“Jerusalem”

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This morning Yoli and I had a rare kid-free couple of hours. We thought it would be fun to to see the new film Jerusalem on the Imax screen at the St. Louis Science Center.

The film is very nicely done. Narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch, it tries to show the different facets of Jerusalem through the inhabitants. The film features three girls: one Jewish, one Christian, and one Muslim, who talk about their lives in the different quarters of the old city. The film also features beautiful visuals, and a good helping of archaeology and sightseeing to explain why different faiths care so deeply about particular places.

Watching the film with Yoli transported me back to the year 2000. As the editor of the student newspaper at UMSL, I received a flyer in the mail inviting me to apply for a seminar in Israel for college newspaper editors sponsored by the American Jewish Committee. It didn’t take me long to decide to apply.

Continue reading ““Jerusalem””

The Fellowship of the Readers

Regular readers of this blog know that reading aloud is a big thing in the Renaud Empire.

We have gone through many children’s books over the past couple years, including “The Hobbit” twice.

For quite some time I have harbored a secret desire to read aloud the Lord of the Rings. In my head, I figured it would still be a few years before I could try.

Occasionally the girls have asked me about the story, either because they have seen me reading the books, or something else prompted them. I knew they were curious. Jadzia especially likes to ask questions, and I always refused to answer her. “You’ll just have to wait until you/we read the story someday.”

Finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I just had to read it. I figured I would start with the first chapter and see how it went. After all, the first chapter is close in tone to The Hobbit, and the girls loved The Hobbit.

And so began our LOTR odyssey. The audience is primarily Jadzia and Yoli. Ludi would stick around sometimes, but I think this is just too far above her right now, and she has no interest (although she loves the Hobbit and has been asking me to watch the old animated movie).

The hardest parts have been the travel scenes where there is no action. Jadzia can’t quite grasp all the environmental description. But when action or good dialogue comes, she is very interested. I think I had the hardest time keeping her concentration until we reached “At the Sign of the Prancing Pony.” From that point forward, she has been fairly engrossed.

Reading the scene where Frodo is attacked at Weathertop was really cool. I was really into it, and Jadzia was clearly gripped.

But I worried I might lose her in the “Council of Elrond.” It is a complex chapter with so many characters telling all sorts of stories. Some of the stories are current, some are tales of ages past. It’s actually one of my personal favorite chapters, but I knew it would be difficult for a kindergartner.

In fact, she made it through quite well. We took it slow, and I explained as best I could. Ultimately it was okay if she didn’t grasp it all. Her favorite bits were when characters from the Hobbit came back in — the dwarf Gloin, Bilbo, and the mention of Balin going to Moria.

I shouldn’t have been, but I was surprised how much she remembered. I didn’t have to say, “Hey, do you remember Gloin?” I simply read the bit where Frodo talks with him at dinner, and Jadzia realized it herself. “Oh, it’s Gloin from The Hobbit!”

The past week we have been reading about the fellowship going south, trying and failing to go over the Redhorn Gate, and turning to Moria. Today we read much farther than I had expected. We finished up “A Journey in the Dark” and read all the way through “The Bridge of Khazad-Dum” in one sitting. Jadzia had been intent to find out what happened to Balin. Why had his messages to Dain stopped? (At least she remembered that from “Council”)

Of course she found out his fate (her own guess had been right) — and after a while she got a bigger shock: the fall of Gandalf.

Confession time: Two days ago I practiced reading the scene of Gandalf and the Balrog on the bridge. I guess it’s kind of like when I do public speaking. I wanted to be prepared.

And I think it did me good, because it was a really exciting session and Jadzia was pacing all over. Yoli had to call her to sit close by. She had no idea what would happen.

My concern was that Jadzia would be really sad or upset. She is very tender-hearted and cries easily when she’s watching movies with sad parts. But she didn’t break down. She understood Gandalf had fallen, but her first question was: “How will they get Gandalf back?” She is very good at predicting things in stories.

We’re 300+ pages in, but many more to go. I don’t have any big concerns until we reach Return of the King. The tone gets higher there and the Gondorian speech is really old-fashioned English. But we’re a long way from that point. I’m most excited to get to the end of The Two Towers, which has a great sort of cliffhanger that gripped me the first time I read it (only about 10-12 years ago).

Anyway, I suppose we’ll see how it goes from here on out.

Lawnmowner wrestling

Since we moved into our house nearly six years ago, I have had a secondhand lawn mower that gets the job done. It is self-propelled with a front wheel drive, but that feature has been a bane. When it is turned off, the mower was exceedingly difficult to use — it wouldn’t even roll downhill by itself!

The self-propelling feature came to a halt almost two weeks ago when I got a wheel stuck under a bolt on a fence. It had been taking a lot of abuse over the years, and this was the end of the line.

I finished up the yard as best I could, fighting against the mower every inch of the way, since the front wheels would hardly turn. Once the yard was done, it was time for surgery.

I disassembled the front wheels and mounting brackets, which was not easy. The front wheels include attached plastic gears, which are driven by metal gears on the drive shaft. As it turned out, one of the tires’ plastic gears had been completely flattened. No wonder it’s not working, I thought.

I ordered replacement parts from Art’s Lawn Mower Shop in Black Jack, and today (a week later) I picked them up. Then it was off to Home Depot in search of a special wrench for split rings. They didn’t have it, but I did find it at Lowe’s.

Next it was time to reassemble everything. I ended up doing it twice for one of the wheels when I realized I probably should lubricate the pieces since it was all taken apart.

It took a while, but everything went back together. I had won … I hoped.

Topped off the gas tank, primed the pump, and pulled the starter. Waited a minute for the engine to warm up, then I pulled back on the lever to begin the self-propelling.

Only one wheel was turning. And slowly.

So, it turns out the battle was more of a draw. My hypothesis is the front wheel drive / transmission / whatever was also broken.

But there was good news — unlike before, the front wheels turn freely now when self-propulsion is disengaged. The mower will even roll downhill by itself. So at least I could cut the grass!

An October to remember

This has been a crazy month on all fronts:

  • Our house has been under construction, and is nearing completion. We had thought that it might even be ready to move in by the end of October. That didn’t happen, but we will be moving in soon.
  • At work, I had a special news project that I designed. That was a big deal on its own … but then the Cardinals made a little playoff run that became a World Series championship.
  • World Series Game 7 was played on International Josh Day Eve. That was a long night, which meant festivities for International Josh Day were delayed in order that I might nap.
  • I had a couple opportunities for public speaking: talked with a college class on design, and taught some preschoolers the sunday after the World Series.

In case you are curious about some of the projects I worked on for the P-D this month, here are some links:

Deadly Day Cares

Deadly Day Cares was a three-day series focusing on the inordinate number of child deaths which occur in unlicensed Missouri day cares. It has provoked reaction from the public and politicians, which is good. I designed all of this series in print and online. Check out these links to explore some of the series:

Cardinals scouting reports

As the National League Division series began, I produced an interactive scouting reports for the Cardinals and the Phillies. For each successive round, we produced reports for the Cardinals’ other opponents. Take a look at how they turned out:

Pujols’ 3-HR game

I worked late the night of Pujols’ amazing performance in Game 3, putting together a compilation of videos showing 3-home-run performances in the World Series by Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, and Albert Pujols.

Cardinals 11 championships

Finally, after the Cardinals won the World Series, I put together an interactive look back at all 11 of the Redbirds’ championships. It includes recaps, photos, and videos.


It never rains, but it pours

So, the other day I was proud of myself for having successfully emptied the water heater and then re-assembled everything. I spoke too soon.

Upon completing this project, the water heater’s pressure relief valve began to leak, leaving the basement (which gets wet somewhat often when it rains) wet all the time.

Later, our shower faucet began to leak as well.

Today I planned to replace the pressure relief valve. As I was driving around taking Jadzia to school and picking up a part from my dad’s house, the “service engine” light light up in the van.

Hooray!

P.S. I hesitate to speak to soon, but it looks like the pressure relief valve change has been successful. At this moment I am seated at the computer, several feet from the water heater, and there is no dripping. The other problems will have to await fixing another day.

P.P.S. On the bright side, Yoli is trying her first fish fry today, ala Alton Brown.

Working on the water heater

My showers have not been lasting very long lately, and I love my hot showers.

So I got to looking into water heater maintenance. Today I finally took the plunge and flushed the water heater. It turned out not to be too hard. The only mistake I made was at the end while refilling the tank. I left the pressure release valve open, and subsequently flooded the basement. (Note to self: next time just leave the hot water faucet open and closed the valve before refilling the tank.)

I don’t know if this is going to fix the problem. I might try a shower tonight and see. But I suspect the real problem is that the dip tube inside has broken or come undone. But disconnecting the cold water inlet to look for the tube seems (right now) beyond my ability.

Update: So I have actually created a new problem: the pressure relief valve is leaking. From what I’ve read online, it seems that when you open an old one, frequently is doesn’t shut back down the way it’s supposed to. Hooray. Looks like I’ll have to replace it.