Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Intellectual Empathy: A Gift from My Mom

Let me tell you about my mom.

My mom is a dreamer. She likes music, literature, and beauty. She is loving and generous, with a poet’s heart. There is a streak of mysticism in her. She gravitates toward books written by Deepak Chopra and Joseph Campbell and Stephen Cosgrove, to the music of Yanni and Rachmaninoff and Andrea Bocelli. For good and bad, she has always been as much a friend as a parent. She is rarely critical of her children, even when they deserve it. She always listens, and she truly believes her children are overflowing with genius—a testament to how much she loves us rather than to how intelligent any of us are.

Legally speaking, I’ve been an adult for nearly half of my life. But it wasn’t until this past week or so that I realized what may be the greatest benefit of my upbringing. I was raised in a family where ideas were taken seriously. Opinions, points of view, and speculative thinking were embraced. If someone wondered aloud about something, it was warmly received. My mom was the anchor to this. When I think of family activities from my youth, I think of having conversations. That’s what my family did. We traveled a decent amount, and we had conversations. That’s how we spent our time together. Talking. As much as this has done for my intellectual development, it is the emotional consequences of this for which I feel most grateful. My mom was a wonderful example of how listening to others and taking them seriously is an act of love. I believe I am a more compassionate person because of her example. When someone shares something personal with me—when someone opens up and is sincere—I do not take it lightly. Scoffing at or mocking someone who is being sincere is one of the most off-putting things I can imagine. My heart is far from that. For me, to know someone is to love them—and vice versa. Love thus requires an open line of communication, one that is entirely safe and free of judgment and criticism. I believe one of my greatest strengths is my ability to offer such a line of communication to others. It’s such a grand claim that few people really believe it, but I adamantly attest that people can confide in me about anything and not need to feel embarrassed. I just don’t work that way. And when I say a person can share anything, I truly mean anything. Let your imagination go wild. Fears, beliefs, desires, fantasies—if shared with an attitude of trust, I’m not sure I could have a negative reaction to someone sharing something so personal, no matter the details involved. (An exception could be made if I felt unsafe, but that only makes sense.)

I say that the primary payoff of my upbringing is emotional, rooted in my ability to sympathize and commiserate with others. This is true, and yet I’m surprised at how much this has informed my rational thinking. I believe my critical thinking skills are enhanced by my fairly automatically taking a charitable view of whatever position I’m considering. Philosophers (and academics in general, I assume) are trained to be charitable in their responses to arguments, so as to avoid refuting “straw men.” But I think this charity too often runs low. It runs especially low when we move outside of the professional and academic realms and into our own personal quests for truth. In our private lives, there is little to no peer review. Or, rather, people tend not to associate with those who would offer anything other than support of their beliefs and ideologies. Thus, outside of the professional realm, there is little pressure to give charitable consideration to views that oppose one’s own. But as I see it, intellectual empathy (if we may call it that) is more than a professional obligation. Instead, taking ideas seriously is what all honest, loving people will do. It is the honest thing to do, because honesty is an aversion to falsehoods and one can avoid falsehoods only by remaining ever open to truth. It is the loving thing to do, because to love is to empathize, and empathy requires understanding not only what others experience but how they experience it. Nobody thinks of his/her own belief system as asinine. Thus, if you think a system of beliefs is absurd, you haven’t been compassionate enough. And if you haven’t been compassionate enough, chances are you don’t really understand the other person’s view.

When it comes to my religious beliefs, I think that taking ideas seriously is both the cause of my doubts and the source of my resilience. I do not shy away from critically examining my beliefs. I do not presume people who believe differently than I do are less warranted in their beliefs than I am in mine. As much as possible, I recognize and acknowledge the limitations and biases of my own point of view. It seems inevitable that I should gravitate more toward agnosticism than I once did. And in some instances—that is, on some particular points—I am agnostic where I once was not. But on various other points, I am more certain than ever that they are true. And I find this thrilling. It’s also a bit terrifying, because I see how difficult (and perhaps impossible) it is to ascertain truth. And I’m not sure I would have retained the truths I have (assuming they’re true) if not for my stubbornness in taking the ideas behind them seriously, even amidst the waves of doubt. Where others would have scoffed and laughed and rolled their eyes, I listened. And I didn’t stop listening. Importantly, I gave ear to both sides, and I considered each side from its own as well as from opposing perspectives. I was critical, but I was also empathetic. Had I been only one or the other, I think the outcome of my searching could have been quite different.

Refusing to balk at ideas—whatever those ideas might be—has served me better than perhaps any other characteristic instilled in me as a child. This has become especially apparent to me as I’ve waded (and continue to wade) my way through a great spiritual transformation. I am grateful for this intellectual empathy. I am grateful to have come from a family that cherished ideas, not as something to be argued for and defended but as something to be admired and appreciated. I am grateful that compassion preceded critical analysis in my life, because I don’t think it works as well to learn it the other way around. I am grateful to my mom for always seeing the merits of what a person had to say, such that it is now natural and instinctual in me to do the same. I think it may be the greatest gift she has given me.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Movie Review: The Exploding Girl

The Exploding Girl
Written and Directed by Bradley Rust Gray
Running Time: 80 minutes
Originally Released (USA): April 22, 2009 (Tribeca Film Festival)

* ½ (out of four)

Watching Bradley Rust Gray’s The Exploding Girl, I had the thought that perhaps a more appropriate title for the film would be Awkward Silence. That wouldn’t be fair, however. The movie does indeed contain a lot of awkward silences, but it also contains a lot of awkward small talk and awkward telephone conversations. By the film’s end, I found myself hoping that the lead character might literally explode, just to add some pizzazz to the narrative. I even watched through the closing credits in case there was a surprise left in store. Nope. This really is a film in which almost nothing happens.

Ivy (Zoe Kazan) is a college student returned home for the summer. Al (Mark Rendall), Ivy’s best friend since their early teenage years, is also home from college for the summer. When Al discovers that his parents have rented out his bedroom, he asks Ivy if he can stay on her mom’s couch. (I guess his own parents don’t own a couch?) Ivy agrees and the two start hanging out. But Ivy, who is something of a wallflower, is not very comfortable in groups. She prefers one-on-one time with Al. When she can’t have it, she prefers to spend time alone. During these lonesome moments, Ivy calls her college boyfriend, Greg, who is usually too busy to talk and never fulfills his promises to call her back. On the plus side, he ends every truncated phone call with an obligatory “I miss you.”

And there you have it. Spicing up the plot is the fact that Ivy is an epileptic. This is not to say that Ivy’s epilepsy factors into the movie all that much. It just rounds out her character a bit.

Kazan gives a laudable performance as Ivy. She is able to communicate a great deal with her blank stares, of which the film is particularly fond. Unfortunately, The Exploding Girl offers little else to recommend it. There just isn’t anything going on 99% of the time. If you don’t believe me, check out the trailer at the bottom of this post, bearing in mind that it showcases the most rousing parts of the movie. I suspect that the dialogue was improvised at least some of the time, which made it sound natural. However, it also sounded like it was improvised by people who didn’t really know what to say to each other. That might have served the filmmaker’s aims, but as a moviegoer, I wanted more. An excellent portrayal of boredom is still pretty boring to watch.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

New Look, Same Great Taste!

I figured it was time for a facelift around here. Tell me what you think of the new duds.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Lyricist Sons

By the time I was 5 or 6 years old, I was writing song lyrics with some regularity. Edison and Peter, my oldest boys at not-quite 7 and 5, respectively, have made up song lyrics in the past. But yesterday is the first time I can remember either of them writing the lyrics down. Eddie wrote his lyrics first, and Peter wrote some lyrics immediately thereafter. I now present them to you, as they were written, followed by my translation into standardized (i.e. correctly-spelled) English.

I died because you clipped off my skin,
And now all I am is a skeleton! And a skull!
You sawed off my skin
And now all I am is a skeleton and a skull!
Ohh! Ohh!
All I am is a skeleton!
Ohhhh! Ohhhh!

I was a normal person
Somebody took me and put me into something
And turned me into Freak
All I am is Freak

I don’t think my own lyrics were quite so dark at this age…

Saturday, May 18, 2013


Lately, there has been a lot of hubbub in certain online circles concerning the LDS Church’s approach to teaching modesty. A recent article in the Church’s monthly children’s magazine, The Friend, tells the story of a young girl who feels prompted by the Holy Ghost not to try on a sleeveless shirt. This article has met a backlash of online criticism, from blog posts to Facebook threads, arguing that it is both morally and factually wrong to suggest that children are capable of dressing immodestly. (See here and here for examples of critical responses to the Friend article.) I definitely think a few unfair things have been levied against the Friend article, but I sympathize with the overarching concern these critical responses are raising.

Sexuality is a topic over which LDS culture frequently stumbles. (Another recent online uproar involves Elizabeth Smart’s allusion to a familiar LDS object lesson in which girls who lose their virginity are compared to chewed-up gum. See here and here for sample responses.) This is more disappointing than it is surprising, given that Mormonism was spawned in a country of rich puritanical heritage and developed in tandem with American Victorianism. Unfortunately, many Mormons assume that “modern revelation” has cleansed us of any cultural residues that aren’t divinely sanctioned. With the restoration of true Christianity comes the restoration of true morality, or so the thinking goes. Never mind that this is patently false, as demonstrated by the abundance of embarrassingly racist narratives preached throughout LDS history, including those uttered by prophets of the Church. Somehow, in many LDS minds, we have now reached that magical moment when everything taught over the pulpit—or in Church-published periodicals—is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Case, and mind, closed. (So help us, God!)

Let us ignore temporarily the question of whether or not children can dress immodestly and ask, more simply, what is modesty? According to an online database of gospel topics at, “Modesty is an attitude of propriety and decency in dress, grooming, language, and behavior. If we are modest, we do not draw undue attention to ourselves. Instead, we seek to ‘glorify God in [our] body, and in [our] spirit’ (1 Corinthians 6:20; see also 1 Corinthians 6:19).” I see nothing problematic here. In fact, I like the emphasis on attitude, which suggests that modesty is more about mindset than about the particular clothing one chooses to wear. This harmonizes well with Christ’s own emphasis on the spirit versus the letter of the law. It also brings to mind such passages as 1 Samuel 16:7, in which it is said that “the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” On this view, modesty demands that we cultivate certain traits of character. It is focused on an individual’s inner features, even as it anticipates that those features will influence one’s behavior.

Sadly, the LDS community struggles to distill practical advice—a set of guidelines to assist in choosing one’s wardrobe, for example—from a notion that is fundamentally pre-behavioral. In the same entry on modesty from which I quoted above, the following counsel is given: “If we are unsure about whether our dress or grooming is modest, we should ask ourselves, ‘Would I feel comfortable with my appearance if I were in the Lord's presence?’ We might ask ourselves a similar question about our language and behavior: ‘Would I say these words or participate in these activities if the Lord were present?’” The idea is that modesty can be gauged by answering hypothetical questions about how we might behave in the presence of a deity.

I’ll just come right out and say it: I think this advice is terrible. It’s useless. There are plenty of things I do throughout my day that I would feel uncomfortable doing in the presence of the Lord. I would feel pretty awkward having Jesus stand in the bathroom next to me while I have a bowel movement, for example. I might also feel pretty sheepish to have him see me in just my garments, although I don’t feel the least bit sinful when the kids are in bed and I plop down on the couch to watch some TV wearing nothing but. Furthermore, who knows how any of us would honestly, truly feel to have the Lord in our presence? Perhaps in Jesus’ presence more than at any other time, I would realize that the style of my clothing is entirely irrelevant. Perhaps I wouldn’t care one bit about what I’m wearing or about how I’ve spent my day. I might be so overcome with joy and love that I couldn’t care less about fashion or checking my Facebook account. Does that tell me anything about the moral appropriateness of cargo shorts or social media? Not one jot or tittle, I’m afraid.

In one of the blog posts responding to the Friend article, the author laments that “Modesty (as the word is used by Mormons and other conservative Christians these days) means to dress in a way so as not to encourage sexual attraction in others.” This is similar to a definition of modesty offered at that flawless bastion of truth, Wikipedia. I agree that the definition is problematic, for at least two reasons. One, if we adhere to the definition too strictly, then immodesty becomes rampant. Dressing up to go on a date would be immodest by this standard. Worse yet, so would donning something sexy for your spouse behind a closed bedroom door. On the other hand, problem two is that if we take a more liberal approach to this definition, it fails to generate the rather specific dress code that many conservative Mormons believe modesty entails. On the liberal approach, emphasis is given to the word “encourage.” One cannot encourage sexual attraction in others unless that is one’s motive. However, that means I could walk down the street wearing nothing but a single, strategically-placed sock and be dressing modestly, supposing my goal is not to turn anybody on. (And trust me, I do not suffer from any such delusions of grandeur.)

With three quasi-definitions of modesty on the table, let us forget which of these (if any) is correct and instead focus on how each might be applied to the notion of children dressing immodestly.

#1. Do children possess “an attitude of propriety and decency” in how they dress? Do they seek to “glorify God” with their clothing? Probably not. But only because such things are rather far from their still-developing minds. Children are innocent, which is the point many who have reacted negatively to the Friend article wish to make. Demands can be placed on children only insofar as they are capable of living up to those demands. The older one gets, the more capable one is of possessing attitudes of propriety and decency, and the more enabled one is to actively seek to glorify God. But I think this is a fairly tall order for children. As the parent of three children—the oldest of whom is 6—the standards of decency I teach are minimal. My kids know that we have to wear pants (or shorts) to go out in public. They know that we consider some clothing too casual for church. But in my children’s heads, these are just rules. They aren’t values that my children possess. They acquiesce to wear pants outside because they know it’s the only way I’ll let them outside, not because the veil is so thin for them at this age that they are overwhelmed with pious respect for their genitals. As much as my wife and I might encourage them to respect their bodies, it is a respect that must develop over time as our children mature into young adulthood.

#2. Would a child in a sleeveless shirt feel comfortable in the Lord’s presence? I’m hoping nobody has to give this one serious thought. Undoubtedly the child would feel comfortable, unless the child’s parents have so perverted the child’s mind that he/she expects to be smitten by a displeased Jesus. Barring this, I think a child in a sleeveless shirt would feel more comfortable in the presence of the Lord than even the best-groomed adult. As Jesus himself said, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:16; cf. Mark 10:14). Thankfully, he didn’t tack on a dress code.

#3. Can a child “dress in a way so as not to encourage sexual attraction in others”? Egad, I hope so. If we’re talking about intentionally encouraging sexual attraction in others, then I assume the answer is “yes” in at least 99.9% of cases, especially those involving young children. As before, the only exceptions will be those in which a child’s worldview has been corrupted by the regrettable decisions of adults. Most children are incapable of dressing immodestly by this standard, and those devastating few who prove otherwise are nevertheless blameless. Either way, childhood innocence prevails, sleeves or no.

Some might contend that although children cannot be guilty of dressing immodestly, their parents can be blamed for allowing or otherwise putting their children into immodest clothing. Such people will argue that clear dress standards are in place, and that it is a parent’s responsibility to enforce those standards. This is an argument I’ve heard numerous times. Quite often, people who take this approach cite the LDS garments as definitive proof that certain parts of the body should remain covered. If a child’s clothing is incompatible with garment standards, the thinking goes, then the clothing is inappropriate.

The appeal to LDS garments is unsatisfactory for a variety of reasons. First off, it’s rather absurd to impose the fashion restrictions that come with wearing the garment on children who have no reason to wear garments themselves. The mere fact that these children may grow up to wear garments hardly suggests that they should dress in a manner compatible with garments today. Furthermore, it is actually impossible that children’s clothing be compatible with garment standards because no garments come in children’s sizes! If a child were to wear garments, those garments would undoubtedly be exposed. Likewise, if an endowed member of the Church were to wear children’s clothes, the garments would be exposed. Trying to standardize one by appeal to the other is ridiculous. Secondly, it is a misunderstanding to assume that the primary purpose of the garment is to keep one’s body covered. Garments are meant to serve as a reminder of covenants made in the temple, covenants that children have not made. Thirdly, garments have been shortened numerous times since their introduction. Though it may surprise many, at least some of these alterations were instigated not by divine revelation but by the complaints of Church members who found the garment impractical. The take-home point here is that even garments are not immune to cultural standards and influence, meaning that we cannot glean any definite standards of modesty by looking at what the garment covers. It’s quite possible that one day sleeveless garments will be available. (For an excellent article that speaks to some of these issues, click here.)

I want to be clear that I do believe God has standards that he expects us to live up to. He issues commandments, and He expects us to follow them. When it comes to modesty, however, the only clear directive is that we should be humble and respectful of God. How this translates into the clothes one wears will depend largely on one’s particular outlook. Perhaps that is as it should be. Perhaps God isn’t as concerned with clothes as we are. He certainly didn’t bother telling anyone to get dressed, even when He started doling out commandments—to people who were naked, I might add. Presumably, God didn’t mind that Adam and Eve were running around in the buff. In fact, He gets involved in the clothing business only when Adam and Eve—having moved beyond a childlike stage of innocence—make it clear that they are uncomfortable with their nudity. At that point, God makes them clothes as a gift and not to correct an early oversight (see Gen. 3:7-21).

Of course, even I don’t know if those clothes were sleeveless or not.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Logical Way to Spend the Summer

On Friday, May 3rd, I finally received my TA assignment for the summer. The class to which I’ve been assigned is Intro to Symbolic Logic. I taught this course myself two summers ago. It’s unlike most other philosophy courses, in that it doesn’t address any philosophical topics. There is no philosophizing going on. It’s more like a math course.

I’m quite happy with the gig, for a variety of reasons. One, the instructor is a fellow graduate student that started the same year I did. He’s a really good guy, and I’ll be happy to be working for him. Two, not a lot of students take Intro to Symbolic Logic. There are currently only 11 students enrolled. I’m sure a few more students will enroll before the class begins, but when I taught it, I believe I had about 17 students. I can’t imagine this particular class will be dramatically different. As a TA, having less students is definitely a plus. Three, there shouldn’t be any papers to grade. I’ll have to grade exams and whatnot, but I won’t have to suffer through any terrible writing. The grading process should move more quickly because, again, it’s like math. Add this to the fact that I’m likely to have less than 20 students and I’m extremely pleased. It doesn’t get much simpler than this. And finally, reason number four, the six-week course doesn’t begin until June 24th. I’ll have ample time between now and then to work on my dissertation, which I desperately need to do. All summer courses in philosophy run for only six weeks, but some are during the first half of the summer and some are during the second half of the summer. My gig is for the second half of the summer, and I’m convinced that I’ll get more work done as a result. I’ll be more motivated to work on my dissertation now than I will be in July. I’m certain of this. Thus, it’s good I’ve got a late summer TA gig. It’ll make the TA gig feel like a break.

In further good news, I’ll have a full three weeks off (plus a couple of days!) between my summer gig and the start of the fall semester. That will be lovely, whether I spend the time getting more good work done on my dissertation or traveling to see family. Or maybe doing a little bit of both. Ideas are being tossed around, but I’m not committed to anything just yet. Up until very recently, I was convinced Melanie and I were staying put in Tallahassee for the summer. Truth be told, I wasn’t too keen on the idea of traveling. But now that things are falling into place, I could see myself wanting to take a brief vacation prior to the fall semester. We’ll see.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

What I Wish You Would Read Instead of My Blog Right Now

I’ve read so many good blog posts and online articles lately, articles that I wish people would read and take seriously. I know my providing links to these articles increases the likelihood of your reading them by, oh, about 0.0001 percent. But for those of you brave enough to take the challenge, why don’t you read through a few of these:

“Believe” --> You Keep Using That Word. I Do Not Think it Means What You Think it Means
A brief review of how the meaning of the word “believe” has changed since the 16th-century, and what implications this has for statements such as “I believe in God.” Key point: the word “believe” can be interpreted in either a sacred or a secular manner.

Useful tip when reading this article: TBM means “true believing Mormon” or “true blue Mormon” and is typically meant to denote a member of the LDS Church with a very orthodox, literal, black-and-white approach to Mormonism. The referenced “Fowler” is James Fowler, who wrote an influential book on the psychology of religion called Stages of Faith.

Russell Hancock on testimony and the church
A transcribed talk given by a newly called member of a Stake Presidency. A beautiful expression of a faith journey still-in-progress.

A retired professor of Brigham Young University describes how doubt, despite being a four-letter word in many Mormon circles, has enhanced his faith.

Doubt and Mormon Faith Not Mutually Exclusive
On the lighter side, Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Kirby shares his experience as a non-stereotypical Mormon. What I love most here is Kirby’s “13 Particles of Faith.” #8 reads (in part): “I believe the Bible and the Book of Mormon to be the word of God as far as I personally can translate them correctly.” I think there may be greater wisdom here than Kirby even realizes.


Monday, May 06, 2013

Peter Turns Five

Peter turned five-years-old last week. We celebrated as a family on his actual birth date, and then on Saturday morning we had a birthday party with Peter’s friends.

The first official picture of Peter on his birthday. He started the day by watching TV. Splurge!

Melanie decorated our dining “room” with 5’s dangling from streamers and a chair decked out in honor of the birthday boy.

Even before breakfast, Peter wanted to open up his birthday presents. We try to let the kids call the shots on their birthdays, so we went straight to the gifts.

Peter and his brothers pose behind a tower of gifts. Exciting!

The first present Peter opened was one I had chosen for him. For years now, one of Peter’s best “friends” has been a stuffed hippopotamus named “Dinky.” Recently, Peter and Edison started pretending that they had a pet platypus named “Puggle.” They seemed really enthusiastic about it, and so I decided that getting Peter a Puggle for his birthday was a must. I found one on Amazon and ordered it. I wrapped it and pasted a poem on the outside of the wrapping paper. The poem read, “If at night you want to snuggle, take to bed your new friend….” Once he unwrapped the gift, he would see the stuffed platypus with “Puggle!!!” taped to his tag and completing the poem. I’m happy to report that Puggle has undoubtedly been one of Peter’s most cherished birthday gifts this year. He’s kept him in tow and seems very affectionate toward him. It was a success!

The remainder of gifts that Melanie and I gave to Peter were mostly dinosaur-themed. Peter is quite a fan of dinosaurs, and his birthday party was going to be dinosaur-themed. As a result, he received a dinosaur bone excavation kit, some dinosaur stencils, and some monster feet that appear rather dinosaur-like. Unrelated to dinosaurs, Peter also received a bow and arrow, and Edison gave him a Play-Doh ice cream set that Eddie picked out himself. It was really quite perfect for Peter, who’s a fan of Play-Doh.

Edison tests out the Monster Dinosaur Feet.

After opening his presents, Peter wanted to go to Village Inn for breakfast. It’s possible that Edison put the idea into Peter’s head, but Peter was very determined to go there. And so, we did. The boys enjoyed their Vill-Inn Funny Face pancakes (chocolate chip pancakes no less), Melanie enjoyed some French toast and fruit, and I enjoyed a spinach and bacon omelet (which also came with pancakes). I did not enjoy Creegan’s shenanigans at the restaurant, nor did I enjoy Peter’s meltdown when I accidentally poured the tiniest bit of blackberry syrup on his pancake instead of the requested maple. My blunder almost derailed the entire day. It took a while to get past that little travesty.

After calming down and getting out of Village Inn, we went to Zoinks. We went to Zoinks for Peter’s birthday last year, too. Unlike last year, Peter wanted to play the arcade games as well as bounce on the various bounce houses. The Zoinks employee was kind enough to give us extra tokens, so each kid ended up with 20 tokens. Most games cost two tokens, so the tokens didn’t really last all that long. Peter scored himself a ball out of one of those drop-the-claw-and-grab-at-crap games. He did it on his first try, and the ball he scored wasn’t even perched precariously atop the pile of potential prizes. Impressive! Zoinks was almost entirely bereft of customers, given that it was a weekday morning and most kids were in school. (Losers!) It made for a relatively relaxed visit for Melanie and me. I even fell asleep for a few minutes in one of their oversized not-really-leather not-really-La-Z-Boy recliners!

Creegan riding a Tonka truck at Zoinks. Looks well worth three tokens, doesn’t it?

Puggle came along for breakfast and to Zoinks, as evidenced here.

“Peek-a-boo, I see you!” … says anybody within two city blocks of my bald spot.

After winning numerous tickets from games like Skee-Ball, Peter earns enough to get himself a piddling little sucker.

When we got home from Zoinks, a package was sitting at our door. It was a box full of birthday gifts from Melanie’s parents. Thus, it was time to do another round of opening presents. Yay!

Someone tipped someone off about the dinosaur motif.

Because we split Peter’s birthday celebrations into two days, he got two cakes. (Lucky!) The cake we had at home as a family was, you guessed it, shaped like a dinosaur. Peter chose to have chocolate cake, despite the fact that chocolate dinosaurs never really existed. He also chose Red Velvet cake ice cream, just in case there wasn’t enough cake in the cake.

 Almost completely decorated.
Now we just need a candle… 


This dinosaur head tastes delicious!

“Your cake or your life … you choose.”

Creegan is at that stage where smiling for a camera inevitably entails closing one’s eyes.

 Melanie and the birthday boy.

Literally the best picture of me during Peter’s entire birthday.

Melanie did a fantastic job preparing for Peter’s Saturday morning birthday party. Though we had originally intended to celebrate outdoors, the forecast called for rain. We moved things indoors and were then somewhat thankful that several of the invitees were out of town and could not make it to the party. We ended up with only seven kids in attendance, including our own, which was quite manageable.

The snack table, just before guests arrive. How professional!

We let kids get a snack when they first arrived. We had a dinosaur movie playing on the TV, which kept kids distracted as we waited for everyone to arrive. Once a sufficient numbers of guests had arrived, we had them color dinosaur pictures and/or use the dinosaur stencils. The kids liked it quite well, I think.

Chilling and waiting for more guests. That girl in the forefront is surprisingly good at winking for her age. So much so that I feel the need to point out that she is not a disabled kid who’s simply missing an eye.

Stencils! That’s Peter just out of view on the right side of the photo. I feel obligated to point that out since this post is about him.

The next activity Melanie had planned was breaking little toy dinosaurs out of ice. Melanie had frozen something like eight dozen (!) miniature plastic dinosaurs, each in its own ice cube. We went outside (where it wasn’t raining too much after all) and had the kids repeatedly throw the ice cubes down on the ground until the dinosaurs had been freed. The kids quite enjoyed it, although I felt a bit intimidated at times by all of the ice debris flying through the air.

Next up was a dinosaur excavation. The night before the party, Melanie and I had filled a large plastic storage bin with sand and buried dinosaur skeleton figurines in it. At the party, we had the kids dig out the dinosaur skeletons using paintbrushes and shovels. (Peter later told me that this was his favorite birthday activity, next to opening presents.) The storage bin was super heavy. We poured two 50-pound bags of sand in it, and I swear it must have weighed at least 100 pounds.

It was then time to put Peter’s new dinosaur feet to the test. Melanie had cut out dinosaur footprints, and each kid attempted to follow in them while using the dinosaur feet. Most of the kids struggled with it, but all of them were excited to try it out.

After the dinosaur feet, we erupted a science-fair-esque volcano. Each kid at the party had a chance to make the volcano overflow. We then attempted to break open a dinosaur-shaped piñata. As is the case with every piñata I’ve ever seen, it was almost impossible to destroy. The stick with which we whacked the piñata broke before the piñata did. Eventually, we laid the piñata on the floor and let the kids tear it apart like ravenous wolves. That worked quite well.

Going once!

Going twice!

Going thrice?

Aw, screw it.

And then there was cake. Rather than making two homemade cakes, one for his actual birthday and one for his party, we let Peter choose a cake from the grocery store. He selected his favorite, guided in part by the chocolate inside. The cake had whip cream frosting, which made it not unbearably sweet. After cake and ice cream, Peter opened the gifts from his friends. He received a Nerf-like dart gun, a Batman costume, and a VTech Switch & Go Dino. The latter has been Peter’s very favorite gift, perhaps bypassing even Puggle (who has since taken a backseat to Peter’s affection). Peter loves Switch & Go Dinos and, as you may recall, had received one for Christmas.

Batman in stealth mode.

Creegan tries out the Batman mask.

In my estimation, Peter’s birthday was a smashing success!