). And a mention of a recent article from Caitlin Flanagan's golden pen: "Is There Hope for the American Marriage?" in Time Magazine of all places! An excerpt:
The fundamental question we must ask ourselves at the beginning of the century is this: What is the purpose of marriage? Is it... simply an institution that has the capacity to increase the pleasure of the adults who enter into it? If so, we might as well hold the wake now: there probably aren't many people whose idea of 24-hour-a-day good times consists of being yoked to the same romantic partner, through bouts of stomach flu and depression, financial setbacks and emotional upsets, until after many a long decade, one or the other eventually dies in harness.

Or is marriage an institution that still hews to its old intention and function — to raise the next generation, to protect and teach it, to instill in it the habits of conduct...
Preach it sister! By the way, Ms. Flanagan isn't a pro-life anti-feminist; as she wrote in this 2007 piece, "... a thousand arguments about the beginning of human life will never appeal to me as powerfully as a terrified pregnant girl desperate for a bit of compassion." ("The Sanguine Sex", the Atlantic, May 2007; also search for the phrase "damn refrigerator" in "The Wifely Duty", January 2003).

Though I differ with Flanagan on some issues, I'm a long-time fan. She does not suffer hypocrites gladly, referring to Mark Sanford (of the Argentine mistress) in the same breath as "other marital frauds and casual sadists," and Rielle Hunter (cf John Edwards) as "this erstwhile cokehead and present-day weasel" (Sex and the Married Man, Atlantic, September 2009).

But it's her passion for the truth and compassion for the downtrodden that makes me glad Flanagan is widely read. Read for example her reply to Drexler's letter in the December'05 Atlantic Letters:
Peggy Drexler's letter repeats, in microcosm, the fuzzy thinking at the heart of her book. Her argument: Traditional two-parent families are no better equipped to raise sons than are "non-nuclear families," and this is good news because there are more female-headed households than ever.

Now let's consider the facts: Fatherlessness is the single biggest crisis facing American boys. It is the No. 1 predictor of poverty, criminality, dropping out of school, and impregnating girls outside of marriage.

How do we reconcile her happy talk with my grim reality? By remembering that as a gender scholar, Drexler is pushing an agenda shaped by the concerns and lifestyle choices of upper-middle-class feminists, gays, and lesbians. Championing the parenting skills of affluent single mothers—a maternally capable, if statistically insignificant, cohort—is not indefensible. Suggesting that the success of these wealthy families means that fatherless boys across the nation are in good shape is reprehensible. Who is speaking for those boys whose lives have been made pitiful because of paternal abandonment and the breakdown of marriage—those boys who have no fathers to protect them, or to teach them how to be men? Not Peggy Drexler.
Or read her remarks in "How Serfdom Saved the Women’s Movement" from 2004, where she talks about the elephant in the room: women who complain about exploitation, while themselves exploiting an underclass of (mostly) women to do their domestic work.

In contrast to Flanagan's commentary on marriage is Sandra Tsing Loh's "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" from the July/August Atlantic. I read it, in print, soon after the magazine arrived, and remembered that we'd recently heard a sermon about marriage and the myths thereof. One of the myths (myth #2, starting at 7:56 on the video, or on p.3 of the transcript) is that "Marriage is about my fulfillment." Which has always been a crock -- do you remember "my wife and I were like two fleas, each thinking the other was the dog"? Eberstadt's remarks about the rising narcissism index may be pertinent here.

Yes, marriage does take work. Someone asked me once what might have happened to me if I weren't following Jesus. "I'd probably be divorced at least once by now," I said. I meant that without Jesus I'd probably be more intolerant and impatient and selfish than I already am -- and thus more divorceable. I also suppose that without the biblical exhortations, marriage as a picture of God and his chosen people (whether the Jews as shown in Hosea and Ezekiel, or the church as shown in Ephesians and Revelation) and the unequivocal declaration "I hate divorce" (Malachi 2) I'd be more inclined to fly the coop when things got tough. And they do get tough; here's Loh:
To work, to parent, to housekeep, to be the ones who schedule “date night,” only to be reprimanded in the home by male kitchen bitches, and then, in the bedroom, to be ignored—it’s a bum deal.
Men of course have their own litanies, which I won't go into here.

Ignored in the bedroom?

When I first read that part about being ignored in the bedroom, I was baffled. But then I remembered that scene near the end of Spanglish where John (Adam Sandler) comes home and says he can't sleep in the same room as Deborah (Téa Leoni), who has had an affair with the realtor. So there's one reason: alienation (or hostility or feeling betrayed).

Sometimes people are just too tired. The lovely Carol may not believe this, but I have had that experience--of being too tired I mean.

Sometimes one or both spouses forget that they love or are loved by their partner. If that is the case they could do a lot worse than visiting Penny McNeel in Palo Alto, who asks some great questions.

Here's something else I'm curious about: what is the effect of pornography on a middle-aged man's sex drive? I thought it tended to make them too carnally minded with regard to their wives (come to think of it, I don't remember that other article saying much about that). However, both Loh's and Eberstadt's pieces suggested that porn-using men are actually less interested in sex, at laest with their wives.

Well, this is something I hope never to find out personally. Lead us not into temptation, you know? But thinking about all this leads me to something I read somewhere: that pornography and other forms of adultery make too little of sex rather than too much. Or, in words attributed to Leonard Michaels, "Adultery is not about sex or romance. Ultimately, it is about how little we mean to one another."

Which brings us back to the narcissism index. Perhaps Eberstadt is on to something here. When I first read her piece, I thought, "Narcissism index? What's that?" Upon discovering that it was based (at least in part) on whether people were likely to agree or disagree with the statement, "I am an important person," I jumped to the conclusion that it was all about the self-esteem teaching we're doing. But if we have collectively discarded the Apostle Paul's exhortation to consider others as more important, then we're all looking out for #1 and nobody means that much to anyone else.

Well, I suppose moral reform begins at home, so I'm going to climb into bed beside the lovely Carol.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Learning about Islam

Tuesday night, the lovely Carol picked me up at the Caltrain station and we went to a fascinating class about Islam. It was three hours, but our instructor held our attention to the end. Here are some memorable things from our first lecture.
  • You may already know that the country with the largest Muslim population is Indonesia, but did you know (I didn't) that 80% of Muslims don't have Arabic as their first language?
  • "Allah" was used in Arabic-speaking countries as the name for God since before the advent of Islam; this is just as good a name as "God" or "Dieu" or "Dios".
  • The "average" Muslim doesn't pray five(?) times a day, doesn't go to mosque weekly, etc. She is poor, and concerned about the welfare of her children; she's looking for a man who will treat her children as his own. If he abuses her, she won't complain, provided that her children are kept safe.
  • The prosperity gospel is one flavor of Islam "evangelism" as preached by missionaries from places like Saudi Arabia. They show disrespect for other Muslims, ridiculing their poverty and their (mis)pronunciation of Arabic.
  • For many who self-identify as Muslims, it's a cultural term. Many "Muslims" actually follow Jesus. Likewise, they think of "Christian" as a cultural term: there are Britney Spears kind of Christians, pro wrestler kind of Chrstians, drag 'em to church on Christmas and Easter kind of Christians, etc.
  • Our instructor told us about his first encounter with Muslims, in a poor neighborhood where he was distributing gospel tracts. They pulled him into their house and brought out food and more food and more food... Did I mention these were poor people? The food likely came from all over the neighborhood. Do you recall a parable from Luke 11 about a friend coming at midnight asking for three loaves of bread? For Jesus’ hearers, that "friend" was likely a brother-in-law or cousin. It is a big deal to have a guest, and the honor of the entire neighborhood is involved.
  • Mohammad was a remarkable person -- despite a broken home and many disadvantages, he became known as a trustworthy young man and an impartial arbiter of disputes. He likely had a real encounter with some spiritual power.
        Unlike the encounters that most Biblical characters have with angels, though (i.e., where the first thing the angel says (e.g., Luke 2:9) is, "Fear not"), Mohammad had a terrifying encounter and did not want to have another.
  • Another parable: A man had two sons. One day, the younger son said to his father, "Give me my share of the inheritance...." (Luke 15:11-32). Our instructor pointed out that at this point, Jesus’ hearers would immediately conclude that the older son wasn't doing his job -- i.e., safeguarding the family's honor. "Give me my share of the inheritance" would bring dishonor to the family.
  • Here's a story I feel rather embarrassed about. Remember Hagar (Genesis 16, 21)? Does the word "rape" come to mind when reading Genesis 16:3-4? Then how about when Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael into the desert to die? I'm embarrassed to admit that I've never thought about this story from Hagar's point of view: a slave in a foreign land, raped (how many times?) then sent into the desert with her only son. This isn't connected directly with Islam, other than a spiritual heritage supposedly inherited from Ishmael. And by the way, Ishmael's first two sons are first among the Gentiles (nations) mentioned in Isaiah 60:7.
  • Though we have significant differences in theology, we also have a lot in common with Muslims. We're concerned about a secular world trying to separate us from our children? So are they. We see the values of the world intruding on what we've taught our kids? So do they. We believe there is one God, creator of heaven and earth, lord of all humankind? So do they.
Our first instructor, who also served as editor of the book Encountering the World of Islam, is remarkable, a humble and gentle guy with a lot of experience and wisdom, encyclopedic knowledge and a truly winning way.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A couple of recent posts over in waywords

I recently posted this about Colossians 3:2 and this about woolgathering over on waywords. We started taking a class about Islam, and I'll be putting something about that here soon.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Unusual weather for California -- we don't often have thunderstorms, in September or otherwise. There were some (literal) rumblings; perhaps that's what got Popcorn going at around four this morning. The national weather service says 20% chance of rain today... and there's more thunder just right now!

I spent several hours yesterday helping set up for this year's memory walk (to benefit the Alzheimer's Association; I hope it doesn't rain on them today.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Diagnosing a Whirlpool GJC3634 smoothtop range

We bought a Whirlpool cooktop for last year's kitchen remodel. Our cooktop, the GJC3634RP03, has a white surface, which means a lot of elbow-grease (usually mine) and baking soda whenever we cook, but there are no drip pans. It's not an induction range, so we can use all kinds of cookware. The heat settings need some getting used to. It's not perfect, but overall we're satisfied.

element layout of whirlpool gjc3634rp03 range At least we were, until the central part of the center-rear element went kaput. Here's the deal: the control can be set to heat up just the inner part ("single" I think it says) vs the entire, larger concentric disk ("dual"). With the inner burner dead, setting the burner to "single" gives you nothing, whereas "dual" gives you doughnut-shaped heating. The latter almost works OK for pancakes, but it's harder to get the heat right.

A look at the wiring diagram convinced me that it could not possibly be the normal-vs-simmer control, which would have affected both elements equally. I immediately suspected the burner, just because, but the control is an equal-opportunity point of failure. The range didn't go into the kitchen 'til October, but we took delivery in June or July, so we're out of warranty already.

Nothing for it but to do a little disassembly. I started by turning off the breaker supplying electricity to the range. I verified that it was indeed off by turning one of the burners "on" and noting that the power indicator didn't light up (it does so, instantly, when power is connected).

Sticking my hand under the range, I levered it part-way out of its cutout and took a look. It turns out that the smooth white top is attached to the guts of the stove with ten screws (three along the front, three on the back[unverified], and two on each side). I supported the front edge with a skillet, as shown in the photo at left, and removed the screws (one position is circled in magenta in the detail).

With 7 screws (3 in front and 2 on each side) removed, you can lift the front edge of the stove and take a peek inside. In the photos, I lifted the surface just enough to see what was going on with the heating elements. The element of interest (the center rear) has three electrodes -- no surprise there -- indicated with magenta arrows in the detail.

At first, when I put the ohmmeter on the, uh, un-common electrodes (with gray/white and gray/black wires), it showed a dead short! Turns out it was an effect of the control; in the "off" position, it ties the un-common electrodes together. I verified this by switching the control to "single"/low and they no longer showed as a short. But just in case, I pulled each wire off when checking for continuity with the common electrode. One showed continuity and the other didn't. That's the smoking gun; it's the element rather than the control. Too bad; the element is about $100 whereas the control is about $40. Next step, ordering the element from Appliance Parts Pros (about $8 less than at Sears).

Sunday, September 06, 2009

my current reading list

  • Labberton's book on Worship
  • The Brain that Changes Itself (Doidge)
  • CACM, featuring the status of the P-vs-NP problem
  • Catcher in the Rye (assignment from the teenager) by, uh, JD Salinger
  • No Man Is an Island (Merton), of course....
  • Advanced Calculus ("vector calculus just for fun...")
  • Real Sex, the naked truth about chastity (Winner)
How do you spell "eclectic"?

neglecting this blog...

After an encounter with Labberton's book on worship, I posted this piece on "waywords"; this morning I finally got around to posting this on comparisons.

But what's going on around here? The kids are gone to college, which brings a set of changes to the house. On the plus side, when I make suggestive remarks about the lovely Carol's body, I get only one pair of rolling eyes rather than three. Also, if the front blinds are closed, we can walk around the house without being fully covered. (I don't think the dog gets offended.)

On the negative side, we don't get to see the kids' faces, we don't hear their laughter or the animated conversations they have with their friends, we don't know so much about how their days went, when they've been out (or with whom), etc. It is sometimes very quiet around here.

But that's what we raised them for, isn't it? So they could go out on their own? Didn't we encourage them to go to a residential college rather than Canada or Skyline or CSM or Foothill? Yeah, that helps a little. But it's still too quiet around here sometimes.