Monday, October 11, 2010

New camera and trip to the apple farm

Originally uploaded by kim belcher
For my birthday, Matt got me a Nikon 90. This weekend (a bit early) I tested it out. I took a bunch of pictures of the kids on Friday on a trip to the playground and a Mexican place. Saturday we went out to the apple-and-pumpkin farm and did a corn maze together. I took loads of photos and uploaded some of them to flickr. Check them out!

Friday, September 17, 2010


Today, after I had climbed the hill of three crosses, I got out of the rut and readied myself to follow Holy Spirit Trail.

Now look at you, trying to analyze my allegory. What is the hill of three crosses? What rut? What do I mean by Holy Spirit Trail?

No, see?

I stopped half way up to take a photo of the bushes near Holy Spirit Trail. They are called Burning Bushes. You can see the reason why; they are already turning red here in central Minnesota, although when I used to live in Illinois I think it happened in late October.

At the top of Holy Spirit Trail there are two radio towers and a water tower (though perhaps if my eyes were more spiritual it would have looked like a font). There is a parking lot that looks like it was just built and has never had anyone park in it.

There are two picnic tables looking equally unused.

I stood on that one to get a couple photos of the northwestern parts of Monticello:

When I did, I noticed this trail. It looked less taken.

I followed it. Wouldn't you?

But not too far. The best kind of path is the one that you still don't know where it ends.

So pretty soon I turned around and descended Holy Spirit Trail, crossed the road and its rut, and went home to have lunch. Tonight Thomas told me that the hill of three crosses reminds him of God because God died on a cross. You can see it from a distance in the 6th image above. Does it remind you of God too?

This is the church which I assume I have to thank for having had a Holy Spirit Trail to climb:

You can see that as I turned the clouds broke open and the light finally came through. And that is all.


You think you're clever, don't you? I can see you there, thinking this is something sophisticated -- that this post is a subtle critique of our cultural patterns that want to distinguish literal from metaphorical, bodily from spiritual... something like that. There must be more to it than a walk and a bunch of pictures.

But really, don't you think you're overanalyzing the whole thing?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Here comes the flood!

In other news, I'm getting ready to teach another semester here at St John's. Next week I'll be preparing my newest version of "The Biblical Tradition," our introductory course on the Bible. I might need this cartoon!

Here's my textbook list if you're curious.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Thomas's first real RPG

Thomas opened his presents from Matt and I today. Two of them were a set of 6-sided dice and a book to play his very first real RPG. When he's opening presents, he's often unexcited about them. He's too busy thinking about the presents to actually appreciate or enjoy what any one of them actually is. (One reason we had a no-present party this year.)

By the afternoon, though, after his (awesome) party at Space Aliens, he was ready to sit down with Eric and me to play Faery's Tale. I had read over the sample stories and decided to use "Jack and the Beanstalk" since Thomas is familiar with the Kellogg version and so would have a better sense of what to expect and thus what he could do to overcome the challenges. Prepping the adventure was basically effortless, as you just make up challenge ratings on the fly for the things the players suggest (and Thomas is too young to be critical).

He had no trouble with character creation, although he was a little mystified with the results ("why do I have 5 spirit? what if I want 10 spirit?"). He loved the opening gambit of the adventure, when I asked each player what their character did yesterday and used their answers to set up their meeting. In the middle of their first conversation, when they had gotten to know each other a bit, I had Thomas's pixie overhear Jack's mother crying from the front of the house.

Thomas eagerly flew up the beanstalk to rescue Jack before even waiting to hear the end of what Jack's mother had to say, almost leaving his new friend behind. Luckily, Eric had chosen to play a Pooka, so he could change into a bee to follow along.

The funniest part of the adventure was certainly when they had freed Jack from his cage. By the script, the giant wakes up at this point and gives chase. When I said they heard the giant in the hallway, Thomas's eyes were like saucers. He was totally in the narrative. He looked at Eric. "My character says, 'Ok, guys, time to get out of here!'" Eric said.

"Ok," Thomas agreed. "Bye, Jack!"

Eric and I burst out laughing. "I think maybe we should take him with us!" Eric replied.

They did manage to get Jack out, and Thomas immediately said, "Let's play again!"

It took me about 10 minutes to prepare another fairy tale adventure. We're supposed to play after dinner.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Sunday, June 13, 2010

House Rules

The book I bought Matt for Father's Day, and then thoughtlessly left in the hotel room for him to pack, is called Geek Dad (by the editor of the Wired blog of the same name).

I have, uh, occasionally before, well, been guilty of that greatest crime among bibliophile families, too horrendous to name without hysterical laughter -- oh, ok, I quite often buy Matt books and then read them before he gets around to them. This time, though, I was better -- I only skimmed a small part of the book. The part on how to make your kid's chores into an RPG!

I didn't like the book's version, but I thought the idea was great. Thomas is a sucker for games. And don't think I'm taking advantage of Thomas's tender age and gullibility. He totally knows this is a scam to get him to do his chores, but he does it anyway because they're more fun this way, and it concretizes (in points) the idea that we keep telling him, that if he keeps doing these things and practicing, they get easier to do (but perhaps not less boring).

I made the thing up two weeks ago (according to Google Docs, which knows all). Today Thomas put his dishes away after every meal, took the dirty sheets off the bed, and put away all his clean clothes by himself, which is pretty much a miracle around here. He got tired about halfway through the laundry, but was just starting to ask for help when he said, "I know! I'll put away all the pajamas first, then all the shirts..." He was so excited to have a strategy for how to finish. (Big projects tend to overwhelm him.) And I don't have to beg and plead any more: I just say, "Of course I can help you, but then you won't get your XP, since you won't have practiced doing it by yourself."

He's got lots of in-game rewards, the simplest of which is getting to roll a die every time he completes a quest. Rolling a die is fun! He gets an out-of-game reward every other level, half of which are just going out to dinner. And he has a small chance of getting a treasure when he rolls the die, and treasures can be collected and traded in at level-up time for real rewards. (So far he hasn't collected enough of anything to get a real reward; the odds are relatively low.) Right now one of the best motivators is knowing that every time he goes up a level, he gets to level up his character and he gets two new quests. And that's the great thing about RPGs: getting new tasks to do is the fun part!

RPGs are very educational, right? The name of the game is "House Rules".

Thomas's character sheet. He picked his character's name:

Laentz Lopt, level 5
Race: Dragon
Class: Chef (gets 1 xp bonus for every quest in the kitchen)

  • Strength 2

  • Constitution 3

  • Dexterity 2

  • Intelligence 4

  • Wisdom 3

  • Charisma 3

Laundry rank 1 Outdoors rank 2

Kitchen rank 2 General skills rank 2
Bedroom rank 2 Playroom rank 1


  • "Monday Madness!" Take out the small recyclables bin on Monday night after dinner (3 xp)

    • Requires 2 Int, 2 Wis

    • Roll D20; on 10 or less, collect 1 Reusable Gold Bottle

  • "Bathe the Roots!" Use the watering can or hose to water all the garden plants [once per day] (3 xp)

    • Requires Outdoors 2, 3 Wis

    • Roll D20; on 10 or less, collect 1 Medicinal Herb


  • Mop the floor (2 xp)

    • Requires General skills 2

    • Roll D20; if 10 or less, collect 1 Magical Mop


  • "Find the Floor!" Floor is clean - no books, toys, or clothes on floor (3 xp)

    • Roll D20; on 1, collect 1 Arcane Scroll

  • Put away 1 laundry basket of clean laundry into the right drawers (2 xp)

    • Requires 2 Dex, 3 Int

    • Roll D20; on 1, collect 1 Stray Sock

  • Strip bed (3 xp)

    • Requires Bedroom 1, General skills 2, Strength 2

    • Roll D20; if 5 or less, collect 1 Stray Sock

  • "Librarian quest" Sort books on floor into hardcovers, paperbacks, board books, readers, and chapter books. Put on the right shelves. (2 xp)

    • Requires Bedroom 2, 4 Int, 3 Con

    • Roll D20; if 5 or less, collect 1 Arcane Scroll


  • Push wet laundry into dryer (1 xp)

    • Requires Laundry 1

    • Roll D20; on 1, collect 1 Stray Sock


  • Wipe down the table after a meal (1 xp)

  • Put plate, cup, utensil into dishwasher (1 xp)

    • Requires Kitchen 1

    • Roll D20; if 5 or less, collect 1 Mystical Kiss

  • Mop the floor (3 xp)

    • Requires General skills 1

    • Roll D20; if 10 or less, collect 1 Magical Mop

  • Wipe the counter (2 xp)

    • Requires Kitchen 2, General 2, 2 Dex

    • Roll D20; if 10 or less, collect 1 Magical Mop


  • Put away toys (2 xp)

    • Stay on task whole time! (3 xp bonus)

    • Requires Playroom 1, Constitution 2, Charisma 3

    • Roll D20; if 5 or less, collect 1 Arcane Scroll

XP: 47 +
Arcane Scrolls: 2
Stray Socks:
Mystical Kisses:
Magical Mops: 2
Reusable Gold Bottles:
Medicinal Herbs:


65 xp: Advance to level 6 (New dinner set!)
3 Arcane Scrolls: Choose 1 new book at bookstore
4 Stray Socks: 1 new shirt
1 Mystical Kiss: 1 chocolate chip
3 Magical Mops: 1 child-size broom and mop
1 Reusable Gold Bottle: 1 home-squeezed lemonade

4 Medicinal Herbs: plant for Thomas's room

Level rewards:
2: D20
4: Space Aliens trip
6: Kid's dinner set (you choose!)
8: Space Aliens trip
10: Stuffed character toy
12: Space Aliens trip
14: $5
16: Space Aliens trip
18: Candy making set
20: New board game or RPG!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Thomas and Julie playing together

This is the cutest thing I've ever seen that's on youtube, but astoundingly, it's probably not the cutest thing I've seen this week.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Felicitous diction 1: No, It's Not Going to Start With Jane Austen.

Now that I'm (snicker) a professional blogger, I need some more blogging discipline. And since the audience here is way more homey and less critical, I think I'll warm up my blogging discipline at the expense of my friends. And since it's hard to justify blogging about my academic obsession here (since I'm obliged to it there), I decided to do something off-the-cuff.

Hence, a new (daily? it could be daily! we'll have to see!) series: Things I Like To Read. See that carefully crafted thematic territory? You don't? Well, I said off the cuff.

Part 1 of the series will focus on one of my pets about literature: felicitous diction. I go crazy for felicitous diction.

The funny thing about really spine-tingling word choice, for me, is that I sometimes don't notice a writer has it until the second, third, or fifth time through a novel. But if it's there, I usually notice it in spades once I get past the third reading. I'm probably going to concentrate on one book at a time here, just introducing a representative example and explaining why it is, to my ears, felicitous diction. At the end I'll explain why felicitous diction is so key to my literary appetite.

1.1: No, It's Not Going to Start With Jane Austen. (But Yes, It Will Probably End There.)

Why not Jane Austen? Well, because it's fitting (for Deep Thematic Reasons that are totally half-baked at this time, and perhaps even because it's off-the-cuff) to start with felicitous diction in some of the earliest books I remember reading. Yes, children's literature.

I actually didn't have as many memories of picture books as some other people I know, before I had my own kids. I'm certain I could count on one hand the books I really remembered something of (and yes, that counts Dr. Seuss). The two that have memorable, felicitous diction are not, as one might expect, catchy poetry. They are poetic, but not poetry.

The Poky Little Puppy. The funny thing about this choice is it's hardly anything but felicitous diction, from "Five little puppies dug a hole under a fence and went for a walk in the wide, wide world" all the way to "No desserts EVER unless puppies NEVER dig holes under this fence again!" For me, at least at age 3 or 4, it was not the story (such as it was) that kept this treasure going (and I wore it out). No, it was that one line:

And down they went to see, roly-poly, pell-mell, tumble-bumble, till they came to the green grass, and there they stopped short.

Why (in retrospect) was this felicitous diction? Well, it has alliteration and assonance in spades, complete with some complex alliteration in the repetition of p- and b- sounds. It had enough familiar words to clue me in to the meaning ("roly", "tumble") but one completely opaque set ("pell-mell"). And the rhythm of it sounded like overeager puppies bouncing down a hill: beginning with liquids and a little bump, continuing with the short abrupt bouncing of "pell-mell", and finishing with a fully satisfying "tumble-bumble".

I actually remembered this phrase at 27 and bought my son the book anticipating reading him that exact phrase. It never disappoints.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

One moment

Sharing with someone from another culture can make you see things in a new way. We had Japanese exchange students staying with us this weekend. They were wonderful and we had a great time together -- it's hard to believe that Friday I didn't know either of them.

Today, at the park, watching Julie play in the sand, I tried to explain to them why Matt kept looking at his cell phone. "The health care bill," I began, "they're voting on it today."


I looked to Matt for help. "In Japan, you have, uh, universal health care, yes? Everyone can get health care, no matter whether you can pay for it or not?"

"Uh, yes?"

"Well, we don't have that here in America. Some people here don't have health insurance, and they can't afford some kinds of medical care."

Gasps. "Ohh! Really?"

"They -- our Congress? -- they are voting on it today. They say, 'yes, health care!' or 'no, no health care!'"

"Everyone? Everyone votes?"

"No, no, Congress. We vote for them, and then they vote for everyone."

"Oh." They look thoughtful. They look over at Matt, who's now following the dog across the park. The conversation drifts, and I think about how big the world can be.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

One new

Originally uploaded by kim belcher
Juliana's birthday party, which we had at Mongo's Grill in St Cloud, was a blast. I didn't do much planning ahead this time -- I didn't even make reservations -- but everyone had a great time, the food was excellent, and things were very low key. (Just right for my girl.)

Julie loved having a party, especially getting a bunch of attention from a lot of her little friends (see the other pictures on Flickr). I made the cake: a polar bear wearing a dress to match Julie's (which I found at Once Upon a Child). Thomas picked out some clothes to match it too! He made her a photo mat which I'm planning to fill with this photo. Maybe I'll take a picture once I have it printed and mounted and post that here too.

One old

I was looking at some older pictures today and was suddenly struck by this one, from July, because Paci's expression, attitude, and posture here are almost exactly like the very first time I saw her, in the humane society. I think she was sitting, not lying ready to spring up like that, but the combination of intelligence and readiness really struck me. She really looked at me just like this, like we knew each other. Look at those eyes and ears. You know you would have taken her home too.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

New liturgy blog organized by Liturgical Press

I thought it best to announce here my presence on a brand-new liturgy blog, Pray Tell. The blog is cosponsored by St John's School of Theology • Seminary and Liturgical Press.

The blog is intended to be a moderate blog on the liturgy whose contributors are well-informed of liturgical history, theory, and practice. It is inspired by the liturgical movement and by St John's place in that movement. I do not know what it will eventually become, but I invite you to come share in its becoming and find out.