Thursday, October 29, 2009

Reunion Game

The reunion game was invented by Sara, specifically for one of the reunions we attended this year. Each sibling told stories from their lives, and if a story was new to anyone listening, that person put a jelly bean in the sibling's jar. Even though Colleen was not physically present, she played one of the nights by phone (Skype).

The image below shows the jelly bean jars at the end of the game. It is also posted at, from which you can see the full-sized image.

We had intended to play the game for two hours each night, but we only ended up playing two nights. Myrna had to leave early enough on the third day that she couldn't have played. She only played one night, so you can see that she would have given Arlene a good run otherwise. Of the four hours total that we played, Arlene and I were present the whole time, Myrna half of the time and Colleen one fourth of the time. So, you can see that we all had stories to tell.

As you can clearly see, Arlene won the game, and the prize: a Costco gift card shown in the big purple clothespin Sara purchased for the event.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Questions and Answers

Now that I've blogged about it, I don't mind so much seeing the poster in the elevator. You know: the one with the apostrophe error.

Some fun things have occurred to me. This is a series of questions and answers. Of course, each question could have any number of possible answers, some better than others. I will place here sample answers which please me*.

What is the first punctuation symbol in the answer to this question?

It's its apostrophe.

What is the last punctuation symbol in the answer to this question?

It's its period.

No, wait, it's its exclamation point!

What is the third punctuation symbol in the answer to this question?

It's its question mark? No, wait, it must be its comma, as are its fourth and fifth.

Alternatively, why isn't it its question mark?
*Can you see why students just loved my examinations when I was a professor?

Monday, October 19, 2009

The horror of a misplaced apostrophe

The last few days, I've been bothered by a poster in an elevator. Finally, I just had to take a picture of it with my low resolution cell phone camera.


It's a bit blurry, but its text is shown in the caption. Here the apostrophe is curiously placed.

According to the wikipedia article on the apostrophe, "it has two main functions: it marks omissions, and it assists in marking the possessives of nouns and some pronouns."

The omission in the text is clearly the first part of the year 2009. So, it should read, "Shop the Fall '09 collections..." with the apostrophe placed at the place where the omitted text is omitted.

Like quite a few of my posts, this one resonates with thousands of places on the web, including a clever collection of limericks, a plea for correct usage, and even t-shirts.

And for those wondering about its use in one particularly tricky case, it's explained with plenty of examples on

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Lying to Children

Right up there with taking candy away from babies.

I had a memorable experience in a school science class. The teacher asked us to tell him about the sun. Everyone looked around smugly. This was an easy one. One classmate raised his hand and proudly proclaimed, "The sun is a big ball of burning gases." He looked around, and we all nodded our sage heads in confirmation.

The teacher went on to explain to us that the sun was not burning gases, but rather a thermonuclear reaction. Fusion to be exact, and as Einstein's famous equation helps us understand, a little bit of gas goes a long way in creating the energy that we receive here on the Earth as heat and light.

That was very interesting, from a scientific point of view. Something even more interesting happened during that class, from a social point of view. Many students were upset that this hadn't been explained to us much earlier. Upset that we had been told the burning gases theory. As one student put it, "They lied to us!" And, we were upset that we had believed it so easily.

But was it a lie? Or was it just a simplification?

We all had experience with fire and burning things. Fire also creates heat and light. None of us had any experience with nuclear reactions. So why not teach us that the sun was a ball of burning gases?

Not only teachers engage in this simplification/lying. Parents, too, tell their children all kinds of stories. We know that they are at an impressionable age, an age when it is difficult for them to distinguish truth from fiction.

Consider the so-called fairy tales. We adults know that they are fiction. But do our children?

In a recent facebook exchange, my niece Josie wanted "to point out that Cinderella is living proof that shoes CAN change your life!" [emphasis in original; see below]

Very clever, Josie. I responded with a tongue-in-cheek question, "In what sense is Cinderella living?" Everyone (except perhaps most of the small children in our audience) knows that Cinderella is a fictional character, and therefore does not really "live" as we do.

Note that Josie's friend interjects with what feels like a great deal of passion, "In our hearts!"

Exactly. Notwithstanding her being fictional, Cinderella does live. In many hearts. As a role model. As an example of courage and determination. As a woman who got ahead by wearing the right shoes.

I touched on this kind of reality in my dissertation, while describing Popper's three worlds explanation of those things which exist.

So in a way, we lie twice to our children. First, we allow them to believe that a fairy tale is true, when it is in fact fiction. Then, later, we deny the reality of the fairy tale, saying, "Oh, that's just a story."

It is both more complicated and simpler than that. The story exists in (Popper's) world 3, and in fact, existed there long before we were born, having been created long ago in someone's world 2. It exists in fact in many world 1 artifacts: books, audio tracks, film, television, theatrical productions, etc.

When it was read to Josie, many years ago, there was a book (existing in world1) and a reader (both world 1 and world 2), and especially, a listener (the world 2 of Josie) who incorporated the story in all of its elements into her own very personal reality. The character (existing in world 3) of Cinderella is very real.

So, is lying to children okay, then? Taking candy from a baby could actually save it's life in some cases. Something to think about.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Yes/No Questions

I have a bad habit--or is it just a personality quirk? It is a tendency to ask questions in pairs.

This morning, as I was about to take a shower, I noticed a hanger over the curtain rod. Last night, Sara's sari, which she had hand-washed, had been hanging to dry inside. So I asked, "Can I take a shower now? Or should I wait?" She didn't answer. How could she? At least not with one word.

A few weeks ago, I texted her, "R u busy? can u come get me?" To which she replied, "No yes".

I wonder, will anyone like this post? Or is it too silly?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Year of Reunions

This year was a big one for reunions in our family. My wife Sara did an excellent job of organizing 4 and catering 3 of them. She made great fliers, planned the menus and activities, and prepared and served meals.

In all, we attended reunions for the brothers and sisters of: her father, herself, her mother, myself, and my father's father. Unfortunately, because of conflicts we missed another one for my mother's brothers and sisters, that was held in Stirling, Alberta, Canada.

Earlier this summer, some of the descendants of Sara's father's parents met in Mount Pleasant, Utah. We took our motor home and enjoyed a few meals in the park and near the rodeo grounds with Sara's relatives. The group also visited a museum containing many of the works of Avard Fairbanks (Sara's father's uncle) in the nearby town of Fairview. This was followed by another meal and a penny auction, at which Sara did a hilarious job as auctioneer. We drove the motor home out to the Fairview cemetery where we found the grave sites of her ancestors. Unfortunately their gravestones have completely eroded away. Her grandfather was one of the founders of the town.

A reunion was organized for my grandfather's brothers and sisters and their families in the South Fork of the Provo River Canyon around the fourth of July. It was wonderful to see so many second cousins, including several that I met for the first time. My sister Colleen and her husband were there also. I hiked with them and their son Michael and my cousin John's son Caleb through some of the fields of the Conrad homestead on the bench above the home itself.

Later in the summer, Sara's mother and most of her children gathered with their families in Tamarack, Idaho. We rented a great lodge where we enjoyed meals together, and watched the video "Dan in Real Life". Many of us went white water river rafting in the nearby Payette River. A great time was had by all.

On October 1st, Sara's mother and her brothers and sisters met for lunch at the club house of the community in which we live, across the street from our house.

That same afternoon we drove off to visit my daughter Elizabeth and her husband Cody in Rexburg, Idaho. After sharing a meal at a Thai restaurant, and breakfast the next morning, we drove to a great hunting lodge on Bridger Hill Drive near Bozeman, Montana. Interior shot here:

We spent three wonderful days there, with a fire crackling most of the time in the fireplace. Sara provided three great meals each day, and we enjoyed nature (including several deer and a chipmunk) and the hot tub, along with each other's company. My sisters Arlene and Myrna were able to join us, with their husbands. Unfortunately, harvest duties kept Colleen and her husband on the farm.

On the way home, we drove through Yellowstone National Park, stopping to see Old Faithful erupt, and visited Elizabeth and Cody again.

As we reflected on this year, and marveled at our great enjoyment of time spent with relatives, we thought of family and in particular of parents raising children, and how our reunions honor them. Today we found this quote from the April 1991 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in which Elder Dallin H. Oaks said this about honoring parents:
To persons whose parents are dead, honoring parents is likely to involve thoughts of family reunions, family histories, temple work, and commitment to the great causes in which departed parents spent their lives. [emphasis added]
This year we were involved more than just thinking about these things. Sara has done so much with family reunions, and I am very grateful to her for that. My sister Colleen does much with family histories, essentially writing an illustrated book for each ancestor. We all engage in temple work. Probably the greatest cause in which our parents spent their lives was raising their children, and we are perpetuating that through the generations.