Just for Fun

Hobbit Birthday Party, Year Four!

It’s my birthday tomorrow, which means it’s time for the longstanding tradition of…a Hobbit Birthday Party! As all you wannabe Bagginses, Boffins, Brandybucks, and Proudfoots (or Proudfeet) know, this is when the birthday celebrant gives gifts to friends and family instead of receiving them.

By this point, I’ve shared most of the fun corners of the Internet that I’ve discovered in my “presents” to all of you. Here are a few to add to the list, but be sure to check out Year One, Year Two, and Year Three if you haven’t already. (Total of 28 gifts and counting!)

The Green Dragon: Almost excessively British, and also heartwarming.

Mount Doom: Except this is a better kind of fire.

Farmer Maggot’s Garden: Amusing and…full of great smells? (It’s the best I could do.)

Rivendell: Helping you discover cool places just off the map.

Barrow-downs: Because some things are just creepy. (Except do yourself a favor and stick to the first season of this one.)

Beacons of Gondor: Because I always, *always* cheer out loud when I get to this part.

Great British Baking Show Valentines

It’s the week before Valentine’s Day, and that means…another set of handmade Valentines from my heart to yours. This set is based on the only show I actually watch on Netflix. (If you’re one of those who doesn’t quite understand the love…yes, the desserts look delicious and yes the hosts are funny and yes everyone has delightful accents, but mostly I just enjoy seeing people who genuinely love baking create beautiful and tasty things.)

So, here you go. Laugh at them, share them, print them out to give to the special people in your lives. Preferably with baked goods so fancy that no one really knows what they are, like mille fois or frangipane tartlets. In fact, if you have extras and would like to deliver some to me too, I will not say no. I’m not saying that the way to my heart is homemade bread. But I’m also not not saying that.

I was also going to include some serious British Baking Show thoughts on love…but we’ll save that for tomorrow’s blog post. Stop back if you’re interested. Here’s a sneak peek:

And if the Great British Bake-Off isn’t your thing (and it doesn’t need to be, because I’ve learned that not everyone has to have the same favorites that I do), you can raid past years for cards: Star Wars, “Love at First Fight,” Lord of the Rings, and Theologians.

Happy Valentine’s Day, all!

4 Terrible Kids Ministry Ideas

I have a lot of bad ideas, even when it comes to teaching kids about the Bible. In fact, some of them are so bad that they never get any use out of brainstorming sessions, so I decided to share them with all of you. Can’t let them go to waste, after all. (Except, surprise! They actually let me try one of these, which is proof that sometimes even the craziest ideas can sneak past and get approval.)

And feel free to comment with any ideas of your own that you’ve always secretly thought would be hilarious even if you know they sound more like a Babylon Bee article.

One: Ecclesiastes Blast-off: Stare into the Void with Solomon!

Want a truly original VBS theme for your church? Have we got the kit for you! None of this “he makes everything beautiful in its time” nonsense. We’re going to take the little tykes to the brink of despair only to provide hope on the last day about the ultimate meaning in life.

Here are the lesson themes.

Day One: Nothing Ever Changes.
Day Two: Wisdom and Foolishness are Meaningless.
Day Three: Power and Popularity are Meaningless.
Day Four: Money and Fame are Meaningless.
Day Five: Death Comes to Everyone.
Finale Night: Remember Your Creator in the Days of Your Youth (unless you broke down after Day Two and didn’t make it this far).

Suggested decorations: Lots of black and darkness. Possibly a ceiling full of stars to represent our own insignificance in the vastness of the universe. Have all of the leaders dress like the Grim Reaper for added flair.

Activities will include:

Work Projects: Need some landscaping done? How about some amateur parking-lot repavers? You can maximize your time by explaining to the kids that they’re exploring the meaning of “toil under the sun.”

Modified Snack Time: A few kids get a heap of overly-sugary snacks to “eat, drink, and be merry,” while everyone else gets nothing. Visual aid to reinforce the concept that both the very rich and very poor can’t find happiness in the pleasures of the world.

Endless Relay Races: Tell the kids you need them to bail out a pool of water using Dixie cups. Put a hose in the pool to add water as it is taken out. This will emphasize the futility of life found in Ecclesiastes 1: “All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. All things are full of weariness.”

Existential Crisis Tag: Everyone is blindfolded and stumbles around in the dark trying in vain to connect with another human being in a meaningful way. Occasionally have the game leader shout ominously, “But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” The kids will love it. (more…)

Sherlock Holmes Charity Fundraiser

Welcome to the community of Sweetwaters in South Africa! In the video below, you’ll meet some of the amazing people involved with iThemba Ministries…and tour their partially-built community centre. Right now, it houses a preschool and a garden/nutrition program, but they have big dreams for what they can do when the rest of it is completed.

What does this have to do with the streets of Victorian London, you ask? (Wait for it…)

Elementary, my dear reader. Please, continue, and all will make sense.

I wanted to support this project, but anyone who knows me in real life recognizes that there is no way that I am going to run a marathon this side of heaven. (Possibly even on the other side of heaven, let’s be real.) So, instead of a fundraiser where you donate money to encourage me in some dramatic feat of athleticism, here’s the deal: you give any amount to the iThemba community centre (tax-deductible and all that), and I will email you a link to download seven complex puzzle PDFs, along with accompanying storyline, solutions, and a scone recipe.

There are codes and riddles, games for people who love numbers, maps, shapes, or spotting small objects, plus a dash of deductive Sherlockian silliness. They’re perfect for a date night, an evening of games with friends, a gift for someone who loves puzzles, or a long road trip (as long as you’re not the one driving). Our testers took about an hour to go through them all. Here’s the official description:

The Mysterious Occupant of 221 A Baker Street

When Mrs. Hudson decides to let out the flat next to the office of the illustrious Sherlock Holmes, a number of suspicious persons show interest. While Holmes himself is busy working on an incident of national security, he assigns Watson to screen each of the six applicants by gathering clues about each—also known as snooping. Which is a spy from Scotland Yard, eavesdropping to check in on the famous detective? Which has a grudge against Sherlock from a past investigation? And which might be an assassin sent by Moriarty himself? It’s up to you to help Watson solve the case.

To read more FAQs about the puzzles or to donate, click on the button below. (If I missed any questions you might have, put them in the comments.)

Be sure to share the fundraiser landing page on social media with anyone you think might be interested.

Thanks, everyone! We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled blogging next week (probably thoughts on Avengers: Infinity War, because I finally watched it).

Hobbit Birthday Party, Year Three!

Reasons I Want to be a Hobbit

  • Full pantries, including massive wheels of cheese.
  • The ability to make up all the riddles on the spot. Also random pub songs.
  • Adorable houses.
  • Occasional rogue strains of adventure in family trees.
  • Gardens and a love of growing things.

Not my actual birthday cake. I am not nearly that talented.

And, finally…fun birthday traditions, including giving gifts to other people.

Since I try to make my life as Shire-like as possible, this is my third year of handing out virtual “presents” to my friends on my birthday…fun, favorite, or interesting things on the Internet that I’ve enjoyed this year. Here you go! Enjoy!

The Shire: To help you in valuing food and cheer and song above hoarded gold.

Lothlorian: Because I really feel like Galadriel would be obsessed with Enneagram types (mystical, slightly judgy, etc.).

The Lonely Mountain: Hidden treasure!

Grey Havens: Dead people preserved in an unusual way.

Shelob’s Lair: Because sticky. (It’s a stretch, I realize, but the best I could do.)

Fangorn Forest: Anything nature would have worked here, but I happen to love trees.

Dead Marshes: Crazy shrunken dude in a swamp. Enough said.

If you want more presents, check out Year One and Year Two.

Feel free to suggest other Middle Earth locations for next year!

Hobbit Birthday Party, Year Two!

Welcome! Tomorrow is my birthday, and in true hobbit tradition, I’ll again be giving out virtual presents to all of you to celebrate. This was so much fun last year (stop by for that post for double the gifts), that I decided to do it again.

Unfortunately, there will be no fireworks. Haven’t quite figured out how to make that happen.

Pretend I actually made this cake. Just for you.

These are various fun things I’ve found on the Internet over the past year. Hope you enjoy them!

Galadriel: Because I can picture elves being crunchy hipsters (and they’ve got the subtle brag thing down).

Frodo: Because you have to remember what’s worth sacrificing for.

Smaug: Because he could use a crash course in riddles.

Grima Wormtongue: Because I have no idea how he even became advisor with a name like that.

Boromir and Faramir: Because even brothers disagree sometimes.

Sam: Because basically everything about him is heartwarming and wonderful.

Bilbo: Because he needs a little help dealing with difficult dinner party guests.

 

Thanks for another great year, friends. I am immensely fond of you all, and eleventy-one years is too short a time to live among such excellent and admirable hobbits.

The Moon Colony Question

Sometimes, small talk is boring. When I’m tired of discussing the weather, my go-to is my favorite hypothetical question, one I’ve asked dozens of people to answer for me. (The original version belongs to my friend Kyle, and I have blatantly stolen it.)

You are the leader of a moon colony with 5000 residents. Over the years, you have become almost entirely self-sustaining, growing your own food, recycling water, and generating your own oxygen. Currently, all of this is contained under an air-locked dome, but a terraforming system is being tested and may be successful.

Reports from Earth have been coming in about an alarming disease, a pandemic on a scale the world has never seen before. Those infected don’t have any visible symptoms for several weeks, but they can often sense a change in their health before then. The disease is highly contagious and always fatal.

Soon, your attempts to communicate with Earth go unanswered. You can only assume that enough people have died that technical systems are failing. Several days of silence go by, and then you receive a transmission from a spacecraft approaching the moon.

They claim to be a ship from Earth, bearing news that everyone on the planet either has or will soon die. They were quarantined and insist that none of the 100 people on board have any sign of the disease, so they are requesting you to lower your shield and allow them into the colony. Also, the oxygen on their ship ran into issues on the way. They only have ten minutes of air left.

As the colony’s leader, you must decide between one of two options: do you let them in, risking contaminating your colony and possibly eradicating the human race? Or do you leave them in space and let them die?

(Are you thinking about your answer before you read what other people said? Good.)

When I give this scenario, the first thing that happens is that everyone tries to look for a third option. (You don’t have time to send up a doctor for examinations, you do not have a separate docking bay that could contain contaminants, you are not allowed to resign your post as leader, and it doesn’t matter if this scenario makes no scientific or medical sense.)

So, assume I told you that your clever loophole doesn’t work for some obviously contrived reason.

Next, people ask questions. This part is the most interesting to me—the answers people feel they need in order to make a good decision. Here are just a few I’ve been asked:

  • Were these one hundred people randomly chosen, or are they all rich politicians and military leaders who forced their way in?
  • Do I know anyone on board the ship?
  • What kind of leader am I? (Elected, dictator, etc.)
  • Do we have any way to verify that all or most humans on earth are dead?
  • What is the anticipated public response if I let these people die?
  • Are most of the people on the ship babies? (This is the best image ever. Enjoy. And yes, someone actually asked me that.)

Mostly instead of answering, I ask people why or how their answers would change if I said yes or no.

Finally, people have to choose. All of the people who have answered this for me fall into one of three groups:

One: People who let the spaceship in, usually motivated by compassion. Most women chose this option (with one exception, mentioned later). The general idea they expressed was that they’d rather do what they felt to be right and risk the consequences than live with blood on their hands. Many (but not all) Christians who took this option, interestingly, had a very high view of the sovereignty of God. They explained that it was their duty to do what they believed to be right, and leave the power of life and death to God.

Two: People who felt they would have to let the 100 people die, with different degrees of agony depending on the person. This was a smaller group. Some decided right away that this was the best option. (Most of my writing friends, regardless of gender fell into this group, possibly because it gives the story more of a plot.) But there were also people who agonized back and forth, taking the question very seriously. They finally felt that as a leader, they had a responsibility to their people and the human race in general to make a painful choice and deal with the fallout, both from their citizens and with their own conscience.

Three: People who refused to answer or still manage to weasel out a third option despite all of my attempts to stop them, like shooting down the spaceship in the sky to make their deaths quick and painless, then holding a colony press conference where you lie your head off and say it was an attacking ship so you don’t have to deal with the fallout of intentionally killing 100 potentially innocent people. (Yes, really. Two people suggested something like that.)

So, if you’d like to share your answer in the comment section, here it is: would you let ship from Earth enter your colony, potentially killing every human on your colony and maybe in the universe? Or let them die even if you weren’t sure they had the disease, ensuring the safety of your own people?