Friday, December 30, 2011

Dress Up

Since we don't take Lillian to Church, yet, we never put her in the dresses we've been given by friends and family. But she's growing out of them. So last week Leann played dress up with Lilli and took some pictures. Here are the highlights.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Movie Review: Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

When the original Miracle on 34th Street [1] was made, the movie producers weren't allowed to use the names of Macy's or Gimbels until both companies had seen and approved of the final cut of the film.[2] This time around Macy's refused to be involved in the film and Gimbels had gone out of business. So two fictional stores were invented to take their places: Cole's was invented (similar-sounding to the modern store Kohl's) and Shopper's Express (which I can't help think was modeled after Wal-Mart). They also take the theme of belief in Santa one step further and add a subtext about religious belief.[3]

Movie Review: Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

The funny thing about the original version of Miracle on 34th Street is that it was released in the month of May because Darryl F. Zanuck, the head of 20th Century Fox, wanted to catch the summer crowds rather than capitalize on the Christmas theme.[1][2] So that moviegoers wouldn't be turned off about seeing a Christmas movie in May, they kept the Christmas aspect under wraps. So much so that the trailers for the movie are notoriously lacking in footage from the movie or saying anything about the plot.[3] I dare say that now very few people—if any—watch this film in May.

Movie Review: The Bishop's Wife

There is one scene from The Bishop's Wife that I've seen dozens of times (when Dudley, the angel, helps Mrs. Brogham's daughter, Debby, join a snowball fight [1]). But until this year I've never actually watched the movie all the way through. As it turns out, it is not, for the most part, about snowball fights.[2] It's about an Episcopalian bishop (played by David Niven [3]) who has too much on his plate. When he pleads with God for some help, that help arrives in the form of an angel (played by Cary Grant) who manages to charm everyone. Everyone, that is, except the bishop—the man he's sent to help.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Lillian's First Christmas

We celebrated Lillian's first Christmas this year. Because of her vulnerable immune system, we couldn't go spend the holiday with our extended family, like we usually do. But even by ourselves at home we had a pretty good time. We have been truly blessed by the Lord this year.[1]

Monday, December 26, 2011


One morning, last week, when Lillian woke up a little early, I got up and played with her so Leann could go back to sleep after feeding her. While I was holding her, I decided to eat some pumpkin bread that our neighbors gave us for Christmas. At one point I looked down and saw that Lilli was grabbing both of her ears [1], which she's never done before. It must be life-altering the day you discover you have strange growths on both sides of your head (and that that's what your parents have been nibbling on all this time).

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Time to Give…

I wrote this a few years ago, originally intending to hand the idea off to one of my friends to write. My motives were twofold: 1. that friend had expressed difficulty in finding something to write for Christmas and 2. I didn't have an answer for the premise that the story is built around: what would Santa Claus ask for Christmas? I cannot recall which friend it was, but they turned down the story idea saying that I should write it.[1] I had no intention of doing so, but then an idea struck me—something Santa might actually want—and so I began writing. The title alludes to Ecclesiastes 3:1–8. Merry Christmas, dear readers.

NOTE: I've annotated this story, but I recommend you read it all the way through before reading the notes.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Bulwer-Lyttons

Thanks to Charles Schulz' comic strip, Peanuts, many of us are familiar with the line, "It was a dark and stormy night…"[1] That line was originally penned by Edward Bulwer-Lytton [2] in his novel Paul Clifford. The full quote is: "It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness." This line is widely recognized as "purple prose", that is, writing that is overly descriptive, florid, and rambling. Over a year ago my old roommate Ryan introduced me and a few friends to the Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest—a contest where the winner is the one who comes up with the worst opening line.[3] We've had fun writing our own bad Bulwer-Lyttons, and this year we wrote some about Christmas.[4] Here are a few I came up with this year:

Friday, December 23, 2011


In addition to discovering how to blow raspberries [1], Lillian also discovered her toes last week. I'd guess we see her actually doing it about half to three-quarters of the time. The rest of the time we only know she's been playing with her feet because we catch her with a sock in her mouth. She's also growing increasingly adept at kicking off her socks. However, the kicked-off socks usually land out of her reach, so that isn't sufficient to explain how she gets her socks in her mouth.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Movie Review: The Polar Express

My first experience with The Polar Express was the song "Believe", by Josh Groban, which plays during the final credits. It's not a bad song (though not as stirring as Josh Groban's rendition of "O Holy Night"). Belief is the central theme of the movie—should the main character believe in Santa Claus, or not? Paul Lauer, who marketed the film, took this one step further. There are 70–80 million Evangelical Christians in the United States (that's roughly 1/3 of the population).[1] To get as many of them as possible out to see The Polar Express, Lauer's firm, Motive Entertainment [2], tried to give the movie a Christian spin.[3] Can this be true? After all, one of the common complaints about modern Christmas media is that Christ himself is distinctly lacking.

Movie Review: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

It's bizarre that anyone ever first conceived of Rudolph [1] the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It's hard not to think that the original author, Robert L. May, might've had a little chemical in his bloodstream that inclined him to this unusual story. Ironically, it was a Jewish man, Johnny Marks, who took this story and turned it into a song.[2] It was offered to Bing Crosby but he turned it down.[3] Eventually it ended up in the hands (or, rather, vocal chords) of Gene Autry and from there it went down in history (like Columbus).

Movie Review: Frosty the Snowman

Frosty the Snowman is one of those Christmas movies I grew up with, along with How the Grinch Stole Christmas [1], Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer [2], The Smurf Christmas Special [3], A Chipmunk Christmas [4], and Mickey's Christmas Carol.[5] But I believe it's been five years or more since I last watched it. This is mainly because I usually don't watch much television and it's a television special. But we recently got cable television so Leann would have something to watch [6] while she's home watching the baby.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Last week I started teaching Lillian to say la by getting her to stick out her tongue and then talk without retracting it. She's tried to do it, but to little success. In the process, however, she figured out how to blow raspberries.[1] Even more surprising, though, is that I managed to get it on video within minutes of her figuring it out.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas on Sunday

Christmas this year falls on Sunday, which means one of us [1] will be spending part of the day at Church. Leann and I both commented to each other that it seems that Christmas falls on Sunday unusually often. While this is no problem for us, it is often disappointing for children since the Lord encourages us to avoid entertainment on the Sabbath Day—i.e. the kids don't get to ride their new bike, watch their new movie, or play their new video game.[2] I decided to check and see if this was really the case, or if we were imagining it.

Monday, December 19, 2011


For about a month now [1] Lillian has been trying to figure out this weird ritual that takes place half an hour to an hour after I get home from work. I hold her while Leann goes in the kitchen and makes lots of noise. Then we stick her in her rocker, turn off the dining room light [2], and sit down at the table. (Sometimes she insists on sitting on my lap instead of sitting in her rocker.) Then Leann and I close our eyes while one of us talks.[3] If all that isn't weird enough, then we start putting stuff in our mouths and moving our chins up and down. But if Mommy and Daddy do it, it must be important. So Lilli tries to do it, too.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Crookusai War Flags

Previously [1], I designed a kamon (家紋 "family crest") for my family—even though we're not Japanese. However, kamon-ka weren't the only heraldic banners used by Medieval Japanese clans. There were also small flags, called sashimono (指物 "pointer thing" or "indicator thing") that were attached to the backs of foot soldiers [2]; medium flags, called nobori (幟 "banner"), that indicated separate units of the army [3]; and uma-jirushi (馬印 "horse symbol" or "horse insignia") that identified the military commander.[4] I figured that since my family now has a kamon, we need some war banners, too.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Product Review: Bawls guaraná soda

If you've ever known someone from Brazil, or at least someone who's spent a significant amount of time there, you've probably heard them praise guaraná as the paragon of all fruits. Guaraná is the Guaraní [1] word for "[fruit like] the eyes of the people".[2] And if you check out what guaraná fruit look like (see image to the right), that's no surprise at all. One notable aspect of the guaraná fruit is that it has twice as much caffeine as a coffee bean.[3] When I bought this drink, I was aware that guaraná had caffeine, but I was unaware it was so much. And then, to my surprise, Leann pointed out in the ingredient list that the manufacturers added even more caffeine. And then they put a warning on the bottle that said, "This product contains high levels of caffeine."

Product Review: Boar's Head Italian Dry Salami

I wasn't aware of the practice of eating salamis with cheese until an undergraduate in my lab, named Daniel [1], brought some to a lab meeting with several cheeses. (This is when I learned that the time I ate Brie [2] I went about it completely the wrong way—we dipped grapes in the soft part of the cheese and avoided the rind altogether.) Some salamis have a Penicillium mold inoculated onto the casing, but there was no evidence of such on this one. It is called an 'Italian salami' to indicate that it was prepared using traditional methods [3] and to distinguish it from mass-produced salamis.

Product Review: Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter

I wondered why this butter was in the special cheese island at the grocery store instead of with all the other butters in the dairy section. As far as I could determine there weren't any unusual additives and there wasn't a special culture of microorganisms added. My best guess is that it's simply intended to be viewed as an artisanal butter rather than a brand-name butter (despite the Kerrygold brand emblazoned on the package). The package didn't indicate such, but the Kerrygold website touts this butter as coming from grass-fed cows.[1]

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Crookusai kamon

Feudal Japanese clans developed a system of family crests, nominally similar to the European system of heraldry. These family crests, called kamon (家紋 "family crest" [1]) were first invented to mark the clothing of soldiers fighting for a particular nobleman. Later they were added to flags, tents, and other equipment. They made it easy for the soldiers (who were usually illiterate) to quickly identify friend or foe. Many (if not all) kamon are encircled by a roundel (disc) and usually depict abstract designs, often of plants or animals.[2] Even though we're not Japanese, I thought it would be fun to create a kamon for my family.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Movie Review: The Gleaners and I

This is an essay I wrote for my Intro to Film class at BYU, so its structure and style will differ from my other reviews. Each week we focused on a particular aspect of film (e.g. lighting, sound, mise en scène, etc.). In conjunction with this, we had to watch an assigned film which was offered at three different times during that week. The week that we talked about film editing we were assigned to watch The Gleaners and I (French: Les glaneurs et la glaneuse), by Agnès Varda. She is considered one of the major players in a film movement called the Rive Gauche [1], itself a faction of the French New Wave.[2]

Movie Review: The Sum of All Fears

The title of this movie (and the book it's loosely based on) refers to the threat of mutually assured destruction of the United States and Russia by nuclear holocaust. In the book the two superpowers face off after a nuclear device is set off in Denver, Colorado by PFLP terrorists; in the movie the bomb is set off in Baltimore by Neo-Nazi terrorists. It's interesting (and disappointing) to see that even before the September 11 attacks that it wasn't politically correct to depict an Arab as a terrorist.[1]

Movie Review: Source Code

The movie Source Code is definitely science fiction. It posits a technology that currently does not exist and explores the ramifications of that technology. Unfortunately Source Code delves deep into the ways such a technology can be used, but carefully skirts many of the moral decisions that are generated in conjunction with that technology. In the movie the new technology is called "source code" [1] and it allows researchers to send someone's mind back in time—but the traveling mind must meet some very strict prerequisites and must inhabit the body of someone else, in the past, eight minutes before they die.[2] The researchers use the machine to investigate an act of terrorism, hoping to catch the terrorist before he strikes again.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Growling, Grabbing, and Gnats

Earlier this month I was playing with Lillian and noticed something black in her mouth. I fished it out. What was it? A fungus gnat. Leann and I were quite astonished. These little buggers are hard to catch. We chase them all over the house trying to kill them. How did she get one in her mouth? And even more pressing: did I get lucky and spot the first or does she have a long and hidden history of eating minute dipterans? [1]

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Autumn Leaves

A few years ago I went through a period where I was noticing a lot of neat-looking autumn leaves while walking to BYU campus from the parking lot. They were fascinating enough that I collected them, took them to a computer lab, and scanned them. Since Leann was taking a plant identification course at the time (or had recently finished one—I can't remember which), she was able to help me identify the trees that they came from. I then chose some of my favorites and uploaded them to Wikimedia Commons. This year I added a few more to the collection.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Movie Review: Toy Story 3

Over a decade after the release of Toy Story 2 Pixar Animation Studios released Toy Story 3.[1] But the road to get there was rocky. In 2004 Pixar was threatening to split from Disney (in large part due to personality clashes between Steve Jobs and Michael Eisner), but Disney retained the rights to all Pixar movies and characters produced up to that time.[2] In response to the threatened split, Michael Eisner fast-tracked Toy Story 3, to be produced by a new Disney studio, Circle 7 Animation. The script had Buzz Lightyear being recalled due to safety concerns.[3] When Disney bought Pixar in 2006, that version of Toy Story 3 was scrapped and production returned to the Pixar team.

Movie Review: MST3K: Pod People

While we were scanning through the episodes of MST3K available for instant streaming from Netflix, so we could watch something intended to be horror for Hallowe'en [1], we spotted Pod People. Leann immediately perked up because she could recall an episode of the TV show Hey Dude where they're eating potato chips and they start talking about this movie. So we decided to watch it and find out why. We were not disappointed. Or, rather, we were.

Movie Review: The Brothers Bloom

The Brothers Bloom is the story of two brothers who were shuffled about by the foster system because they were too prone to misbehavior. Eventually they embrace their mischievous [1] behavior and begin going about it more methodically. Adulthood, for them, is not a chance to go straight—it's a chance to hone their skills. Actually, one of them does want to go straight, but his brother never lets him get away with it—there's always "just one more" con to pull.

Monday, December 5, 2011

On Truth and Revolutions

Revolutionism will ultimately fail. By revolutionism I mean the belief that the current social and/or political order will always need to be overthrown.[1] This is not simply a belief in the need for any given revolution. Rather it is a belief in the constant need for overthrowing the status quo—regardless of what that status quo is. I envision three possible outcomes of serial revolutions:
  1. Total or near-total annihilation
  2. Endless revolutions with no net progress
  3. A culminating revolution that eliminates the need for further revolutions
Let's discuss each one.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Product Review: El Sabroso Spicy Salsa Salsitas

I first saw these in a vending machine at Brent Brown Toyota while waiting for them to put together the papers I needed to sign so they'd sell me our new car.[1] It was taking longer than I expected, and I hadn't eaten dinner, yet, so I considered what the vending machine had to offer. These chips were the only thing that looked remotely appetizing. When I went back to the dealership to pick up the license plates, I went back to the vending machine, but these were no longer stocked. Worse, when I visited El Sabroso's website [2], they didn't even list this flavor as one of their products. However, I recently found a regular-sized bag at a little grocery store that

Product Review: Marinela Submarinos (Fresa)

The name Submarinos, which means "submarines" in Spanish [1], doesn't really reveal anything about the nature of the snack that you're buying. But, then, neither does the name "Twinkie", which has no meaning at all. And that's all these really are—a Mexican knockoff of the Twinkie.

Product Review: Ricolino Candies Bubu Lubu

During my time as a missionary [1] in Monterrey, I came across a variety of foods that are unique to México. That is, they used to be unique. As immigration from México to the United States increases, so does the number of Mexican products imported into the U.S. Bubu Lubu is one of those products I've recently rediscovered here in the U.S. If I remember correctly [2], it was common to eat them frozen, so I broke this one in two and stuck half in the freezer.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Movie Review: Mysterious Island (1961)

I first saw this film during grade school at Willard Elementary. By that time I had already seen 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in its entirety.[1] So it was a delightful surprise when Captain Nemo and the Nautilus make an appearance. My fascination with Ray Harryhausen's special effects (giant crabs, giant bees, a giant flightless bird, a giant ammonite, and the lost continent of Atlantis) induced me to read the book—which was conspicuously lacking in all those things.[2]

Movie Review: Limitless

I think we've all experienced times when it seemed we were doing more than we thought possible and yet, paradoxically, we didn't feel overstretched, exhausted, or burned out. Weren't those times amazing? What if you could always be like that? What if there were a drug that made you smarter, that helped you focus your energies, that unlocked your potential? [1] That is the basic plot of Limitless. NZT is a drug that enhances cognitive abilities and the main character, Eddie Morra, gets his hands on a pretty sizable stash. But as with any drug, there are complications: downers that are worse than the highs, "flashbacks", withdrawal symptoms, other addicts, etc.

Movie Review: Fantastic Mr. Fox

The movie Fantastic Mr. Fox takes on a lot of heavy themes—how to deal with a child that doesn't live up to expectations, how to cope with giving up your dreams in favor of having a family, whether you should try to live beyond your means, whether criminal behavior is okay if you don't get caught and punished, whether it's okay to steal (and distribute the stolen goods), etc.—and gets every one of them wrong. Mr. Fox ridicules his child and favors his more adept cousin instead; puts his family in danger while in the pursuit of his dreams (and even then he refuses to desist); buys a house he can't afford, placing a financial burden on his family; steals for thrills and to improve his lifestyle [1] without ever getting caught or expressing remorse (and even goes so far as to involve his family and community in his criminal activity); etc.