Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola

I have met many people in my life so far-- good, bad, charismatic, melancholic, scholarly and facetious-- but I have never met someone who has had such a remarkable transformation. I have known former druggies who have become numeraries and seemingly pious individuals fall to the whims of the flesh. Is it impossible then in this present age to become a saint? With all the excesses and self-aggrandizing so prevalent in modern society, it is difficult not to lose focus. We are constantly being misguided and thrown off course by a combination of many things, chief among them our unshakable pride. I admit that I am too often a victim of such circumstances.

I guess it all comes down to the Cross. ...
Truer words were never spoken and that Cross is a mystery that we must encounter to even begin to understand the saints. I don't have anything new or interesting to say about St. Ignatius who I admire greatly. However, go read the rest of the post at Ecce Ego as he has some good reflections on this feast day.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Around the House and Beyond

Rose bought Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which was cleverly delivered in special Amazon packaging complete with "Muggle instructions." She was off work when it arrived and read it in a couple of days. I was astounded but now am about halfway through after picking it up Saturday afternoon. I forgot how easily a little J.K. Rowling slides down. The beginning I found rather slow, as with all Harry Potter Books, but now am to the point where I am having a hard time putting it down. As others have pointed out, she does not write deathless prose, however she can tell a thumping good yarn.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir - I was reminded of this when listening to All Movie Talk's top six ghost movies list. A gentle film with a highly enjoyable performance by Rex Harrison as the salty Captain who haunts Gull Cottage. More of a romance than a ghost movie but highly enjoyable.

Melinda and Melinda - Woody Allen's self-indulgent experiment of telling the same story as both a drama and a comedy. An interesting intellectual exercise but one where they just keep talking and talking ... and talking. Most notable perhaps for Will Ferrell's first serious role, albeit one where he is playing Woody Allen's usual movie persona.

In the Kitchen

My oven hasn't worked for at least a week. I now am forcibly reminded just how much I use it as I constantly am having to reject meal options or work around them. The repairman comes this afternoon! Woohoo!

Dealing With ...
Our dog, Pepper, may be a true candidate for the doggie psychiatrist. Unaccountably devoted to me, he slept by the back door when Tom and I were gone for the Beyond Cana retreat. He stopped eating on the second day we were gone and now does not seem to want to take up the activity again with any seriousness. He is a big dog and needed to lose a few pounds so that problem is now solved. He is chewing his rawhide bones so it isn't a tooth/mouth problem ... I am able to lure him into eating by mixing canned food into the dry. However, that isn't going to go on forever. If we hadn't had a cat die from developing fatty liver when she stopped eating for about a week, I wouldn't worry ...

On the Job
Hannah is having to deal with someone at work who is showing her just what kind of jerks are out there. Sad to say, we've all had those experiences and while it can be maddening, this is good experience for putting into action the necessity to "forgive our enemies" which, as a priest once mentioned in a homily, is more likely to be the guy ahead of you in line for the copier than someone with a gun. However, she is beloved by all others at the vet's office and getting very good experience in working with animals with care and affection but without sentimentalism.

Rose has evidently been unofficially adopted by the owner of the cafe where she works, to the point that she is bringing her DVDs of "necessary" movies to watch. This is due, we believe, to her work ethic which, more than anything, is evidence by a desire not to be bored and, therefore, look for work when none is evident. Who wouldn't love than in an employee?

As for us, I am grateful for the opportunity to bid on two jobs due to Happy Catholic and am working on another which came to us via that same source of exposure (here's what we do). As I tell Tom, it almost makes up for the time I spend on it! (Wait, I think those jobs are enabling my addiction ... ah, well, c'est la vie!).

UPDATE: Much thanks to Jessica who called and gave us the opportunity to bid on another possible job. It was delightful speaking with her and our conversation wound up becoming real testimony from us both about the way that God uses any and all things to move through our lives for our own good and that of others. (Don't worry, I don't usually talk to our clients about such things! Until they bring it up, of course, then it's all fair game! ha!)

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Thanks Be to God ...

... and to St. Jude for his intercession. My father's visit to the new doctor yesterday has us all feeling considerably more optimistic, although we all are adding the qualifier "cautiously" to it. He spent a lot of time with Dad, told him that there were a lot of things he wanted to "fix" but would focus on the constant nausea first, and then took the relatively simple first steps of having him take Claritin and a acid reflux medication that also helps with nausea.

After over five months of constant nausea, my father woke up this morning feeling fine. Mom said he even was fixing a tuna sandwich for lunch. Believe me, that's a miracle after what they've been through ...

Much, much thanks goes to those of you who have prayed for my father and who have kindly been asking after him. I am so very happy to have such promising news.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Simpsons Movie

It occurs to me that, considering our family's Simpson-mania, you may be wondering why I haven't mentioned the movie.

Frankly, the last couple of seasons were so bad that we stopped watching new episodes. This didn't lead us to anticipate the movie with anything approaching excitement, although we did hope that the reason for above-mentioned lack luster episodes was because all the good writers were laboring on the movie.

So far, so good. Hannah saw it last night and said that it was funny, The Dallas Morning News critic gave it a B+ and I have heard generally positive things. For some reason this doesn't leave us wanting to run out and watch it though ... maybe we're still tired from that retreat last weekend.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Why Reread?

SF Signal shocks me as they take a hard line on rereading.
... I have re-read books before:

* I read Dune twice. It did not hold up nearly as well on the second read.
* I read The Fellowship of the Ring twice, but only because the first time through Lord of the Rings, I stopped in the middle of The Two Towers.
* A non-genre example: I read Lord of the Flies twice; one force-fed reading in high school, and one much better reading as an adult.
* (I've also said I want to re-read The Man Who Fell to Earth.)

That's all I can recall at this point. I usually don't re-read books because there is so much other good stuff out there to read and part of me - no matter how illogical and impossible I know it to be - wants to read it all.
That's all that can be recalled? I reread all the time. A book is like an old friend. I can't just say hi once and then never look in its direction again. And, there are those who agree ...
If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.
Oscar Wilde

When you reread a classic, you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than there was before
Cliff Fadiman

If a book is really good, it deserves to be read again, and if it’s great, it should be read at least three times.
Anatole Broyard

“Tell me what you read and I’ll tell you who you are” is true enough, but I’d know you better if you told me what you reread.
Francois Muriac

I don’t lend books.
Commander Adama, Battlestar Galactica
Ok, Adama's quote isn't about rereading, but I bet he doesn't lend books because he wants to reread them. Why else?

Poetry Thursday

This is both a poem and a prayer ... and I believe it is a sentiment which most of us share. Certainly I am sufficiently Martha-like in forgetting the contemplation that must accompany the busy-ness to sanctify my work (why else did she get pegged to be my patron saint? and, here I thought I was choosing her!) Thanks to Deacon Greg for this one.
Lord of all pots and pans and things,
Since I've no time to be
A saint by doing lovely things or
Watching late with thee,
Or dreaming in the twilight or
Storming heaven's gates.
Make me a saint by getting meals or
Washing up the plates.

Although I must have Martha's hands,
I have Mary's mind, and,
When I black the boots and shoes
Thy sandals, Lord, I find.
I think of how they trod the earth
What time I scrub the floor,
Accept this meditation, Lord,
I haven't time for more.

Warm all the kitchen with thy love,
And light it with thy peace,
Forgive me all my worrying
And make all grumbling cease.
Thou who didst love to give men food
In room or by the sea
Accept this service that I do
I do it unto thee.

The Institution of the Eucharist

Continuing catching up on posting the bulletin inserts commenting on excerpts from Sacramentum Caritatis. This is #7.
10. This leads us to reflect on the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. It took place within a ritual meal commemorating the foundational event of the people of Israel: their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. This ritual meal, which called for the sacrifice of lambs (cf. Ex 12:1-28, 43-51), was a remembrance of the past, but at the same time a prophetic remembrance, the proclamation of a deliverance yet to come. The people had come to realize that their earlier liberation was not definitive, for their history continued to be marked by slavery and sin. The remembrance of their ancient liberation thus expanded to the invocation and expectation of a yet more profound, radical, universal and definitive salvation. This is the context in which Jesus introduces the newness of his gift. In the prayer of praise, the Berakah, he does not simply thank the Father for the great events of past history, but also for his own “exaltation.” In instituting the sacrament of the Eucharist, Jesus anticipates and makes present the sacrifice of the Cross and the victory of the resurrection. At the same time, he reveals that he himself is the true sacrificial lamb, destined in the Father’s plan from the foundation of the world, as we read in The First Letter of Peter (cf. 1:18-20). By placing his gift in this context, Jesus shows the salvific meaning of his death and resurrection, a mystery which renews history and the whole cosmos. The institution of the Eucharist demonstrates how Jesus’ death, for all its violence and absurdity, became in him a supreme act of love and mankind’s definitive deliverance from evil.


As the Holy Father has carefully shown us in past excerpts, the Eucharist is a radical, self-giving of Jesus for our sakes. It makes sense then that Jesus would carefully select the most meaningful time to institute it. Just as a speech made from “Ground Zero” on September 11 has many layers of meaning for us, presenting this special, new gift at the Passover would have been deliberate and the disciples would have understood that.

In the context of the Passover, the apostles would have noticed the significance of historical and cultural clues necessary to help understand the significance of this salvific gift. They would not have full understanding until they received the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, but the basic grounding in their faith provided a solid foundation upon which was built our understanding of the Eucharist. This is confirmed by the verses quoted by Pope Benedict from The First Letter of Peter (1:18-20): ... realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb. He was known before the foundation of the world but revealed in the final time for you ...

We no longer have the cultural markers that the disciples did. Our connection with this reality is through the liturgy, especially during Holy Week before Easter. We may identify it as a ritual and be moved only by the drama and passing sentiment of the moment, without ever experiencing more. How do we achieve this? Our thoughtful reflection and prayerful contemplation, as noted in the Holy Father’s words, should awaken within us the deepest appreciation of the Eucharist as living and transforming reality - present in our lives yet also a promise of what is to come. We must acknowledge that there is so much more for us - in Christ and in the Eucharist - than we are asked to consider in everyday life.
This is one of a weekly series of excerpts from Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis. You are encouraged to read the entire document. The Vatican link to that document as well as to Pope Benedict’s first encyclical can be found on the website, www.stthomasaquinas.org.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Eucharist: Jesus the True Sacrificial Lamb

Another in the series of bulletin inserts featuring excerpts from Sacramentum Caritatis that have been running weekly. I'm way behind in sharing these with you. This is #6.
The new and eternal covenant in the blood of the Lamb

9. The mission for which Jesus came among us was accomplished in the Paschal Mystery. On the Cross from which he draws all people to himself (cf. Jn 12:32), just before “giving up the Spirit,” he utters the words: “it is finished” (Jn 19:30). In the mystery of Christ’s obedience unto death, even death on a Cross (cf. Phil 2:8), the new and eternal covenant was brought about. In his crucified flesh, God’s freedom and our human freedom met definitively in an inviolable, eternally valid pact. Human sin was also redeemed once for all by God’s Son (cf. Heb 7:27; 1 Jn 2:2; 4:10). As I have said elsewhere, “Christ’s death on the Cross is the culmination of that turning of God against himself in which he gives himself in order to raise man up and save him. This is love in its most radical form.” (18) In the Paschal Mystery, our deliverance from evil and death has taken place. In instituting the Eucharist, Jesus had spoken of the “new and eternal covenant” in the shedding of his blood (cf. Mt 26:28; Mk 14:24; Lk 22:20). This, the ultimate purpose of his mission, was clear from the very beginning of his public life. Indeed, when, on the banks of the Jordan, John the Baptist saw Jesus coming towards him, he cried out: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). It is significant that these same words are repeated at every celebration of Holy Mass, when the priest invites us to approach the altar: “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.” Jesus is the true paschal lamb who freely gave himself in sacrifice for us, and thus brought about the new and eternal covenant. The Eucharist contains this radical newness, which is offered to us again at every celebration. (19)


It is a sobering thought that Jesus came to us specifically with a mission to die. Unlike the rest of us, who wonder about vocations, marriage, and what to do with our lives in general, Jesus always was headed for one specific purpose ... to give himself in complete sacrifice for our sins.

Perhaps Jesus’ time among us has become so familiar in the retelling of the Gospel stories that the edges have been worn off. It is easy to not stop to really consider just how radical and complete Jesus’ sacrifice was, as Pope Benedict says, “that turning of God against himself in which he gives himself in order to raise man up and save him. ”

In this we see the true meaning of covenant. Unlike a contract in which often each party seeks to protect his own interests, in a covenant each party gives of self without condition on the other person. In his sacrifice Jesus the Lamb of God surrendered his will and laid down his life, securing the covenant and redeeming us from sin. Contemplating the Eucharist we are allowed to see God steps out of himself, going to extraordinary lengths for our sakes. How could we neglect, how could ignore, how could we not be happy to be “called his supper”?
(18) Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est (25 December 2005), AAS 98 (2006), 228.
(19) Cf. Propositio 3.

This is one of a weekly series of excerpts from Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis. You encouraged to read the entire document. The Vatican link document as well as to Pope Benedict’s first encyclical can found on the website, www.stthomasaquinas.org.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Transformers: A Brief Review

Rose went to see this movie last night because it was the only "decent" movie out there that she and/or her friends hadn't already seen several times.

When I woke her up this morning, I asked, "How was the movie?"

"The special effects weren't special enough to go see it."

"Oh. How about the rest of the movie?"

Chuckles emanated from under the covers. "I have to say this, it was the funniest movie I have seen all year."

I was surprised. "Intentionally?"

"Oh no, but it was hilarious ... I've never seen so much hoke in my life."

So there you have it. The critics ain't always wrong.

A Very American Question

All weekend, the last thing on my mind was the blog. However, I was continually surprised because Tom would bring it up to people. (Isn't he just so sweet?) While at dinner on Saturday with everyone who was working on the retreat, it came up again and a friend asked how much time a day I spend on it. Tom guessed a couple of hours a day (I have never wanted to keep track, afraid of what I might find out about my "time expenditures"). She turned a penetrating gaze on me and said, "Can you make money with it?"

I told her that making money wasn't the point although you could possibly make a bit but it would never cover the time spent. Her attention was claimed by her husband and I turned to Tom. "What is it that makes every other person ask that question ... as if it isn't worth doing otherwise?"

"It's the American way," he said. "What's the profit margin?"

Which sent us on an extremely brief exchange about the value of doing something purely for the love of it.

However, I was able to have an answer for my friend when she turned back to me. "I'm really so lucky," I said. "The blog has gotten enough attention that I get theology books to review."

We agreed that was very cool and turned our conversation to other areas.

But you and I know that I blog purely for the love of it, just like everyone else.

The Perfect Movie ...

... when you're worn out from retreatin' and it's just you and Hannah at home for the evening?

Nothing like snuggling on the couch with your daughter for some mommy-daughter time while sharing a mutual favorite ... that classic commentary on mother love and redemption ... Aliens. Did I mention lots and lots of violence and aliens? That too.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

It's a Good Kind of Tired

Back from the retreat, have had a nap, and am now contemplating beginning to unpack the car. What better time to cruise the internet instead, right?

The retreat went well ... it is hard to really ever know if a retreat goes well, as anyone knows who has participated in presenting one. The only ones who can really say are the participants because they are doing the really heavy lifting within themselves. However, every couple seemed happy and glowing by the end and I think we'd all agree that is a good sign.

As for myself, aside from the pure enjoyment of working with the wonderful couples who are part of the Core Team, it was a basic reminder that God is really in charge. There was at least one glitch that arose which was frustrating to some and then later it became clear resulted in a far superior moment of connection with God than would have happened otherwise. The Holy Spirit was swinging through tweaking a bit for everyone. Note to self: we are the instruments, God is the master planner.

Thanks so much to everyone who thought to lift a prayer or two for the retreat. I am positive that they made a huge difference.

A Beyond Cana review from one of my favorite bloggers, Wheelbarrow Manor. It's all about marriage enrichment and it sounds as if they got it in spades this weekend ... which makes me so very happy because that's what Tom and I like about it so much in our own marriage.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Welcome to My Scripture Study Pals

Here's that article Fr. L. was asking if we'd read ... for discussion next week.

"Even to the Jews..."

Many have been dismayed by the prospect of returning to some of the prayers from the 1962 missal, especially this prayer which came up in the comments box discussion yesterday.
"Let us pray: Almighty and everlasting God, You do not refuse Your mercy even to the Jews; hear the prayers which we offer for the blindness of that people so that they may acknowledge the light of Your truth, which is Christ, and be delivered from their darkness."
This came up in our Scripture Study last night and I had a chance to discuss it further with our priest afterwards.

He pointed out that this specific prayer is from a Triduum service and it will never be used. Why? Because the document specifically prohibits using any but the new order (Novus Ordo) for the Triduum services. This is the only time of year that there is such a prohibition.

If what he says is true, and I see no reason to doubt it as he is not only a careful reader but a canon lawyer, then the fuss over that prayer is a lot of sound and fury over an issue that doesn't exist.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Blessed Trinity and the Eucharist: A Free Gift

I realize that I have forgotten for some time to put up our parish's bulletin inserts that have been running with excerpts and commentary about Sacramentum Caritatis. Here is insert #5.
The Blessed Trinity and the Eucharist
A free gift of the Blessed Trinity

8. The Eucharist reveals the loving plan that guides all of salvation history (cf. Eph 1:10; 3:8- 11). There the Deus Trinitas*, who is essentially love (cf. 1 Jn 4:7-8), becomes fully a part of our human condition. In the bread and wine under whose appearances Christ gives himself to us in the paschal meal (cf. Lk 22:14-20; 1 Cor 11:23-26), God’s whole life encounters us and is sacramentally shared with us. God is a perfect communion of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. At creation itself, man was called to have some share in God’s breath of life (cf. Gen 2:7). But it is in Christ, dead and risen, and in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, given without measure (cf. Jn 3:34), that we have become sharers of God’s inmost life. (16) Jesus Christ, who “through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God” (Heb 9:14), makes us, in the gift of the Eucharist, sharers in God’s own life. This is an absolutely free gift, the superabundant fulfilment of God’s promises. The Church receives, celebrates and adores this gift in faithful obedience. The “mystery of faith” is thus a mystery of trinitarian love, a mystery in which we are called by grace to participate. We too should therefore exclaim with Saint Augustine: “If you see love, you see the Trinity.” (17)


If we will truly pause to reflect after receiving the Eucharist, we are drawn into contemplating the special intimacy with Jesus to which we are invited when we receive His Body and Blood. This is a true and fair reflection for we receive the whole Christ — Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. Pope Benedict asks us to open our minds and hearts to be led through intimacy with Christ into a deeper and more real relationship with the Triune God through Jesus Himself. Here the Holy Father reminds us, “God is a perfect communion of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

As this is the case, we come unfailingly with Pope Benedict to the understanding that, when we par­take of the Eucharist, we participate, not simply in the life of Christ, but we are partaking in that very life possessed by the Triune God. “Jesus Christ, who “through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God” (Heb 9:14), makes us, in the gift of the Eucharist, sharers in God’s own life.”

This gift, this grace, this life is ours — freely given and unmerited — the participation and sharing in uncreated, that is, God’s own life. It is what we grew up calling Sanctifying Grace. This grace is ultimately relationship with the Trinity, life-sharing with God, motivated by and producing, bearing fruit in Love.

(16) Cf. Propositio 4.
(17) De Trinitate, VIII, 8, 12: CCL 50, 287.
* Deus Trinitas: Triune God. In other words, God as Trinity, a single being existing simultaneously as three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
This is one of a series of excerpts from Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis. You are encouraged to read the entire document. The Vatican link to that document as well as to Pope Benedict’s first encyclical can be found on the website, www.stthomasaquinas.org.

Rockin' Girl Bloggers

Much thanks to Catholic Colbert for bestowing this award on Happy Catholic!

Now I must figure how to narrow all those rockin' girl bloggers I know down to five. Sheez! These ladies all can be counted on to be entertaining, thoughtful or informative ... and sometimes all three simultaneously which is no small feat.

  1. The Wine Dark Sea

  2. Aliens in This World

  3. The Summa Mamas

  4. The Anchoress

  5. Et Tu?

Monday, July 9, 2007


I just had to share this last thing.

The trailer for J.J. Abram's new movie .

Still unnamed and very mysterious ... but the coolest trailer ever. Watch it.

I Finally Saw Babette's Feast ... Again

Throughout the world sounds one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me the chance to do my very best.
This will gladden the hearts of all those who have been urging me to do so upon hearing that I saw it long ago, as a callow youth, and simply was bored.

The couple hosting Movie Night chose it which added to a nice theme that had been running through my books and movies lately, what with Ratatouille and Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant taking up a lot of my attention. Also, I was happy they chose it because I knew that left to my own devices I never would have done it. I simply didn't have the impetus.

The only problem that I saw was we watched it with the English dubbing on (not my choice but a very valid one, of course) and none of the songs were dubbed. That is understandable, however, none of the songs (and none of the French dialogue) were captioned ... what the heck were they thinking? This was frustrating because with all the obvious symbolism floating everywhere you just knew those omnipresent songs had to add emphasis and contrast. I found a spot linking to one with many of the lyrics and, natch, that is just what they were doing so I felt as if we were half blind for those sections of the movie. Be that as it may there was plenty to discuss without song lyrics.

The link above has many links to interesting essays about symbolism, recipes, and more about the movie so I will spare everyone that. I liked it but felt it never would be one of my favorite movies.

However, at Sunday Mass by myself (our family's schedule being what it was that day) I had a most unexpected reaction. It was nothing that my mind could even capture in sentences but throughout the entire Mass I had unexpected flashes of the big picture message about God's unexpected and overflowing generosity and Jesus' complete self-sacrifice. This hit me hard, especially with a few family things going on right now. It was most overwhelming, resulting in several extremely cryative moments (cryative - Rose's word which combines crying and sensitive). My own family is used to this sort of thing and I don't even try to fight it anymore. However, I had to laugh since one of Rose's good friends was a lector and sitting right where she had a really good view of me. I glanced up after one of the most affecting moments and thought I saw a look of alarm on her face. This was the good kind of crying through ...

As I say, I don't know if this will ever be a favorite movie but undoubtedly I will watch it again, especially during Lent when I could see it being a very good contemplative jumping off point.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum on the "Roman liturgy prior to the reform of 1970"

For all your Motu Proprio news ... these spots have links to the document, the English translation pdf, and those learned souls who have read and are commenting. Eventually I will get to it, I am sure, however, I still haven't finished reading the Holy Father's letter to China which interests me much more than the Latin Mass. By which you can tell that we have a wonderfully respectful and "traditional" Novus Ordo in our parish.

Deacon Greg offers us the Spark Notes (that's like Cliff Notes for those of us of a "certain age" ... ahem) on the subject

Father Z. who gives us the text and his comments about the intro. There is much more by now at his place so check out all the posts.

The Curt Jester has links and commentary.

Dom has a roundup of reaction

Father Jim at Dappled Things has his own comments as well as some links.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Joining Us in the First Friday Fast to Stop Abortion:

Lancashire Cat ... an English blog that is new to me but looks like a good 'un.

The Recovering Dissident Catholic, our friend Cathy.

First Friday Snuck Up on Me ...

... to the point where I was just getting ready to fix my breakfast when I suddenly remembered. I thought, "Why did I have to remember now? Why not after I ate?" (Yes, that is how lowdown I am about fasting...)

Well, duh. My Guardian Angel is there to take care of those very omissions. Thanks G!

Here's why the First Friday fast ...
... We are three bloggers who also live in the Dallas area. We are deeply committed to ending abortion in this country. To that end, we have committed ourselves to the following: On each First Friday for the next eleven months, we will fast and pray before the Blessed Sacrament for an end to abortion. This will culminate at the annual Dallas March for Life in January of 2008, where we will join our bishop and the faithful of this city in marching to the courthouse where Roe was originally argued.

We ask anyone reading these words to join us. Fast and pray with us each First Friday, no matter how far removed you are from Dallas. Spend some time in Eucharistic adoration, and implore Christ to end this curse. We especially ask other Dallas area bloggers and residents to join us, at least in spirit. If you would rather not fast, then pray for those of us that do. ...
Whole statement is here.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Julie Versus the Squirrel

Finally having refilled my bird feeder, I now am contending with a persistent squirrel who gradually has become accustomed our scare tactics. It now sneers when we bang on the kitchen window, snap a dish towel in its direction, and open the window.

However, General Tom came up with the perfect weapon of war.

The feeder is just close enough to the window that I can zap the squirrel with a good shot of water when it hesitates as it did yesterday ... it was so surprised it fell of the feeder and didn't stick around to scold me from a safe distance as is usual. Now, if the birds will just gain the confidence that squirrel was so well endowed with...

An Extraordinary Movie on Many Levels

When "Fin" came up on the screen, I suppressed an impulse to applaud. No need. The audience around me, without my reservations, burst into applause anyway.

We watched Ratatouille under unusual circumstances. It was a 4:00 movie but the theater was full. Perhaps the rest of the audience, like us, had tried in vain to get into an earlier showing only to find it sold out. More unusually, in a movie marketed to children, this audience was three-fourths adults, adults of all ages. In fact, we ourselves were part of that demographic. Hannah, 18, had rearranged a date in order to make the movie with us. We were at the 4:00 movie specifically because Rose, 17, would not be able to make it over the weekend due to work schedules. Such is the power Pixar can induce in those who have learned that they have that most special of talents, the ability to make a good general audience movie that pleases everyone on many levels. Obviously they did not fail to please this time. I thought that nothing could equal The Incredibles, Brad Bird's most recent offering, but he has matched that, if not surpassed it.
Noncooks think it's silly to invest two hours' work in two minutes' enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet.
Julia Child
Remy, the rat, has a love and appreciation for good food that is not shared by the rest of his family who see nothing wrong with eating garbage in all stages of decomposition. Circumstances team him up with Lingune, a hapless plongeur (dishwasher and kitchen assistant), who is trying hard to hold onto his job. Together the two begin to amaze diners at the Parisian restaurant of the late chef, Auguste Gusteau. Conflict arises not only from Remy's need to be hidden and yet guide Linguine, but from the animosity of the head chef, Linguine's romantic interest in the the kitchen's one female chef, the need for the restaurant to regain their five star rating which depends upon the approbation of food critic Anton Ego, and Remy's desire to be understood by his family while being able to express his art.

This is a far from simple set of conflicts, especially for a children's movie, and yet my desire to avoid spoilers leaves the list incomplete. Suffice it to say that the story is told simply and well enough to be thoroughly enjoyed by children while carrying complex food for thought that adults may well ponder long after the movie is finished. As well, this movie is a complete delight for anyone who has an interest in the food world. I will say more about that below, but if you are a "foodie," don't miss this movie. There are many subtle jokes that will delight you.

This movie didn't have the fast paced jokes we have come to expect since Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, or The Incredibles. There was a lot of verbal, situational, and physical humor but much of this, while appreciated, didn't result in laughs. However, when the laughs came they were big. Interestingly, when I noticed this, I noticed that the audience was silent the rest of the time. Everyone, including the children, some of whom were quite small, was engrossed by the story and giving it their complete attention. As die-hard movie fans who have attended many movies with large audiences of children, we know how unusual that is. Other than during Finding Nemo and The Incredibles (during which one young boy was so caught up in the movie he was shouting advice to the heroes), the only other time I have seen that was during Two Brothers.

There was a deft blending of living by "real world" rules with fantasy. It is fantastic enough that Remy and Linguine will work together, however, it is made clear that Remy cannot talk except to other rats. This is made clear in several scenes where we hear Remy's expostulations and then are switched to a human's point of view to hear only a rat squeaking. Remy's father constantly reminds him that to become close to humans is to live in danger of being killed as vermin. Yet at the end of the movie when the question of running the kitchen in a moment of extreme crisis must be resolved, a scene evolves that forcibly called to mind the Disney classic, Cinderella.

As always, the technical elements are handled perfectly. Voice work is flawless and not dominated by the big name stars we have come to expect. I followed the advice I read in a review and avoided knowing who was doing which voice so that I would not be playing "spot the voice" through the movie and I pass that same advice to you. Upon finding out who did voice work we were surprised that much of the time we never would have guessed, especially for John Ratzenberger (Cliff from Cheers) who has done a voice for every Pixar feature to the extent that it was a joke used in the credit scenes for Cars.

As one would expect, the animation is amazing. Remy scuttles up pipes and underfoot in the kitchen looking very like a real small animal, frightened in an unfamiliar world. When the rat colony is on the move, one automatically feels a bit of natural revulsion at the prospect of that many rats in an enclosed area. Unlike the early Pixar days of Toy Story, human movement is now mimicked on such a good level that we watch an entire kitchen of chefs moving deftly and are never jolted out of the movie's "reality" by motions that don't seem right. The scenes of Paris are so evocative of the real "City of Lights" that, as some critics have mentioned, I wished for more outside scenes. All this was done with "100% real animation" we are reminded in the end credits with wicked humor, with "no motion capture or other shortcuts" used in making the film. (To learn more about the debate raging in the animation industry about what constitutes "real animation," go here.)

A Few Themes
Warning: SPOILERS, please read this after seeing the movie
"I dare say it is rather hard to be a rat," she mused. "Nobody likes you. People jump and run away and scream out, `Oh, a horrid rat!' I shouldn't like people to scream and jump and say, `Oh, a horrid Sara!' the moment they saw me. And set traps for me, and pretend they were dinner. It's so different to be a sparrow. But nobody asked this rat if he wanted to be a rat when he was made. Nobody said, `Wouldn't you rather be a sparrow?'"
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
First and foremost, there is the concept of being naturally drawn outside of one's accepted environment in order to express one's art. Obviously, this is shown in the concept of a rat cooking, which is continually being offset by showing Remy's concern with cleanliness around any sort of food preparation. We also see it in Collette's description of the chefs' backgrounds. She tells Linguine that people think of haute cuisine as snobbish but that the cooks are more like "pirates" who have found a way to express their inner creativity through cooking. (Anthony Bourdain was thanked in the credits and we see his influence in this. As a side note, read his Kitchen Confidential Updated Ed: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly for more about this.)

The idea of being societal outcasts is carried on more subtly, in details about the rat colony. Remy's father's name is Django, evocative of famous jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. Having just heard an admirer discuss him, I also strongly associated him with gypsies. It is quite easy to see the association between Django's warnings about outsiders to Remy, their nomadic lifestyle, the constant assertions about "not stealing" and gypsies.

There is a strong theme of criticism in how people approach food, which can be naturally extended to other areas of life and society (such as the movie industry, perhaps?). One group, represented by the rats, view food as fuel. They are uncritical about what they eat and pay only enough attention to make sure they are not poisoned before they unthinkingly stuff themselves with whatever is available. Tellingly, the dastardly head chef's evil scheme is hawking Auguste Gusteau's good name after his death on a line of frozen foods. The opposite group, represented by critic Anton Ego (The Grim Eater), loves food so much that they will not eat anything that is not perfect. This elevates food far beyond its proper place in the scheme of things. Clearly Remy shows us that savoring pure, fresh ingredients and thoughtfully combining them is more satisfying than either of the other approaches. On a side note, we wondered how many people watched this movie and then went home to frozen dinners. Certainly, as I was flavoring the hamburgers while Tom fired up the grill, I found my thoughts drawn back to the movements we saw the chefs' making in the restaurant kitchen.

This approach is further emphasized by the cookbook Gusteau wrote, "Anyone Can Cook." The theme is emphasized over and over again, with the point being made in the final analysis, that not everyone need be a great chef to do so. Seeing the line of everyday people in front of Anton Ego's bistro underscores that theme and it is comforting to me that this emphasis was probably reinforced repeatedly to the Pixar team by their chef consultant, Thomas Keller, who is one of our country's finest chefs himself.

The Pixar team's thoroughness in understanding their subject, as has been noted before, extends to investigating the food world. This local food critic was not the only one pleased by the attention to detail. I couldn't wait to call my mother and share some of the details that no one else in the family caught. Poor Rose. I was continually poking her and whispering information that she just didn't care about. fact that Thomas Keller of The French Laundry had a voice credit ... no one cared. The five star French restaurant that was credited? No one cared.

Most of all, the most evocative food moment was one that explained a question I began wondering halfway through the movie. Why call it Ratatouille? Other than a clever play on the "rat" connection there seemed no reason to name the movie after that peasant vegetable stew. Until the supreme moment of revelation, which was done so perfectly that it brought howls of laughter ... and more whispering in Rose's ear from me. Later on, I asked, "Did anyone get that reference to Proust and the madeleine?" They all looked at me blankly. I felt just as I did when I took Hannah to see Beauty and the Beast, her first movie in the theater, and was the only member of the audience laughing because Lumiere was channeling Maurice Chevalier.

That moment of revelation in the movie's title refocused and redefined the entire movie in a new way around food, identity, and self.
Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called "petites madeleines," which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory - this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? ...

And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom , my aunt LĂ©onie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it; perhaps because I had so often seen such things in the meantime, without tasting them, on the trays in pastry-cooks' windows, that their image had dissociated itself from those Combray days to take its place among others more recent; perhaps because of those memories, so long abandoned and put out of mind, nothing now survived, everything was scattered; the shapes of things, including that of the little scallop-shell of pastry, so richly sensual under its severe, religious folds, were either obliterated or had been so long dormant as to have lost the power of expansion which would have allowed them to resume their place in my consciousness. But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.

And as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set to attach itself to the little pavilion opening on to the garden which had been built out behind it for my parents (the isolated segment which until that moment had been all that I could see); and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I used to be sent before lunch, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine. And as in the game wherein the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little pieces of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch and twist and take on colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, solid and recognizable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann's park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

God Bless America, Land That I Love

Happy birthday, USA!


Here are 10 good ways to celebrate America.
3) Walk around your house enjoying the lack of soldiers

A Remake of Mostly Martha?


They may have changed the name (No Reservations) but that is no comfort to this Mostly Martha loving family. This is as bad as when they remade Shall We Dance with Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez. Or when they remade Infernal Affairs .... aaargh, I don't like Martin Scorsese movies!

Accept no substitutes!

Watch the real thing.

Like Our Own Home Bakery

The restaurant where Rose works is closed for the week and, as is her wont, she has begun baking. I came home yesterday to a selection of lemon bars, deluxe brownies, cheesecake brownies, and peanut bars with chocolate frosting. Last weekend she also made some deceptively simple bar cookies where the only flavoring is nutmeg, which were universally greeted with approval.

Mmmmm, mmmmm ...

Now That Is Good News!

Scott Nehring, of Nehring the Edge, has begun another blog, Good News Film Reviews: Discerning Christian Reviews. Take a look at his first articles, especially " The G-Rated Christian: Does God Call For Us to Become Ned Flanders? PART 1."