Thursday, July 31, 2008

Goin' Retreatin'

Tom and I are on the presentation team for our parish's Beyond Cana marriage enrichment retreat. It begins tomorrow morning and so I'm outta here.

While I'm gone, take a look over at The Anchoress's online August retreat which begins tomorrow. I think it is going to be great!

You can also see what I've marked to read ... here:

Mailbag ...

Jeff S. writes to let us know:
TIME magazine has an interesting profile of three priests in Northern Ireland attempting to balance their faith and clerical duties with a multi-million dollar recording contract with Sony BMG. Lots of interesting issues here. They sound like they only have good intentions.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Worth a Thousand Words

The Rabbits' Christmas Party -- The Departure
From BibliOdyssey where there are many other good things to be seen
by clicking through on the link above.

Light, shadow, summer, city ... creativity

Thanks for the link, Marcia!

Showing God's Grace Among Us, a review of Audrey

When you read the pages that follow you will see how Audrey was privileged to have that heightened sense of God's presence, and how that led her to do things "here and now" (learning her French verb tables, doing a sacrifice to console Jesus...) ... But the most winning thing about Audrey is that she doesn't lecture you. She just seems to invite you to sit down on that hospital bed beside her, she cuddles up to you like any little girl her age, and with the simplicity and depth of her actions she invites you and shows you how to love more sincerely, more simply, more completely. ...

I am sure you will enjoy reading about Audrey, and I am also sure that something in this book will change you.
Father Anthony Bannon, from the introduction to Audrey
I told Chris Cash from The Catholic Company "surprise me" when he wrote asking what book I'd like. He did. I inwardly groaned when I received Audrey -- True Story of a Child's Journey of Faith. One look at the title tells us that we are looking at a story about a "holy little one" who surely has died from some lingering illness or other. I was falling prey to the standard preconception (imagine that! my besetting sin, surely) about how holiness is shown. Never having a connection with St. Therese of Lisieux, her story nevertheless flashed through my mind and I resigned myself to reading a saintly, "too good for this world" story. However, I'd agreed to read and review the book so I picked it up and prepared to soldier on.

"Audrey" exposed me to a sort of holiness I'd never seen so well expressed as in this book. As recounted in a series of vignettes, we see how Audrey naturally expressed God's grace in her life from the time she was a small child. Her parents' repeated mystification at this in their faithful but normal family, her siblings' lack of a similar gift, and Audrey's own very human nature all serve to emphasize just what a gift of God this was. Gloria Conde's skill at unveiling Audrey's joie de vivre and growing faith are apparent as we, too, come to see and believe Audrey's self-sacrificial love for Jesus, her pouring out of herself in prayer for others even as she suffers physical pain.

Perhaps most telling of the fact that Audrey's faith is God's doing, is her mother's sudden realization that the most famous child saints she could think of had all suffered trials from illness. Following this presentiment came the painful diagnosis of leukemia. It is then when we see Audrey's faith blossom and how others in praying for Audrey are actually blessing themselves. I was especially touched by her small brother's satisfaction in being allowed to suffer for his sister when he is chosen as a bone marrow donor. His mother perfectly captures the feelings of a heroic boy tilting at dragons for Audrey's sake. As well, in the midst of pain and suffering, we are not allowed to forget Audrey's human side. The practical joke she plays on a nurse soon after being put into a sterile bubble makes us laugh and remember that Audrey is still a child with high spirits that cannot be quenched.

Told in an unsentimental style, Audrey's story contains great grace, courage, and faith. It is one that I highly recommend to others, especially if they, like me, cynically doubt a small child's holiness except as a reflection of others' sentimental projections. Audrey is the real deal. This morning I found myself asking for her intercession for a special intention as well as thoroughly enjoying thinking of her getting to know our two children in heaven. I will not soon forget her story ... or her prayer from shortly before she died.
For mothers who have lost a child, so that they will understand that this child of theirs is a small servant of Christ in heaven.
Father Bannon was right. This book has changed me. Thank you, Chris, for choosing better than you knew.

This review was written as part of The Catholic Company product reviewer program. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Audrey - True Story of a Child's Journey of Faith.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Worth a Thousand Words

Peaches and Dragon (No. 2) by Duane Keiser
Shared by permission. Click through on the link above to see his other amazing art at his website.

Monday, July 28, 2008

You Can't Always Get What You Want ...

... the two big lessons I learned that day are lessons that God has been teaching me over and over and over again in this situation:
  1. Just because you don't think a prayer was answered, doesn't necessarily mean it wasn't answered -- the answer may have been in a form you weren't expecting.

  2. Answered prayers are easier to see when looking at the world around you through a lens of love.
A few months ago I had cried out to God for help. I was overwhelmed with all that I had to do as a mom of three children in diapers, and felt like I was quickly going to reach a breaking point if I didn't get help soon. It was shortly after that that a group of neighborhood pranksters started ringing my doorbell and running, causing me to get even closer to said breaking point. Not only was my prayer not answered, but now I had even more problems! I thought we were never given more than we could handle -- was God not listening to me?!

What I see now, of course, is that when I was looking out for the prayer to be answered, I was basically waiting for my phone to ring with someone announcing that I'd won a lifetime unlimited gift card to the best housekeeping service in town. In typical fashion, I wanted it all to work out in a way that would allow me to continue to be withdrawn and self-sufficient, my problems being solved while I remained within the safe and predictable confines of my home.

What I am beginning to get through my head (slowly!) is that God very often answers prayers in a way that brings us closer to our fellow human beings. ...
Jen is writing about that which I have learned ... and which I then forget and must learn again. God is full of surprises, he knows better than I do what I need, and I am pretty short sighted.

Go read all of Jen's post and be sure to click through to the related links. I have been thoroughly enjoying her experiences with the neighborhood girls. I was especially delighted when they were allowed to hang out with her after Jen had been declared "off limits" previously.

Friday, July 25, 2008

What if there were no stop signs ... and a major corporation was charged with inventing one?

I wish I could say that this couldn't happen. As someone who has working in advertising way too long I'll just say ... it's funny because it's true.

Along the lines of "what if Microsoft packaged the iPod," a favorite of mine which I know that y'all want to see again, right?

A "Rocky" Critic Responds

My toss-off surprise at how much I enjoyed Rocky hit a real nerve ... I post it here to give the other side a voice. Thanks to Jay for speaking up! Somehow I feel that Scott Nehring probably agrees as he and I quite often disagree on movies.
The uncritical adoration of the movie Rocky is one of my pet peeves of the fans of popular culture. Average people feel that life is so harsh that they adopt patently bogus heroes and products that they would never accept in other parts of their life. This is especially true in sports movies. To wit: Rocky is a horrible movie, that is loved by people starving for "uplifting underdog stories," but the same people would never accept such treacle in the lives, books, non-sports movies, or non-fiction.

Rocky is horrible because it is so fake. Most true film fans have hated the movie for this artifice from the first day of its release, and not just in hindsight of better boxing movies (Fat City released two years before Rocky is a much better dramatic and authentic movie) for tangible reasons:
  • The boxing choreography is so fake, World Wrestling Federation workers think it could use some work. The gloves clearly do not hit bodies, the exaggerated reactions and head flailing, the lack of jabs or even a typical first round of "feeling-out" and circling by the fighters... it is all stomach turningly inauthentic.
  • Philly boxer as underdog, why not use the story of Joe Frazier?
  • Stallone cast himself in the title role purely out of vanity and career advancement. He is a horrible cinema boxer, and is way too short to have been cast as a heavyweight. It really shows in the fight scenes against Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), a real professional athlete/heavyweight boxer size. In real life, Apollo Creed would have literally killed Rocky Balboa on this size differential alone. When people pointed this out to Stallone for the sequels, he artificially enhanced his body type with steroids and human growth hormone. Again, Rocky is worse than WWF. But Stallone was still way too short to be cast as a heavyweight fighter.
  • The screenplay, which earned Stallone an Oscar, is amateurish. Very amateurish. The first 70 minutes is way to slow and talky... and talky in a way that was not convincing. The words coming out of Rocky Balboa's mouth in the scenes with Adrian are artificially profound for a character that in the exposition of the movie is clearly established as being a brutish mob collector, a loser, showing signs of being punch-drunk.
  • The music is a joke. Movie music is supposed to support the action on screen, not overwhelm or be better than the images. Obvious, overblown, too loud, unsubtle music is not good movie score.
Overall, the movie industry has spent the past thirty years trying to obliterate the inexplicable popularity of Rocky. Every boxing movie since Rocky is superior, and a couple are heights of cinema art. Scorsese made Raging Bull to show the true brutality of boxing, boxers and boxing culture (with much better music and much better cinematography and tremendous boxing choreography). Downbeat at times, yes; great movie art, absolutely. Ron Howard made the great Cinderella Man to correct Rocky and Raging Bull (authentic details of life pre-Depression and in the middle of the Depression, brutality of boxing, music that supports the story, the underdog story of a decent Christian man unerringly doing decent things throughout the film staying in character, tremendous boxing choreography, correct body types for the era). This "Cult of Rocky" has corrupted actual sports culture: movie and sports fans now only relate to underdogs, and not excellence or decency. Even if the underdog is visibly inauthentic.
In response, I do not necessarily disagree with much of what Jay says as I don't know a thing about boxing and don't care. Face it, that is much of the moviegoing public, hence part of Rocky's appeal. The movie is not about boxing really. As Jay points out, it is the story of an underdog who has taken the low road every time. Rocky's trainer points this out bluntly. What appeals is that when Rocky is given a chance (yes, an unbelievable chance but this is the movies so that is part of the deal sometimes) it spurs him on to fulfill his potential.

Has it been done better? Yes, undoubtedly and in many more genres than boxing movies. As we all know, many more genres than sport movies have showed us that tale. As well, it clearly should have been edited better. It would have been nice to have some of the redundancy in dialogue cleared away. And, yet, that is also what made it seem more real. Because people are redundant and stagey in real life conversation sometimes, especially when they are ill at ease as Rocky quite often is.

I have to agree about the large musical numbers, which are now dated as well as over the top. However, if one goes back and listens to the music aside from that, one finds that the music is, if anything, understated with piano being merely a support for the mood of various scenes ... and then only when desired.

Believe me, when I say that I am not a die-hard Rocky fan. I saw this in the movies when it came out. Haven't seen it since nor any of the following Rocky movies. I fully expected to see an overdone, cheesy movie that we would mock for being in any top 100 list. That is why I was surprised. It is not the best movie ever, however, as I said before, like an indy movie with a big marketing budget.

If it makes you feel any better, Jay, it did make me want to watch Cinderella Man ... and I have never been interested before. So perhaps you could look at Rocky as a "stepping stone" movie if that helps at all.

Now, on a very loosely related subject ... who else has found Carl Weathers (who played Apollo Creed in Rocky) to be absolutely hilarious in Arrested Development?
Tobias Fünke: Do you see me more as the respected dramatic actor or more of the beloved comic actor?

Carl Weathers: Whoa, whoa, whoa. There's still plenty of meat on that bone. Now you take this home, throw it in a pot, add some broth, a potato. Baby, you've got a stew going.

Tobias Fünke: Yes, that's fine, but I would like to focus on my acting, Mr. Weathers. I did give you my last $1, 100.

Carl Weathers: Let me tell you a little story about acting. I was doing this Showtime movie, Hot Ice with Anne Archer, never once touched my per diem. I'd go to Craft Service, get some raw veggies, bacon, Cup-A-Soup... baby, I got a stew going.

Tobias Fünke: [pause] I think I'd like my money back.

TO has some good comments about Rocky and reality in movies.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Gospel of Matthew: The Irony of the Pharisees' Decision

Matthew 12:14

This is a familiar story for us. In the temple, on the sabbath, the Pharisees ask Jesus, "Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?" There was a man with a withered hand in the synagogue and after responding to them with a question, Jesus heals the man. The Pharisees then resolve to put Jesus to death. Perhaps because this is so very familiar, I never caught the irony that George Martin points out below.
Matthew does recount the reaction of those who had questioned Jesus about healing on the Sabbath. But the Pharisees went our and took counsel against him to put him to death. The phrase, "put him to death" could also be translated, "destroy him." By doing good and showing mercy on the Sabbath, Jesus has put his own life in danger. This is the first notice in Matthew's gospel that Jesus has mortal enemies. It is deeply ironic that those who consider healing a violation of the Sabbath then hatch deadly plans on the Sabbath. ...
My review is here of Bringing the Gospel of Matthew to Life by George Martin.

Book Review: The Shack

The Shack is a book I was peripherally aware of but never intended reading. It is one of those "inspiring" Christian novels that seem to be always floating out there in conversation and on blogs. I rarely am interested in them as they usually have both sloppy writing and sloppy theology. (Hey, let's tell it like it is ... we hoe a Catholic row 'round here!)

Then a friend told me how much she liked it and lent me her copy.

Essentially, The Shack is the story of a family that has suffered the tragedy of having their six-year-old daughter kidnapped and murdered by a serial killer. They are suffering from all the reactions one can imagine, from intense sadness and guilt to extreme anger with God for allowing this to happen. Mack, the father, finds a mysterious card in the mailbox one day. It appears to be from God and invites him to come to the shack where the last evidence was found of his daughter, a blood-stained dress. When Mack gets there he encounters the Trinity in a Narnia-style adventure that strives to inform about God and our relationship to Him.

With one eye open for things that would lead me away from Church teachings, I plunged in. This is clearly a book written by someone who has not studied the craft, but who is passionate about how we can better be in a relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I found much to praise, inspire, and ponder in the first two-thirds of the book. The author's own obvious enthusiasm is communicated to the reader in an imaginative setting that helps the reader to grasp a bit better the Trinitarian God, Jesus as fully human and fully God, and our relationship to God as humans. At times this dips far enough into sentimentality while making a point that it leaves the reader wincing. However, overall I was intrigued and swept up in the way that love and relationship with God were being expressed and explained to Mack. I especially enjoyed the personification of the Trinity and that of Wisdom. (On a side note, I would be very curious to hear from any well-catechized Catholics who have read this and could comment on how this view of the Trinity falls into line with Catholic teachings.)

There were some glaring problems in the last third of the book, however. One such problem is in the author's lack of honesty in story telling when Mack finally asks Jesus about his daughter's fear and suffering at her kidnapper's hand. In a story that is supposedly about how one deals with true evil in the world, the answer glossed over any semblance of reality in a fashion that practically screamed "I can't answer this so let's just not deal with it." The author lost a golden opportunity to do some real good in giving people a chance to wrestle with this issue.

Additionally, when Mack leaves the shack and reenters reality, the family's story is sped to a satisfactory conclusion a la, "a shot rang out and everyone fell dead." As the essence of the book is found in the shack this can be understood but it left a somewhat unfinished feeling for this reader.

However, as I was not expecting much literary virtue from the author in the first place, my main problems came from the divergences between his representation of Christianity and mine as a faithful Catholic. The book suddenly takes a turn into an almost New Age mentality and I'm not just talking about the night scene where Mack is given the gift of "true sight." There is a repeated disdain expressed especially by Jesus for churches and religion as "institutions" and "buildings." Jesus tells Mack at one point of his love for his bride, the Church. He then explains that he isn't talking about what people call "church" but about every person who believes and has a relationship with him ... including Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus. While I am on board with the idea that other faiths have relationships with God (as is the Catholic Church), as a Catholic I know that we have Jesus present with us in the Eucharist. This is not simply symbolism but true presence, body and blood, soul and divinity. That is the entire reason for the Church and for any Catholic church building in the first place ... as a meeting place with Jesus in physical form. Even taken from the Protestant understanding (as I am aware of it) this is a clear disdain for the church as "community," which is what God has been talking about for a good portion of the book. Despite the "broken world" explanations given to Mack, one winds up with the feeling that if we would all waft through life just loving God and being all that we can be, then eventually we'd all wind up holding hands and singing together.

Once I read The Internet Monk's review and discovered that the author is of the "emergent church" persuasion much more about the problems I had became clear. I encourage you to read the Internet Monk's review which reflects much of my own reaction to the book. Here's a bit, but please go read it all.
Young is not a master of elegant prose (though his descriptions of the indescribable are well done), but he is wonderfully passionate about the love of God. This is a book that will leave certain aspects of the Gospel indelible impressed on the reader: the nature of the Trinity, God’s personal love for us, the meaning of trust and forgiveness, and the constant creative presence of the Holy Spirit. Young takes many chances, and while not all of them pay off equally, those that do are pretty magnificent. ( I can’t remember setting in a classroom and being moved to tears by a novel before, certainly not one in the “Christian” market.)

Those inclined to look for emerging church error or general heresy won’t be disappointed, and I am sure Young enjoys some of this theological and traditional mischief. I’d recommend putting up the doctrine gun for the duration of this book, and letting the story entertain and explore. This isn’t a confession or a catechism, but it is something a lot of people will read and absorb. It is difficult to not be drawn into the central character’s “Great Sadness,” and the transforming experience that sends him back into the world a changed man is one all readers will find themselves envying. If you can read this book as what it was meant to be, and not as a chapter of someone’s Systematics, it will work on the level we most need such a story: our own sense of intimacy with God.
I did enjoy this book and definitely am going to reread it, if for no other reason than many of the things in it are true and inspiring. However, this is a work of fiction and the reader is warned not to swallow the author's occasionally dubious theology whole and adapt it as their own. As the Internet Monk says, it is a work that can help inspire our own intimate relationship with God. If we take that message and actually use it in our prayer and daily life, not merely read it and feel good, then The Shack can be of great use to any Christian.

Update: The Paragraph Farmer has an excellent review that answers my questions about where this book falls in comparison with Catholic theology. Do go read it if you are interested in this book.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Worth a Thousand Words

Big Morning Sun
Shown by permission of Visual Thoughts, where you will find many other gorgeous photos.

A Rediscovered Movie

Rose rented Rocky from the library.

You know, I don't think I have watched that since I saw it at the movies.

It was such a hit movie and the main clips (and songs) so ingrained in our popular culture that I'd forgotten what it was really like. These days one would call it a little indy movie that had big marketing dollars behind it. It was refreshingly good and the music when the two big songs weren't blasting was quietly and perfectly done with a bit of piano ...

Rose was astounded that it was so good.

A wonderful surprise.

Who I'm Praying for Today ...

  • Saint Superman
  • My friend C, who has lost her job and is taking care of her sister while she goes through chemo therapy. And, of course, for her sister's health.
  • CB's health and good recovery from her bypass surgery
  • Mike and Kristy and their unborn baby
  • Tammy's friend, Alice.
  • My special intention
  • Lisa's grandmother's health and for her family
  • The Beyond Cana marriage enrichment retreat
  • Our priests and clergy
  • Abortion providers, Lord open their eyes and hearts
  • Strength, joy and peace for oppressed Christians in China, Asia, and the Middle East. Also that their oppressors may have their eyes opened to the truth.
  • Plus a whole lot of previous intentions mentioned here and for the intentions mentioned around St. Blog's Parish.
Updated daily. Check comments box for requests others may have added.

Monday, July 21, 2008

"What will you do when both kids are gone?"

[meaning, gone to college...]

My usual answer to that is a blank stare and then, "We'll have fun!"

Of course, it is more complicated than that. Isn't everything?

Thinking of moving Rose to college (Hannah gets moved to A&M the week before) gets different reactions at different times.

The funny thing is that those sudden realizations always surprise me.

For instance, talking with Tom's brother and sister-in-law on Saturday, they mentioned that no one ever wants to go on a vacation in October. This was in reference to getting people together to share a beach house in Galveston next year.

I thought, "Well, of course, because of school." Then like a jolt of electricity going through me, I realized that we actually could go somewhere in October if we wanted!

Not that we will have the freedom from work and certainly not the money, what with two kids in school. But we could. We are no longer tied down by the school year in that way.

So that was a glorious moment of freedom beckoning.

On the other hand, this morning I stopped at the grocery store on the way to work. Loading up on freezer bags, Glad wrap, and aluminum foil, I had an impulse to grab a couple of packages of brown paper lunch bags. You know, so Rose would have them for school lunches.

Then it hit me. I don't need to buy those any more. It was a strange feeling to stand looking at those paper bags and be fighting back a few tears. (In fact, it is crazy that I am typing this and fighting some tears right now.)

So the moments of future possibility are balanced by the price to be paid in missing loved ones.

Which is why it is very important for me to live in the here and now. My imagination is altogether too good at taking over ... I have to keep it on a short rein.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Grammar of Love

Because love is quite often not about feelings, Another Espresso Please shares these home truths with us. Once again, I praise God's wisdom in making the family our learning ground on both sides of the equation, for husbands and wives, for parents and children. This is a hefty excerpt but there is more so do go read it all.
... And because I am so dense, God had to send me MORE children to teach me this.

So He did. And I learned. It was not easy.

I learned that when you are overwhelmed with the change of family, from three to five children and all of them young enough to be very becomes stretched. Or it seems like it does, or did. Not necessarily stretched in an immediate 'bring them into the cushion of my embrace'...but can be stretched in the sense of "oh my goodness, how do I do this and I'm not FEELING any flutters or torrents of emotion, unless you count the flutters behind my burning sleepy eyes and the tears about to flood!"

And I cried. And I was shocked and despairing at my utter failing.

As a mom. As a person. I didn't love enough, somehow, I thought.

I didn't FEEEEEEL the feelings that they say you are supposed to feel, I thought.

I wasn't being lifted. I was sinking, I thought.

I wasn't really.

I was learning, and growing, and loving.

Thank God, literally, for the graces bestowed on the sacrament of marriage.

Instead of wondering what was wrong with me, or worst of all, scoffing it all off my husband smiled at me, unconcerned, although of course, concerned.....

I would follow him around the house, carrying one or two of the babies, saying, "Yeah, I know, I love them...but, it's so much, so much to do.....will I feel it? Will I love them enough????"

Because I knew. I found out - how shallow and needy I am (still).

Because it was about me.

He would smile at me. Then he would take one and hold her.

And he said, "Just DO for them."

"Huh? Are you not watching me, that's what I'm doing!"

"That's right. That's just right" he would smile.

And when he would see my eyes about to pool over, and me look at him in dismay, he would remind me, "DO for them, the feelings, the depth of feeling, will come. That's what makes the truest love. DO for them. Don't worry. Do for them." ...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Place to Report Email Spam Related to Child Pornography

A reader was good enough to alert me that there actually is a place where you can report email spam related to child pornography.
I get a LOT of spam on my work email account -- they use Yahoo business service. Too many of them are porn spam.

But this evening I received a spam advertising Web sites for child pornography. I won't go into details of what it pitched, but it listed 5 Web sites with Russian domains.

I was so disturbed by this, I couldn't just delete it (which I do with the rest of the spam). After some research, I discovered that it is possible to report cases on even email spam related to child pornography.

In case anyone else might receive this kind of spam, I thought it would be good to at least let them know it can be reported.

The CyberTip line of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children will collect reports of child pornography spam.
I applaud this reader's initiative. I am fortunate enough to not have this sort of thing coming through our email filters but I know it is an increasing problem so am happy to be able to tell about this resource.

Angels and Subways

Jane shares another angel story ... one that any mass transit users may want to keep in mind.

Only Aggies Would Pull This Off ... at World Youth Day

Of course, Aggie Catholics is on the job showing us that you can count on Aggie Catholics to be everywhere. Hilarious. And very cool...

Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog

Joss Whedon's latest brilliant venture.

Go. Watch. It.


An online 3-part mini-series/musical. First 2 parts are up now, third premieres on Saturday. And it is only going to be up through Sunday. I've only watched the first act and it is hilarious.

I am going to either have to either pay the season pass fee at iTunes or ... I hear tell of a possible dvd. I must have it!

For more eloquent talk about his new favorite supervillain of the year, read Jeffrey Overstreet's praise of Joss Whedon and this venture.

Explicit Language Warning

I just watched Act II and there is an explicit word used, completely unnecessarily in my opinion ... the whole thing is still a hoot but anyone bothered by offensive language probably will want to skip this one.

Worth a Thousand Words

Paso Robles Vineyard by Belinda Del Pesco.
Click through the link for more gorgeous art.

Pedestrians in Chicago

You know, we wondered why so few drivers ever even glanced at Chicago pedestrians ... meaning us last week when we were attempting to use crosswalks ... much less slowed down for them OR stopped. A timely story shows it isn't the lack of laws but the same old story ... "Aha," we said when spotting this in our paper this morning (though just try to find it on the DMN website ... so here is the link to the AP story at Yahoo):
CHICAGO - So why did officer Grace Delgado try to cross the road? To remind motorists that they must stop whenever someone steps off the curb into a crosswalk.

In an unusual undercover operation, Delgado posed as a pedestrian on a busy street while fellow officers waited for drivers to barrel past her in violation of a law that requires them yield at crosswalks, even if there is no stop sign.

Chicago this year joined a growing number of big cities and small towns that are sending officers into traffic to make motorists pay more attention to pedestrians.

"People, they don't care," said Delgado, whose bright pink baseball hat and orange blouse made her especially tough to miss. "It's 'Get out of my way.' The whole mentality is 'Get out of my way.'"...

Thank you Dallas Library ... and Andrew!

Hannah's movie-loving pal, Andrew, exhorted Rose to check out the library's movie offerings. Exhorted is exactly the right word and he was so adamant that she actually did what he told her. She told me that they had a huge number of movies.

Now, I had seen people checking out movies but they were usually older ones and, therefore, I wrongly thought that the selection was not very good. Picking up Rocky and Jaws dvds for Rose, I suddenly thought of television series that we never had enough time to finish before our two days' rental was up.

Calloo, callay! My requests for Arrested Development (season 1) and Battlestar Galactica (season 2.5) are "active" and will soon be winging their way to my nearest library.

Excitement abounds!

(Yes, I realize I am easily pleased ... which I consider to be a good thing!)

A Prime Example of Why the Chinese are Renaming Items on Menus Before the Olympics

Although usually they are eliminating euphemisms. They might want to add some to this ... found at

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Chicago Tales: Getting There

We drove to Chicago.

It was 16 hours (ugh!) but infinitely cheaper than flying four people there and back. All four of us took turns driving so that helped out on the load.

Also, our family does well on car trips together. Because, you know, we like each other's company.

We all prepared mightily for the trip. Tom had a Gilbert & Sullivan track ready for us as we pulled out of the driveway (that will only make sense to people who love The Simpson's episode where they move to Terror Lake as much as we do). We completely cracked up over that surprise.

I had various podcasts ready ... to see which were hits, you can check out Forgotten Classics where they all get a mention in the latest episode.

Rose had various song mixes which she had prepared for her camping trip in west Texas. We chose ones with names like "Happy" or "Summer" or "Jazz & Blues" and very carefully avoided the "Alternative" mix CD.

Also I bought Barguments. It provided us with three solid hours of laughter and good-natured arguments. We got through about half of the book and probably will embark upon the rest when we return in August to move Rose to college.

Sample questions that provided a good deal of conversational fodder:
You're stuck in an elevator for two hours. Would you rather be alone or with a stranger? (Can you believe I was the only person who would rather have been alone?)

Name the five best bands of all time. (This sparked much conversation but none of us were so dedicated to only five bands that we could produce a definitive list.)

If you could collect royalties from any single invention, which would you choose? (I picked Post-It notes)
We discovered that none of us cares enough for alcohol to make any questions like "Choose whether to give up wine or chocolate for life" interesting at all. We easily surrendered alcohol.

Every book like this has a few tasteless questions but this did not have many and whoever was reading simply skipped them. Highly recommended.

One of the Best Descriptions I've Read of How Parenthood Pushes You

It turns out that life is nothing like I thought that it would be. Parenting is completely different as a matter of fact. Babies can be cute and fun for 1-3 minutes at a time, but for the most part they are land mines just waiting to be triggered. Sometimes I understand why a minor exorcism is involved in alot of the early sacraments that you get as a child. Parenting and being a husband has pushed me far past what I though that my boundaries once were. In fact, I've pretty much given up wondering where that line is and just go with it.
Tim echoes quite well how Tom and I felt when Hannah was a newborn. Go read it all. Throw in major colic and Hannah's tendency to never sleep more than 4 hours at a time ... and you've got our lives as new parents.

Being pushed like that is part of what made us the people we are today. Marriage started the pushing (and continues it on the way) and children turned it up a notch.

Do we love our kids and our family?

Undeniably yes.

We wouldn't have it any other way and feel genuine pity for people who don't have what we do. However, there is no denying that a lot of the time, "It don't come easy."

That is partly why I firmly believe that families are ordained by God as society's foundations. There is nowhere else that people can truly see honestly sacrificial, genuine love being lived day in and day out by ordinary people ... their parents, brothers, sisters, and hopefully ... themselves.

Worth a Thousand Words

Corner Bakery

Another from a great favorite of everyone's, Karin Jurick. Check out her site for the original as well as many other great paintings.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Proud Aunt Moment ...

My sister tells me that my niece, Alex, who will be a senior in high school:
Alex got a perfect 800 on the math of the SAT and 5’s on her AP Calculus and AP Physics tests.
Our not-too-mathy family was equally impressed by the fact that Alex took Calculus as a junior. Especially AP Calculus!

She's interested in being a chemical engineer and looking at The Colorado School of Mines or Texas A&M for college. You know which one I'm pulling for, right? I want that girl at my house for Thanksgiving!

Chicago Tales: Riding a Segway Can Be a Religious Experience

You can see that Mike, the tour guide, is pretty comfortable on his Segway ... he could ride it backwards while pointing out Chicago sights ... and while keeping an eye on his uncertain flock of tourists.

Most of the Happy Catholic family on tour, in front of Buckingham Fountain.

Me? Of course, I was there too ...


As for the "religious experience" part of this all. Taking this tour was my idea. I was so excited about riding a Segway.

Until I got to the tour office. And saw one.

And then saw the training video. Each mistake in which seemed to end in a broken arm. (On a computer model, but that was enough for me.)

Now logically I knew that the point of this video was to scare some sense into the 16-year-old boy who was part of our group. However, when did logic trump emotion of someone who is in mortal terror of falling over ... or running down a tourist ... or crashing under the wheels of a car?

Right. Never!

Once we were in the park for training, I was timidly on my Segway, practicing rolling forward (pressure on toes) and backward (pressure on heels). Internally (and perhaps externally as well) I was experiencing a bit of a freak-out. How was I going to do this for two hours?
A two hour tour,
A two hour tour ...
Luckily, right before we left, I had read this post by Jane about her guardian angel. More importantly, I then also read this post also by Jane and also about her guardian angel.

Go ahead ... or you can read them later. But do read them.

Those posts made me suddenly aware that I'd been taking my guardian angel for granted. G. and I have had some joking, friendly times but for some time I'd kind of forgotten that whole part of the angel-person relationship.

I used those posts to send me back into more awareness and building of a friendly give-and-take.

Which made it perfect for my Segway freak-out. Because suddenly I was getting a soothing stream of reminders just when I needed it. Things like, "Don't forget to bend your knees slightly." (Hey, that did make it so much easier).

Or, to share a bit more, a passing along of how proud God was of me for going out on a limb and trying something so risky, but so potentially fun ... that it was a "stretching" moment that I shouldn't turn away from.

Could I have been generating these things myself? Well, naturally, I could.

But somehow these snippets of conversation were of a nature that I'd come to recognize as being my constant companion, G. It made the trip twice as fun ... and infinitely more peaceful!

How did it end up?

I loved it!

Missed my Segway when we were back on foot, "Like chumps!" as Tom joked.

And was so happy to have stepped out and gotten all the new experiences I had from this situation ... on many levels.

Hildegarde von Bingen at Naxos

Hildegard von Bingen was a 12th century nun, composer, poet, mystic, scientist, linguist and naturalist.

This podcast is a brief introduction to her life and music.
You can read a bit about Hildegard here as well as listen to the streaming podcast about her life and with samples of her music.

Naxos has a great podcast which serves as an introduction to all sorts of classical music ... I have bought several CDs as a result.

Worth a Thousand Words

Past Meets Present, Mexico City

See the original photo at Zocalo de Mexican Folk Art and look around for more great art and interesting posts.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Gospel of Matthew: A Glimpse of Jesus' Joy

Matthew 11: 25-30

In chapter 11 Jesus makes the extraordinary statement about his relationship to the Father. Perhaps because this is difficult to really take in, I never have read it with any idea of how Jesus felt about this.
The gospels rarely describe Jesus' emotions. I understand this scene to be a glimpse of Jesus' joy--perhaps his greatest joy. He is filled with joy because of his intimate and loving relationship with God as his Father, and his joy overflows in an outburst of prayer. He is filled with joy because he has been able to make his Father known to ordinary women and men; he finds joy in sharing with others the joy of being a child of God.

For reflection: Where do I find joy? What aspect of my relationship with God gives me the greatest joy?

In Matthew's gospel, Jesus will not again speak so directly of his unique relationship with God. Jesus' words about his relationship with his Father are a seed that sprouts into a full-grown plant in the Gospel of John (see John 1:18; 3:35; 5:19-27; 7:28-29; 10:15; 14:9-11; 17:1-5, 25-26).
My review is here of Bringing the Gospel of Matthew to Life by George Martin.

Chicago Tales: Honey, I'm Hoooooome!

Ah, Chicago. How I loved it!

From the moment we alighted at the Shedd Aquarium I was drunk on architecture and still haven't quenched that thirst (what ... doesn't everyone go to the aquarium of a new city first thing? Well, they've never been on Harry Dresden's trail is all I can tell you ...).

This fellow was showboating for the crowd like the otters do ... he didn't mind his "captivity" a bit from what we could see.

The whole building was chock full of charming architectural details like this clock ...

... and this doorway.

Although Tom did have a nasty run-in with a vicious fish in the jungle section!

As for a few other basics ...
  • Air conditioning: Chicago doesn't understand it, although if you mention that fact they will wave a hand around at the dead, heavy, hot air in the room and say, "that is so true, although we have air conditioning." Pffft! The exception to this was mass transit. Ironic that to get cooled down in that town one has to get on a bus or the El.

  • Reading: I took four books and actually read three of them!

    • Graveyard for Lunatics : Another Tale of Two Cities by Ray Bradbury
      A mystery that shows Bradbury's complete love for both words and Hollywood culture of the golden era. Figured much of it out halfway through but loved it anyway because I just love Ray Bradbury's writing!

    • Precious Dragon by Liz Williams
      Another wonderful installment in William's series about Inspector Chen, his demon counterpart from Hell and the constant struggles between Heaven and Hell in this Asian-flavored universe.

    • The Accidental Pilgrim by David Moore
      The book I didn't finish but got about halfway through ... and I am afraid that I may have lost it somewhere along the way. A completely charming combination of bicycling travelogue and tracking of St. Columbanus's travels.

    • The No S Diet
      I first heard of this at Et Tu, Jen? I was intrigued by the idea of a diet book that used the actual word "gluttony" and liked the concept of taking things waaaay back to basics. "There are just three rules and one exception: No Snacks, No Sweets, No Seconds. Except (sometimes) on days that start with 'S'" I mean to say, when's the last time that you read a diet book that used the term Manichean ... yeah, that's what I thought. Never. Also very good is the accompanying podcast that addresses not only diet but exercise and breaking bad habits in general.
More to come about our venture northwards ...

Worth a Thousand Words

Juggling by Belinda Del Pesco
She's another favorite of readers round here ... click through on the link to see more of her beautiful work.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


For those asking for a picture of our fosterling. Even more adorable in person where you get the full effect of her bouncing, big personality as you watch her valiantly imitate the "big dogs" in whatever they do.

Friday, July 4, 2008

A Hometown 4th of July Parade

Yes, from the heart of Dallas ...

I pause in making Potato Salad, Barbecued Shrimp marinade (some olive oil, some Worcestershire, some Heinz chili sauce, garlic, salt, pepper, basil, etc) for shrimp which we will put on the barbie tonight ...

... to share some shots of the annual parade which had the theme of "Cartoons."

Cookie Monster ... this might have been our favorite float.

Mickie Mouse ... possibly the most creative use ever of a Volkswagon.

The Archies ... they were mugging their hearts out!

A heck of a clown car ... it had a driver in the front and the "back" so the wheels could go in different directions and it could go backward and forward in a most "organic" manner ... hilarious!

Superheroes ... of course!

Betsy Ross ... not a cartoon but very patriotic!

God Bless America, Land That I Love

Happy birthday, USA!


To those who are not Americans, I like the way that podcaster B.J. Harrison says it (as with so many other things he says):
I know that many of my listeners are not American, and to them I wish joy and freedom of the glorious land which they call home. How wonderful to have a day to celebrate independence. To me, independence proclaims our ability to choose right from wrong, and denotes a celebration for the right choices we make. These are the things that give us freedom. May we all rejoice in the freedoms we enjoy, and in the freedoms we create.
Here are 10 good ways to celebrate American freedom.
3) Walk around your house enjoying the lack of soldiers

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Does Anyone Else Have That Song from Wall-E Stuck in Their Head?

Ok, I know it is from Hello Dolly but it will forever more be Wall-E's song to me.

I have found myself humming it at odd moments ever since last Sunday ...

More Good Reading ...

Ahhh, Used Books ... 10 More Reasons to Love Them

Lifted from The View from the Old Lighthouse
Top Ten Reasons Why a Used Book Beats an eBook

10. You won’t short out your book if you spill something on it.

9. Pixels don’t have that same well-read feel.

8. If your kids step on your book, it won't cost hundreds to replace (usually).

7. Have you tried reading your laptop on the beach?

6. How about on public transportation?

5. The batteries won’t die in the middle of a chapter.

4. Trading eBooks isn’t as much fun.

3. You don't have to take it out of your carry-on for inspection.

2. Reading in the tub isn't life-threatening.

1. Who collects eBooks?

For all my Facebook Friends ...

... I have made my monthly visit and updated tons of stuff.

I just forget it's there, which is why Hannah laughs at me. She says that I am as connected as anyone she knows without Facebook. She's right. But the peer pressure of all those "friend" invitations got to me ...

So apologies for the late stuff and I still do wander in there every month or so.

This I Believe: "Napalm is very powerful but faith, forgiveness and love are much more powerful."

From "the girl in the picture" comes a moving and inspirational testimony at NPR's This I Believe. I listened yesterday and agree that they chose perfectly for a piece upon which we should meditate for the 4th of July.

Although the transcript is there, I encourage you to take 5 minutes to listen to Kim Phuc's soft voice telling her story. Also click through to see her smiling, happy face if nothing else.

Gospel of Matthew: Everyone Who Acknowledges Me

Matthew 10:26-33

Chapter 10 has Jesus' exhortation telling his followers not to be afraid. At the end of this section his comments suddenly change focus from God to himself ... and in that he reveals something more of himself to us.
32 Jesus adds a final reason for his disciples' carrying out the mission he gives them with confidence instead of fear. Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. Acknowledging Jesus before others broadly includes the disciples' public witness and more narrowly refers to their testimony before tribunals (10:17-18). Jesus speaks of his disciples acknowledging me: after his resurrection, the message his disciples will proclaim will center on Jesus more than on the coming of the kingdom (see Acts 2:36, for example). Jesus promises that those who acknowledge him to others he will acknowledge before his heavenly Father. Jesus will make his acknowledgment at the last judgment, when God will sort out good from evil. Jesus will claim as his own those who acknowledged that they belonged ot him. He adverts to his special standing with God, whom he speaks of as my heavenly Father. Jesus is not an ordinary defense witness but the beloved Son of the Father (3:17). Because Jesus will vouch for them at the last judgment, his disciples can proclaim him and his message without fear, despite whatever persecution they encounter.

For reflection: How have I acknowledged Jesus by my words? by my actions?
My review is here of Bringing the Gospel of Matthew to Life by George Martin.

Worth a Thousand Words

Door Ironwork at Casa Mila
From Barcelona Photoblog (y'all know how I love his photos, click through on the link to see more).

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

D'Accord? [Ok?]

Kids are the same the world round but I think the fact that this is in French makes it even more adorable ... a little girl and too much candy, via Melanie.

Too much candy from Capucha on Vimeo.

Superhero Highlight: Some Villains

Who do these superheroes, devised by Hannah and Jenny (more about that can be found here as well as the first description) fight? Ask and you shall receive!

Super Villains

The Jeweler
Strengths: The Jeweler is made completely out of diamonds, so he is sharp, and strong, and can blind people because he is so shiny.

Weaknesses: Because diamonds are the hardest substance, nothing can cut him but a diamond saw; however, a diamond saw is why he lost his hand years ago. Also, being made of diamonds can slow a man down

Backstory: The Jeweler was not always the villainous ne'er-do-well that we see before us today, he used to be a decent, honest, hard working man. That is, however, until one spring the prices of diamonds skyrocketed, and many grooms had no choice but to resort to the unthinkable. They tracked down the Jeweler, cut off his hand for their own personal uses, and left him for dead. After he was nursed back to health by a gypsy, The Jeweler decided that he could not forgive society for how they turned on him and became the most dreaded villain in his fair town.

Ultimate plot: To rebuild his hand to be the master key for all nuclear missile launch sites

Peasant Man
Strengths: Peasant man has the power of controlling rats and lighting torches in an instant.

Weaknesses: He cannot bear the touch of soap, and has an overwhelming desire to cultivate the land

Backstory: Peasant Man lived his life in poverty, always under the jurisdiction of someone else. He spent his days farming and cooking and cleaning for the Lords and Ladies until he decided that he could take no more. He froze himself in some ice so that he could be awakened in a more progressive age, only to find that he reverts to his old habits of inciting revolutions and farming for others.

Ultimate plot: To overthrow the government

Static Shock
Strengths: Static Shock can cultivate static like none other. He is forever shocking people, in the most annoying of ways.

Weaknesses: Because his sole power comes from the static electricity around us, he does not enjoy hairspray, due to its static-effects. He also cannot be near daffodils for obvious reasons.

Backstory: Static Shock was somewhat of an outcast throughout school. People were always afraid to get near him because he was just always shocking everyone, and no one wants a friend that is constantly hurting them. So, alone he was, until a young lady decided to take pity on him and keep him company. Static Shock thought it was true love, Veronica thought it was free food. Static Shock took it hard when Veronica said she just was not that into him, and immediately resorted to a life of crime.

Ultimate plot: To ruin Veronica’s prom picture by making her hair super frizzy.

Strengths: Airhead has the power to breathe thrice concentrated helium, which comes in handy when she can escape something by flying off in her self-blown balloon

Weaknesses: Airhead can sometimes be that stereotype of girls that we all hate, in the sense that her weaknesses are cute boys and large words. She also is not a fan of fire.

Backstory: People always wondered why Airhead’s voice was so high, but it wasn’t until she was helping set up for a carnival that her true power was discovered. She was helping blow up balloons, but rather than sink to the ground like everyone else’s did, hers rose higher and higher to the top of the ceiling, as if they were filled with helium. This may have explained some things, but it still did not keep the other children from laughing at her silly voice. Due to her humiliation, she sunk into the world of evil to escape her woes, and is now a conniving villain feared by all.

Ultimate plot: To kidnap a fashion designer by suspending her limo with weather balloons and make her design clothes for her.

Sonic Boom
Strength: Sonic Boom has the power to amplify speakers

Weaknesses: She cannot handle listening to easy listening, elevator muzak or NPR

Backstory: In her youth, Sonic Boom was a rebellious rabble rouser. She loved protests and awareness functions and the like. However, a lot of other people also enjoyed these things, and were a bit more assertive than she was, so she missed a lot of opportunities. Then one day, getting ready for a rally, the speaker she was messing with exploded, sending waves of electricity surging through her body. From that moment on, she had the power to amplify speakers to dangerous volumes if she so chose. So she realized that with her power, she would become the most influential mind in the protesting world.

Ultimate plot: To destroy free speech

The Bedtime Bandit
Strength: When the sun is down, The Bedtime Bandit has the power to alter what is written in a book.

Weaknesses: Whatever he changes, changes back to the original version at dawn, so it is all very short term. Also, he is allergic to paper, so he cannot actually touch the books.

Backstory: As a lad, his mother never read him stories at night. Instead, she had his older brother do the job; however, the older brother was mean and would read scary stories to The Bedtime Bandit. Fortunately, his older brother was not creative, so when a fairy godmother bestowed the power to change the written word upon The Bedtime Bandit, the brother would have to read whatever The Bedtime Bandit changed the text to, because he could not think of anything on his own. But now, the brother would read a nice story, then be quite a bully to his younger brother, leading him to a life of crime.

Ultimate plot: To brainwash children by rewriting their books

Gospel of Matthew: Struck with Awe

Matthew 9:1-8

There is so much that is eye opening in this book that I am going to simply pick my favorite piece from each chapter to share. After all, I have to leave y'all with things to discover and there is so very much in the entire book.

Chapter 9 opens with the people bringing Jesus a paralytic for healing, Jesus forgiving the man's sins, and with his chiding the scribes for saying that he was blaspheming. Very familiar and most of us know it well from a different telling when the man's friends lower him through the roof to Jesus.

Once again, the details are all important in helping us to really grasp fully what Matthew is communicating to us. And, once again, I never considered the bit that Martin brings up in "glorified God" discussion. Thought provoking and fabulous.
8 When the crowds saw this they were struck with awe. This is the first mention of crowds being present and witnessing what was happening. The Greek for were struck with awe can also be translated "became afraid." The people of Capernaum had already seen Jesus heal many people (8:14-17), so we can ponder why this particular healing aroused awe and fear. Its only unique feature was that it was done as a sign that Jesus had the authority to forgive sins. The crowd was struck with awe that Jesus had demonstrated that he had such authority; Jesus was a man who could forgive as God could forgive. Joseph had been told that Jesus would "save his people from their sins" (1:21), and the people of Capernaum had just witnessed a down payment.

Consequently they glorified God who had given such authority to human beings. They recognized that Jesus' authority to forgive sins came from God, for only God could forgive sins. They glorified God for sharing his authority with Jesus, bringing his forgiveness to earth (verse 6). Matthew writes that they glorified God for giving authority to forgive sins to human beings rather than simply to Jesus. Matthew's wording foreshadows Jesus' sharing his authority to forgive sins with his disciples and the church (see 16:19; 18:18; James 5:16). Matthew's first readers experienced forgiveness of sins through the church, and they could join in glorifying God for giving such authority to human beings.

For reflection: How have I experienced Jesus' forgiveness through the church? Where am I most in need of forgiveness?

The disciples had wondered about Jesus, "What sort of man is this?" (8:27), and more pieces of the answer are falling into place. Jesus not only has authority over disease (8:1-17), over the physical world (8:23-27), and over demons (8:28-34); he also sees into human hearts (verses 2, 4) and has the authority to forgive sins (verse 6).
My review is here of Bringing the Gospel of Matthew to Life by George Martin.

Worth a Thousand Words

Umber by Karin Jurick
I know there are lots of Karin Jurick fans out there ... click through on the link to see more of her art.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Superhero Highlight: Hunky McDreamboat

Continuing the stories of superheroes devised by Hannah and Jenny (more about that can be found here as well as the first description)

Hunky McDreamboat

Power: Superhuman suaveness, the ability to literally charm a person off their feet

Backstory: Once mean, course, and unrefined, he met a young lady (a gorgeous young lady at that) who loved to read and lived in a small, provincial town. Unable to win her with his beastly ways, his talking candlestick and dresser referred him to charm school. As an educated man, he quickly mastereHunkyd the art of charm, got his masters, with a minor in urbane, witty conversation, and went on to receive a PhD in debonairity. Upon his graduation, he began to abuse his powers, charming salesladies in to giving him several free samples . . . of EVERYTHING! However, one day he chanced upon his true love again, only this time she was squarely in harm’s way, being held up by a dastardly vixen. Hunky McDreamboat came to the rescue, using his charm to disarm the vamp. Ever since that day, Hunky McDreamboat has used his powers for good. Also, he totally got the girl.

Cover: Mild-mannered male model (and a handsome male model at that)

Cover name: Max Maxwell

Introduction to partner: One day, Hunky McDreamboat awoke in a panic to the sound of the garbage truck driving away. Realizing he had forgotten to put out the garbage the night before, he jumped out of bed, with immaculate hair and no morning breath of which to speak. He grabbed the garbage can with his meticulously manicured hands and dashed handsomely out the door. He ran after the truck, sweat glistening on his forehead and well-toned bare chest, causing much female commotion, and many a swoon, from the houses along the alley. As Hunky McDreamboat was (and still is) in fabulous shape, he quickly overtook the garbage truck. The garbageman (and a handsome garbageman at that), none other than . . . The Drossinator, saw Hunky McDreamboat’s struggle and effortlessly lifted the garbage can into the truck with his mind. After discovering each other’s powers, and in the interest of avoiding another similar situation, they formed an alliance of righteousness, and have been fighting crime together ever since.

Archnemesis: Fabio


Next up: some super villains!

Worth a Thousand Words

Daffodil from Hey Jules
... click through the link to see more of her beautiful photos.