The End is Near… Sort of

I started this blog last December 12. The idea was to post something every day for a year. So, as of today, I have 10 days to go.

Mostly, I just wanted to see if I could do something (other than essentials, like breathing) every day for a year. I start a lot of things and don’t finish them. This blog was as much about finishing something over an extended period of time as it was about anything else in particular.

It was also a chance to try on a few new kinds of writing. Most of September was taken up with a Writing 101 course. I experimented with a variety of writing prompts. It’s been a good run.

As things wind down here, I’ve started clearing out cobwebs at my old blog, iCaspar. I’ve posted on it only a few times over the last year. Last time was the day after my birthday. Over the last couple days I’ve finished up a new custom theme for it. (Well, finished may be saying too much — these things are never really finished — but it’s finished enough to have people looking at.) I’ve removed many of the old posts. I may remove more of them. All this in preparation for moving back into my old digs.

I won’t be posting every day on iCaspar. My intention is to spend more time on posts rather than just shooting off any old thing that comes to mind. Quality over quantity.

Over the year, in spite of not having promoted the blog or sharing it widely in the usual places (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) I’ve managed to garner a smattering of more-or-less regular readers (other than my wife and my mum) and even a few commenters. If you’re one of them, you have my thanks and appreciation for your support. (And of course I appreciate my wife and my mum, too.) I hope you’ll continue to follow along on iCaspar.

Thanks again. See you tomorrow, and for the next 10 days here, and then in whatever lies beyond.

Santa Gave My Kid a Gun for Christmas

Being a gun-free household is a hard go in America. We get that. There are probably plenty of folks who see nothing wrong with Santa giving kids guns. There’s even a movie where the kid wants a BB gun for Christmas. Everyone tells him, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid”. In the end he gets the gun for Christmas. I think I can vaguely remember having received a gun for Christmas myself when I was 6 or 7. It shot ping-pong balls.

Leaving aside from the whole “gun rights” issue, my issue with giving guns at Christmas is theological. It simply makes no sense to celebrate the birth of the prince of peace by exchanging implements of death and war. If you believe the Bible, Jesus came to bring Isaiah’s prophesy, “they will beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks,” to fulfillment. In this context, giving guns for Christmas makes no sense. Giving guns for Christmas is anti-Christ. But then, most people who celebrate Christmas aren’t really celebrating Jesus and have never heard of Isaiah, and America isn’t a Christian nation.

My kid did not ask for a gun for Christmas, but when the Santa at Wilmington’s North Pole amusement park gave him a Hunter bolt action loading Air Warrior with 4 foam darts he was pleased to get it — even though he knew he wouldn’t be allowed to keep it.

We’ve offered him a trade. Our own gun redemption program, complete with amnesty for family members bringing unregistered weapons.

Silas asked what we’d do with the gun. It’s a good question.

We could re-gift it. We could drop it off at several places around here that are collecting toys for kids. Or, we could take it to the thrift shop. But if we really don’t believe in giving guns for Christmas we can’t do that. If we didn’t approve of Santa giving our kid a gun for Christmas, we can’t be contributing to some other Santa giving a gun to some other kid. That would be the pot calling the kettle black.

So we will make it disappear. One less gun in the world is only one less in a world of millions, but it’s our small contribution to peace on earth this Christmas.

Circumstantial Evidence

For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?
— Jesus (Luke 14:28)

On our way to the El Yunque rainforest last week our tour guide pointed out a huge, 13-story building to our right just past the San Juan airport. Outside the front door was a two-story tall T-rex. The front of the building was was painted with the words “Museo Historico de la Biblia”.

The tour guide explained that up until a year ago it was a great place to take kids. One floor, she said, was completely taken up by an ice-skating rink. But now it’s closed, she said, because they couldn’t afford to pay the electric bill to keep it open. Who knows if it’s true — the electric bill part.

I looked it up when we got back to the hotel. In addition to the ice-skating rink, the building had a mini golf course, amusement park rides, video games, a pizza parlor, an aquarium, and a dinosaur exhibit.

None of these things is mentioned in the bible that I can recall. That, for whatever reason, it’s now closed down may, however, be circumstantial evidence that God does exist.

TSA

We flew out of Albany a week ago Friday.

We had all packed our own bags, and we let Silas pack his own this time as well, with a minimum of supervision.

My intention was to check the larger bags to avoid the hassle of having them tagged on the tarmac when they wouldn’t fit into the overhead bins. When we got to the ticket counter, the $25 extra per bag gave us a little sticker shock, so we decided on the spur of the moment to just take them as carry-ons after all.

When we put the bags through the X-ray machine one of the TSA agents came up to ask whose bag the blue backpack was. It was Silas’s. She said she’d have to examine it by hand. Ok. It turns out that the Off insect repellant that we’d put in there last summer for days at the Wilmington beach with the Summer Recreation program had never been taken out. The bottle amounted to 4.5 ounces of bug repellant. They removed it and explained that the maximum amount we could carry on was 3 oz. But because it was contraband, they began pouring over the bag. There were three or four other TSA agents now, wiping chemical samples from inside the ziploc bag in which the bug spray had been zipped, and examining it at arm’s length under some kind of chemical hood contraption, as if it were bomb material. They took Silas’s name and ticket number. I suppose they cross-referenced it with the NSA’s no-fly list or something.

Once they were satisfied that it was insect repellant after all, they explained that we could buy a bag and check it with the airline as luggage (for the $25 checked luggage fee), or we could call someone to come and get it, or we could surrender it.

We surrendered it.

They made such a commotion about the bug spray that Silas asked me afterward why they had been so upset about it. “It was just bug spray,” he said.

“They’re paranoid,” I said. “And stupid.”

But the joke is on them. In my bag I had a 16 ounce bottle of after-sunburn lotion, a 14.5 ounce bottle of suntan lotion and a 6.5 oz bottle of after shave lotion. I knew about the 3 oz carry-on rule but had packed them anyway, thinking that I was going to check the bag. I completely forgot they were in there when we decided to carry them on at the last minute. Apparently they got such a hard-on over the 4.5 oz bottle of bug spray in the backpack they looked away from the X-ray monitor when my bag went through right behind it with over 32 oz of liquids and gels. They never picked it up.

Itinerary

7:00 am – Breakfast
8:00 am – Beach
11:00 am – Lunch
2:00 pm – Leave Beach
2:45 pm – Arrive San Juan Airport
3:45 pm – Depart for Philadelphia
9:25 pm – Depart Philadelphia for Albany
10:30 pm – Arrive Albany
1:00 am – Arrive Home

Thanksgiving

People ask why we spend Thanksgiving in Puerto Rico. “Do they have turkey there?” they ask.

When we first thought of going someplace warm for a winter vacation, we would probably have gone in February during the school break. But Brooke takes teenagers to the UN during that break week, so our travel plans are already made.

Christmas break doesn’t work because churches expect their pastors to be there for the Christmas Eve service.

That left Thanksgiving. And, yes, they do have turkey. Travel is cheaper because it’s still technically hurricane season until November 30. We get off-season rates and a really fantastic Thanksgiving buffet dinner with all the stuff you’d expect. Mashed potatoes. Sweet potatoes. Stuffing. Cranberry sauce. Pumpkin pie. All of it and more.

We find that we’re much more thankful to be spending the rest of the day on the beach rather than stuck in the house on a gray November day in upstate New York.

Thanksgiving in Puerto Rico. We highly recommend it.

It’s the Little Things

We first came to Puerto Rico for Thanksgiving five years ago. Silas was five. I needed to get out of town in the worst way for a few days. Way out of town. We came to the Caribe Hilton in San Juan. It was fabulous. It was so fabulous we came back the next year for Thanksgiving and stayed a few days longer than on our first trip.

The third year we decided that, even though we loved the Caribe Hilton, we should try something new. We went to the El Conquistador resort in Fajardo, out on the eastern end of the island. It was a great place and we enjoyed ourselves, but it was just too big a resort for us. You had to walk a long way to get from one activity to the next. You had to catch a boat to get out to the private island beach. It was too much.

Year 4 circumstances prevented us from going to Puerto Rico over Thanksgiving. But as much as we appreciated spending it with our friends the Haags, we couldn’t wait to return to “the isle of enchantment.” We booked at the Caribe Hilton back in March.

We arrived on Friday afternoon, checked in and headed out for the pool and beach. Alas, the poolside bar is closed for renovations. The lobby restaurant is closed for renovations. We made our way to the towel stand. They were out of towels. We decided to check out the life-size chess board that Silas learned to play on five years ago. It was gone. The whole lawn has been torn up as part of the renovations with construction fences all around. Part of the beach is off limits as part of the renovations. We went to try out the hot-tubs Silas loved so much the first two years. The water was cold.

Yesterday morning, we went to the Palmeras, an in-house restaurant, for breakfast. The service was lousy. It took us 15 minutes to be seated, and another 15 minutes before the waiter even came by to offer us coffee. Whoever was in charge of making sure there were scrambled eggs on the buffet left the pan empty the entire hour we were in the dining room.

It rained on Saturday. We know, it’s not the hotel’s fault that it rained. We’re not holding that against them. As a beach alternative, Silas and I went to check out the game room. It was closed. We went to the front desk to enquire about it. They said, “Yes, it’s closed because it’s raining.” This made no sense to us. The game room is indoors. They handed us a paper with “Rain activities for kids”. There was a room upstairs where something was planned every hour. “Fun Beads” and “Survival Spanish Lessons”.

“I don’t want to do that,” Silas said. “That’s like school.”

“I agree,” I said, “It sucks.”

A while later we were hanging out in the lobby wondering what to do next. The last two times we were here they had water in the lobby. The water had tropical fruit in it. Fruity water. It was lovely. We went to get fruity water, and it was just plain old ice water.

It’s a little thing to complain about the lack of fruity water. I know. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t amount to anything at all. Had we never been here before, we would never have known the difference. We would never have missed the fruity water. But it’s the little things that count. All the little things, one after the other, that have disappointed. Corners cut. Service slacked. Anticipated amenities missing.

We are checking out of the Caribe Hilton this morning. We’re going across the bay to another hotel for the rest of our week. We’ve never been to this new hotel before. Brooke’s doctor (who is Puerto Rican) recommended it a while ago. We don’t know if it will be any better, but since it comes recommended we have reason to hope so. Maybe they don’t have fruity water either, but if not at least we won’t be saddled with the disappointment of having expected it.

It’s raining in paradise.

The forecast is calling for rain and thunderstorms all week. We got an hour in the sun yesterday around noon. It looks like we may get a hour at the beach now and then between breaks in the rain.

Rain in paradise is still better than snow and ice at home. At least it’s 82° The weather report there looks like 33° and rain.

It’s an awesome sight watching a storm rolling in from the sea. And the breakers are bigger than they were on any of our other times here.

Rain does pose it’s own kind of problem, though. You’re stuck in a hotel room listening to the kid play the Nintendo song over and over again unless you can find some excuse to get out. There are lots of things to do in San Juan. It’s just that a lot of them involve being outside.