Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Random Personal Stuff, Hallowe'en 2012

I figured out that the finish on the desk is lacquer, which is good for a couple of reasons: first, it is a finish that stays on the surface of the wood, so when I get it off then the wood won't have much or any residual remnant of the previous finish. Second, it responds well to chemical finish strippers, so it is supposed to come off fairly easily. I haven't done a lot of refinishing like this, so I'm not sure how easy "fairly easily" is supposed to be. So far, I've been working on the drawer faces: a round with the stripping solvent brushed on, left for 15 minutes — then scraped off with some of the finish coming with it. But there's still a good bit of lacquer remaining after. So once I got all of the stripping chemicals off, I went back over it with lacquer thinner — a different solvent altogether — and a rag, wiping and rubbing until the remaining lacquer was removed. This was pretty effective: 3 out of 5 drawers are now fully-stripped. I plan to hit the other two with another round, maybe Thursday. But it takes a good bit of hand strength and elbow grease to use the lacquer thinner, so I may try doing multiple passes with the stripping solvent on the larger pieces. It looks like there's a decent chance my timeline for refinishing the desk may move up by a month or so, which leaves me only about a month! (It also means the chairs are second-priority for now.)

Jack and Molly brought home their annual school photos yesterday, so this morning I got to put them in my frames in my study. I borrowed a practice that my father did (which I didn't know about until after he died): in his office at work, he had frames with my school photos and my sister's, and every year he placed the new one in front, keeping the older ones behind it — sort of an archive of the year-by-year changes in his kids. I have 4 or 5 now for Jack and Molly, and it's so fun to look back at the previous years' photos each time I update them. It's something I forget about through the year, even though I often enjoy the displayed picture; but it's becoming one of my favorite yearly traditions.

The Ford minivan is still shutting down intermittently, even after replacing the computer. The day after we picked it up, Marcie called me to tell me it had cut off on her twice. So we've traded cars for a while, and I'm trying to figure out if there's a pattern to it. It seems like there may be something related to the transmission in it: the shut-offs usually happen after the engine has been revving, then levels off. It's like it's trying to down-shift, but the engine stalls instead. It will re-start immediately — even while it's still rolling (invariably it shuts off when going 30 or 40 mph), shifting down to neutral and cutting the switch off, then re-cranking it will fire it right back up. Sometimes it will cut off again within a few minutes, and other times it will go a day or more before shutting off. But it also happens almost always when I've been driving it around for a while. I stopped by to talk to the mechanic about it, and he agrees that it's a real head-scratcher. We can't really afford right now to put more money toward trying to get it fixed, so I'll be driving it (and re-starting it in neutral) for a while, I guess.

I continue to love my new bike, and enjoy riding it to work as well as for exercise. The bike I rode before was a Trek road bike that I've had since I was a Senior in high school, and I've always loved it too; but I can't ride a road bike comfortably anymore. My friend Matt is a pretty hard-core bicyclist, and he was looking for a good steel-frame bike as a second road bike; he's going to buy my old Trek. I'm sad to let it go, but I'm really glad that it is going to someone who I know appreciates it and will give it a lot of use.

We celebrated the twins' fourth birthday last week. It's the first birthday of theirs that I can remember where they were really excited about the presents; I guess it's all downhill from here. As they grow up together, it's interesting to watch how they interact. Most of the time they get along so well — better, I'm sure, than most non-twin siblings do — but sometimes they so obviously get under each others' skin. A single friend was over for lunch recently, and one of the twins was fussing about wanting to be alone; my friend commented that she had never thought about what being alone meant to twins. It puts it in a whole new light! So now they are four, going to preschool three days a week, and constantly doing and saying things that look and sound older. They still love to snuggle with their daddy, though, so that ain't nothin'!

I think the new iPad Mini looks neat, but I can't really picture how I would use one. I don't use my (first generation, full-size) iPad for a lot of typing — my big fumble-fingers can't quite make adequate use of the on-screen keyboard — but I do a fair amount of other things that seem to require the larger size. I suppose if the main reason someone wanted a iPad was for watching movies and videos and playing games, the new Mini might be the perfect size. It seems like it's about the same size as things like the personal Nintendo things. I could be wrong, though; I've been pleasantly surprised more than once with how well an app that I'm used to for iPad translates down to my iPhone.

Jack and I have been talking about an idea that Apple needs to put to work. The more recent versions of all of the iDevices — iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, even Macs — can stream video and audio content to a TV using the Apple TV; they call it AirPlay. All of those devices can also do multi-player video games using Apple's GameCenter, which is a sort of social network. With GameCenter, I can play games with Jack, each of us on a different device, but playing against each other. So we were thinking, they should connect GameCenter and AirPlay, so that you could play multi-player games and stream the video to your TV. Maybe they could even split the screen to show the views of multiple players, kind of like they do for Mario Cart. Who needs a video console when you have your iPhone or iPod, an Apple TV, and multiplayer streaming?

There are a lot of kids in our neighborhood, and Jack and Molly have started playing with them often. This is a first for them, and I'm so glad for it. It wasn't that our neighborhood in Tennessee didn't have kids, but there weren't many on our block, and it seemed like families moved in and out of the neighborhood pretty frequently, so there wasn't much of a chance to build friendships. Plus, neither of them were quite old enough to say, "sure, go ride your bike around the block without me." This neighborhood doesn't have much through-traffic, and the kids play near our home anyway. Both Jack and Molly are starting to spend their afternoons more like what I remember from my own childhood: come home from school, hurry to finish homework, then head out to play with other kids on the block until dinner time.

I finished up book two of the Lemony Snicket novels with Molly on Sunday afternoon. It was pretty good, and I like how they've built in some clever ways of teaching kids new concepts in these books. I started #3 of the Harry Potter books with Jack last night. We made it clear to him, though, that we would probably wait a few months after #3, before starting into another. Marcie and I both think they get very dark after the third one, and he's just not quite ready for that; some of the more intense parts of #1 and #2 made him have a little trouble getting to sleep, so how much more will the others? There's so much darkness in the real world, and he's racing toward it more every day. I don't feel the need to rush him into it in his imagination too.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Living within Limits

[From Pastor Ed… 10/21/2012 and 10/28/2012]

I've played guitar since I was 12. Even before then, one of the things I wanted above most was to be a performing musician — in a band at first, then as I got to college I thought perhaps of a solo "folk musician" life. Over time I gathered sound and musical gear to equip me for the time when, one day, I would regularly perform in coffee houses and small music halls. My ambitions were not too high: I recognized that I would probably never play venues larger than a few dozen people, or tour, or get a recording contract. Still, deep down I hoped I would get to play for the crowds, however small.

The trouble is, I'm not an amazing guitarist; I'm not bad, and I'm better than some, but there's nothing special there. My singing voice, likewise, is average. I've only written one song — ever — and it wasn't that good. I can play lots of songs written and recorded by others, but nothing about my renditions offers much that is all that interesting.

I know my limits. I remember the point when I finally calculated them, and saw that this was an ambition that would likely not be achieved. I think I even said to Marcie, "there comes a day in a guy's life when he realizes that he's never going to be a guitar hero. That day is today!" And I sold off the sound equipment that I now knew I wouldn't need, and since then have contented myself to be the musician that I am: I love to play my guitar, I love to sing, and my family enjoys when I do both. I am called and equipped for other things, and it is those things that I should find my identity and my hopes in. That's enough.

Every church has its limits. No matter how large or small, how many staff members or how active the volunteer base, how spiritually-mature and passionate or new to the faith — all congregations have limits to what they can do, who they can be.

Sometimes the limits are tested when a congregation recognizes a need, and wants desperately to meet that need. Yet they find themselves unable to do it, for any of a variety of reasons; perhaps there wasn't enough money to put an adequate program together, or enough volunteers to staff it, or a lack of knowledge of how to actually meet the need, or a shortage of interest or buy-in from those in need! Regardless, in these cases the limits of a church are exposed.

At other times, a church's limits are revealed by comparison to other churches. One member recalls how things were done in the church she grew up in; another looks back to his congregation's "mother church" and remembers the strengths that body had. A leader wants a certain ministry initiative to be the top priority for all of the members. A pastor has wanted to build on a particular idea ever since he left seminary. But the limits of a church don't allow for these to take shape in the way they are envisioned, or at all. They simply can't allow it, by the very nature of being limits.

These limits that a church faces should direct and focus the congregation, but often they lead to disappointment and even disillusionment. They can even threaten a church's stability. Why is this?

It may be because the members of a church have held their ambitions or hopes or expectations too tightly. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer described, such things are "wish dreams":
Innumerable times a whole community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together)

This presents us with a true dilemma: do we love our wish dreams more than we love God's people? Do we aspire to know the genuine fellowship of the Body of Christ, or do we aspire to the fulfillment of our ambitions and expectations? Do we submit ourselves — and even our desires for what "church" is like — to Christ and to those He has appointed over our local church, or do we insist on our wish dreams?

Bonhoeffer continues, challenging us toward the self-denial that Christ calls us to embody in the life of the local church:
Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial. God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly.
(Life Together)

So we must, if we love Christ (or even if we merely want to love Him), give over our ambitions, our expectations, our wish dreams to Him, and allow Him instead to shape us into the church that He has for us to become.

This may mean that our congregation doesn't offer the kind of program or study that some members believe we must have. It might mean that, for some people's tastes, our worship service is too interactive, or not interactive enough; it's too long, or too short; it is too diverse in musical style, or not nearly broad enough in musical choices. It could be that not enough members are involved in certain efforts to suit others. And it will certainly be the case that our congregation isn't doing the same things as So-and-So Church across town or in someone's hometown, or even as many of them.

It DOES mean that we will be freed from the burden of diverse ambitions, and freed TO the life that Christ has for us in Him! We can find our identity in serving Christ according to how He has gifted our body, how He has equipped us for ministering to one another and to our communities, and how He has placed us in a particular context for His purposes there.

And that's enough.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Random personal stuff, October 2012

I started last night on a project that will take up my focus for a few weeks to come. We have chairs for our dining room set that have fiber rush-woven seats; the trouble is, this is an older set, and several of the seats have worn through. So I'm re-seating them with new rush. It's a pretty straightforward weave, and it's satisfying work. I've somehow developed sort of a thing for chairs: a few years ago I had great fun replacing the cane seat of an antique rocking chair. Slowly, I'm amassing a new battery of esoteric knowledge. My family will be coming to join us for Christmas — my sister and brother-in-law, plus any children they are fostering, and my mother and step-father — so we will have a great crowd for a holiday feast. Marcie and I determined that I needed to get these chairs fixed in time for that, so that's a healthy goal.

Another project, not too dissimilar (in that it also involves old furniture), that I will be starting soon is refinishing a desk. I have a writing desk that, my whole childhood, sat in one entrance hallway or another in the two homes my family lived in. When my sister was in second grade, she carved her teacher's name into it, so it has a bit of character (maybe a little more than I would sometimes like!). The finish on this desk is in pretty bad shape, and I confess I've never really loved the finish as it is. So, I intend to strip the old finish off, clean up some of the surfaces that are more defaced than is acceptable (though it was suggested that I should keep the names of Weez's teacher in it, for the sake of that history; we'll see), and re-finish it in a finish that I actually like (or hopefully love). I've used this writing desk as one of my main study desks for 13 years before we moved to Tucson, and I'll need it again when we get into a more permanent property for the church. Thus, I need to finish it (no pun intended) by the end of this year, I think, to be sure that it is ready in time.

Marcie's main vehicle — our Ford minivan — is still in the shop. It has had problems with intermittently shutting off for a couple of months now, and we've already had a handful of things repaired or replaced on it. She was in an accident during that time (rear-ended), and it took about a week for the body shop to complete repairs on it; after we picked it up last Friday, it cut off for her on the way home! Of course, it never/rarely cuts off when I'm driving it. Fortunately, we've found a great mechanic nearby — near enough that I can ride my bike to pick up or drop off a vehicle — and he's on the job. Unfortunately, he's informed us that it will be a computer replacement this time around. Will that fix the shutting-off problem? Only time (and a Grand) will tell.

I've been going round and round with Adobe for the last half a month. In late August, I bought the (then) most recent version of Adobe Photoshop Elements, which was version 10. Then, less than a month later, they announced a new release, version 11 of Photoshop Elements! So I contacted their customer support within a day or so of the release announcement, and was promised a complimentary upgrade to the new version: "an e-mail with the code for the free upgrade will come in the next week." Two weeks later, still no e-mail; on with customer support again, and this time I'm promised that the e-mail will come two days later (I was given an exact date to look for the e-mail). It didn't come. So last night, I contacted support again, and this time I was sent to a form where I could submit my request as a support trouble-ticket. Why didn't they send me there in the first place? So I was told it should be handled within 48 hours. What a frustration. On the up-side: a friend caught wind of my difficulty, and offered to give me his old version of the full Photoshop — no charge! (Thanks again, Joe.)

I've been riding my bike to work at least a couple of times a week for over a month now, and it's really great. I got a new bike earlier in the fall, as an early birthday present from my mom. It's a good upright-postured bike, which is helpful with the troubles I have with my back, and it's an easy and comfortable ride. Tucson is amazing as a biking town, for two reasons: for one, the weather here is super for riding, even (maybe especially) as a commute, for well over half the year; probably in the dead of winter and the hottest parts of the summer it'll be less so, but I would guess 8 months or more will be good riding weather. For another, the city is very conscientiously bike-friendly. Almost every road, except the most tertiary residential ones, have bike paths, wide paved shoulders, or a separate multi-use path. I know someone who's been in a few accidents, but he was regularly riding on four- and six-lane roads. Where I ride, I often have the whole road to myself.

I've been teaching Jack to cook. Actually, we decided that one of his regular chores needs to be that he fixes a simple meal for our family once a week. So he's been learning basic stuff that we make from mixes or helpers, like Sloppy Joes, tacos, or spaghetti. He's learning to brown ground beef, how to tell when something it done, and the odd multitasking that is often required by cooking even a simple meal. He really likes it, and it will help a lot with meal-planning to know that he can (and will) do this. Soon, maybe, we'll move onto something with a bit more complexity.

Marcie's new Speech Therapy job seems to be going well; she's working at a place where they offer nursing home care, outpatient rehab therapy, and also home health care — and she'll do some of each. She's worked in nursing homes and rehab facilities our whole marriage, and she's really good with those kinds of patients. The only frustrating thing is the "productivity" demands: because of legal restrictions on what is billable (excluding things like administrative work, which also excludes the paperwork for patient care), all of the therapists have to meet certain demands for how much of their time actually IS billable. I think it's 80%, which doesn't sound like it would be too hard to reach — but it technically doesn't include time walking from one patient's room to another, or going to the therapy office to get another resource, or talking with another therapist or staff member, or writing up the lengthy evaluation that you just completed on a patient. I imagine some therapists fudge a little on some of these; Marcie was actually instructed to by a supervisor at one place she worked. But Marcie is faithful in her integrity, and won't record time as billable that isn't. I can totally understand why this sort of policy is in place, from a patient's perspective and from a business perspective. But the end result is that it creates a culture that is stressful for therapists, is ripe for encouraging deceptive or nefarious practices in billing, and is challenging in terms of befriending and enjoying co-workers. It just seems like there needs to be another way.

Jack and I finished reading the second book in the Harry Potter series on Monday night. Now I'll get started tonight with Molly, on book two in Lemony Snicket's "A Series of Unfortunate Events" books. It's fun to read these to them, and great time to have something special just between us (though Marcie usually comes and listens in too, at least to the Potter books). Jack is, of course, already familiar with a lot of the Harry Potter stuff just by osmosis; whether it is Lego catalogs, Wii games, or his friends at school, he seems to have at least a vague idea of a lot of the content. But the particular delight in hearing the story as it was written by JK Rowling, who builds such a consistent world, is fresh and new to him nevertheless. Molly didn't know anything about the Lemony Snicket books, by contrast, but has enjoyed them just as much.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Video: Wrong Worship

While we're doing videos…

This one is also very funny, and very pointed in its message.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Video: Sunday Morning (on liturgy)

Here is the video I mentioned in my opening illustration yesterday. It's been around for a while, but I'm still surprised at both how well-done and funny it is, as well as how many people HAVEN'T seen it!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Books for September, 2012

A Primer on Worship and Reformation A Primer on Worship and Reformation by Douglas Wilson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a pretty good little book (or booklet, actually). Not my favorite from Wilson, nor (I think) his best writing, but good nevertheless.

Most of this book is solid advice and direction. As is not uncommon for Wilson, there is a section or two of complaints about how far we’ve all fallen from being good at what we’re supposed to be good at; in this case, engaging in full and rich worship. I don’t outright disagree with him on this, but oh how weary I am of such polemical stuff — especially because for some (though NOT Wilson, to his great credit) polemical theology seems to be all they are able to produce. That’s much like a carpenter who only seems to be able to take a project through demolition stage.

As it turns out, I heard 80% of the content of this book in a lecture Wilson gave on the topic of “Life Together” — minus the polemic about the sad state of church life and worship today. The lecture and the booklet were both good, but both left me wanting much more detail on some parts. That’s understandable with the lecture, but a bit dissatisfying, if not unforgivable, in a book.

Still, Wilson’s little monograph has much to offer, and is a quick and easy read for those who would like to begin to think about worshiping more fervently and richly.

Safe at Home: A NovelSafe at Home: A Novel by Richard Doster

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed reading through this novel by Richard Doster: a strong storyline, compelling and believable characters, and an underlying message that both encourage and challenge the heart.

Set in the 50s in the deep South, Doster presents an indirect (and sometimes quite direct!) commentary on civil rights and the struggle of two vastly different cultures to come to grips with life together. At times the tale is surprising; yet had you told me this was a memoir instead of fiction, I would have believed it.

Those who find the accounts of the hardships and difficulties of segregation too far-fetched or exaggerated need only read some of the actual history of the era to learn that, if anything, Doster was too gracious in his representation.

Thanks to Richard Doster for a great read!

InDesign Ebook ConversionsInDesign Ebook Conversions by David Bergsland

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very good, though very brief, summary of how to format ebooks using InDesign.

This version/edition has some acknowledgements of the latest version of Adobe’s InDesign (CS6), but only just so — that version of ID had only just been released, so it is somewhat understandable that the author isn’t yet fully versed in the changes. Using his advice within that version of ID, I was able to create valid ebooks without any trouble.

I found this to be a much more approachable and usable guide than the more involved texts like EPUB Straight to the Point: Creating eBooks for the Apple iPad and Other ereaders by Elizabeth Castro. While Castro’s book is thorough, it is perhaps overly so if your intention is to utilize the most recent tools available.

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