Saturday, January 30, 2010

Payton Is a Genius ... I've Always Said So

So is Christopher Guess, of course, Oh, and the U.S. Census Bureau (or whatever they're named). Simply brilliant.

Which reminds me that I read an interesting piece from The Simple Dollar the other day about what a great part time job opportunity it is to be a census worker. Take a look and if you know anyone who needs work, you might want to send them the link.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

We did tune in, by accident, during the State of the Union address

I'd forgotten it was on.

It was during the two minutes where the president was saying, "Dammit, Jim, I can't do this by myself! I'm a president, not a miracle worker!"

Although he actually sounded a bit more whiny, more like Scotty sayin', "I cannae do it, Cap'n. The engines, they will nae hold!"

And he said nothing at all about the iPad.

We went on with our original viewing plan ... Futurama.

In which Dr. Scott reports and we experience a completely new supernatural event.

At Forgotten Classics, of course! Where we also learn about the terrible case of Salmon and Dusk. Rated PG for perfect ghostliness!

The Stories So Far: Some Books and a Show!

Some quick looks at the books I've read this year ... (you can see my current reading in the Goodreads link in the sidebar).
  • High Spirits by Robertson Davies
    Can't remember where I saw this recommended but these are extremely enjoyable humorous takes on the classic English "Christmas Eve" tellings of subsequent experiences by the first Master of Massey College. Every year he experiences either a ghostly visitation or some other supernatural adventure which luckily happens in time for him to tell it on Christmas Eve. Funny without being over the top. I will probably have to investigate this author's other works after this. (#4-2010)
  • The Night's Dark Shade: A Novel of the Cathars by Elena Maria Vidal (review copy)
    A spunky heroine, the Cathar heresy, and some swashes being buckled.  I liked this book quite a lot. Vidal managed to combine romance without immodesty, insight into how a truly Catholic girl would have responded to suddenly being confronted by a heresy, and a feel for life back in those long ago times. I especially liked the heroine's confusion over the many similarities of the Cathar heresy and true Catholicism. It is that same confusion that often hits us today when something is not quite right about the philosophy someone is espousing but we can't quite pin it down.

    However, this book also felt strangely incomplete in some way which I have pondered a lot, considering I enjoyed the book so much.  It finally occurred to me that this book was like a slice taken from a larger one and we weren't told enough of the whole story. This "snapshot" was so good that we want to know more about the heroine's time in the convent, more about her marriage without having just bits given to us. For reference to any who would like to know what came to mind when thinking of fully satisfying book, I give you: historical fiction-Samuel Shellabarger; romance/mystery-Jane Eyre, Mary Stewart, Georgette Heyer; overall good fiction-Rumer Godden.  Also, the typesetting was gigantic. The book could easily have been 100 normal paperback pages if it had been set in a more normal size. Oh, the pain. However, despite all those things, I still liked it.

    Recommended for those who like a pure romance, who want to know more about the Cathar heresy, and who like historical fiction. #6
  • Praying the Mass: The Prayers of the People by Jeffry Pinyan
    Began reading this for a projected project to go in our bulletin per our priest's desire to begin education about the new liturgical translations. Enjoyed it quite well, but the introduction ... Heavens to Betsy, here is the reason people have editors. As far as I can tell this book is self-published and it is good. It is vouched for by the diocese of Metuchen (NJ), but I don't see a professional publisher mentioned which means no professional editor either. The intro is so deep it almost made me skip the entire book, the rest of which is NOT written at that level. Thank goodness. It is not just about the new translation, although I highly recommend it to those who are interested in the reasons for the changes. Pinyan goes deeply into how each part of the Mass is a prayer and that was really enlightening. Highly recommended. #8
  • Space Prison by Tom Godwin
    I listened to the SciPodBooks reading of this. In many ways this is a unique science fiction book, based largely around a survival story. After pirates hijack an Earth space ship, they dump the "non essential" passengers on a planet on which it seems impossible to survive. The thought of one day attracting and overcoming the pirates keeps the survivors striving to overcome their hostile environment. An absorbing story of several generations and two centuries that is nevertheless fast-paced and interesting. #5
  • The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
    How did this author do it? A story about an 11-year-old detective that is a unique blend of Sherlock Holmes, eccentric English country house murder mystery, and Nancy Drew. And it works. Fascinating and wonderful. I say that even though I pegged the murderer the first time there was an appearance. The discovery of why and how and who was entirely enjoyable despite that. (#3)
  • The Club of Queer Trades by G.K. Chesterton
    At the beginning of the 20th century, in detective fiction there was Sherlock Holmes and that was all. There were other fictional detectives, to be sure, but they were only bad imitations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous consulting detective. The sleuths offered by other writers would try to outdo Holmes in eccentricity and in solving crimes that were evermore contrived and convoluted.

    But in 1905 a book of mysteries came along that finally managed to turn the Sherlock Holmes idea on its head. The book was The Club of Queer Trades by G.K. Chesterton. His detective, Rupert Grant, is a Sherlock Holmes-like private eye who investigates crimes and chases crooks with great self-assuredness in his powers of deduction. But he is always wrong. The hero of these stories is not Rupert, but his older brother, Basil Grant, a retired judge. In each case, Basil proves to Rupert hat there has been no crime and no crooks.

    Read the entire lecture on this book, of which the above which has been an excerpt, here. This book was a delight from beginning to end, and I'm not really a G.K. Chesterton fan. I listened to the Librivox recording which was wonderfully read by David Barnes. #7.
  • Forever Odd by Dean Koontz
    A rereading of this book, prompted by the fact that I misplaced Hyperion and needed some fiction for bedtime. Perhaps should have been called MacGyver Odd. Odd tracks down a strange group of villains who are obsessed with the supernatural and have kidnapped a friend of his in order to make Odd show them ghosts. Although Odd can see ghosts he can't make them manifest to others so this is something of a problem. Practically the entire book takes place in an isolated, burned out casino and Odd spends the entire book figuring out ways to outwit them and rescue his friend. Rereading this made me notice the many small points about faith that Koontz muses about and that added value to the already enjoyable story. #9
And now for the show!

District Nine
Most people have probably heard the premise of this movie, which I found fascinating. A huge alien ship suddenly shows up over Johannesburg, South Africa but nothing happens. When the people finally muster the nerve to investigate they find that the aliens aboard are sick and dying because they are simply workers who have been left to die when their leaders ran away. The aliens, called "prawn" are housed in a government camp (District Nine) which soon deteriorates to a ghetto. Shot to look like a documentary, the movie takes place many years later, following a middle manager who has been promoted to lead the effort to move the aliens to a new camp, District Ten, further away from the city. Everyone being interviewed keeps mentioning "before the event" and "before things went wrong" so we are prepared for things to go downhill in some way for the poor fellow. However, I never would have predicted how this manager is caught up in the storyline and the discoveries of the movie.

It is obviously a movie about racism and bigotry, about how we treat the "other," and how the "other" is not as different from us as we would like to think. However, I was very interested by the types of details that were included. For example, the humans and aliens couldn't speak each other's languages but the could definitely understand each other. As we watch this hapless fellow I began to dislike him more and more which was a very odd feeling to have about the movie's protagonist. (I'm trying to write this without giving much away...) However, Hannah said that she found it interesting because she thought that his actions were actually one of the most realistic things about the movie ... that he was acting as a normal human would when caught up in events that were far beyond him. This was an intriguing thought for me. The more I thought about it, the more I saw her point and appreciated the story telling from this point of view. The protagonist is much more of an "everyman" than the usual so-called type we see. He is not too smart, he is something of a bully because he doesn't even know enough to see a larger perspective on his actions, and he is self absorbed ... all somehow in that hapless, nervous way which helps disarm his least likable characteristics. However, he has a true devotion to his wife and he does learn a larger way of seeing the world, both of which lead to his redemption.

I did feel there was a misguided bit of the movie toward the end, an attempt to meld sci-fi action with the rest of the story. However, it did no great harm and overall this is a very good film. Tom hasn't seen it yet and I look forward to viewing it again sometime soon with him.

      Wednesday, January 27, 2010

      iPad? Really?

      (Insert joke here about the name.)

      Saturday Night Live's gonna have a field day with that. What were they thinking? Maybe none of them are women. Or had sisters. Or are married. Or ever got pummeled with one too many tv ads for certain women's products.

      Tuesday, January 26, 2010

      Catholic Conversion Stories R Us

      George at Convert Journal had a great idea. He'd read lots of fascinating conversion stories and wanted a good way to share them and point to people's blogs. The result? This handy-dandy chart. Take a look around and get inspired. I know that I did.

      While you're there also take a look at George's personal blog. It is inspiring as well.

      The Fourth Commandment

      Requested by at least a couple of people, written for our parish bulletin. At loooong last I have had the time and our bulletin has had the room for the series to begin again.
      Living our faith in the real world
      The Fourth Commandment:
      Honor your father and mother.
      The first three Commandments are about honoring God and understanding ourselves in relationship to and with Him. The last seven commandments are about honoring other people and understanding ourselves in relationship to and with them. It is here that God instructs us in what Jesus later summed up so perfectly in John 13:34: “Love one another even as I have loved you.” It makes sense, therefore, that the first of these commandments would begin with our relationship with the people who brought us into the world and taught us to understand it – our parents.

      At its most basic, this commandment boils down to two terms that are key to Christian living but tend to challenge Americans greatly, authority and obedience. If we obey our parents, then we are accepting their authority over our wishes in a way that may not always be agreeable. We may be allowing them to make decisions we would rather make for ourselves and feel that they are not qualified to make. Certainly, obeying or even respecting a parent may be irksome no matter what the age. Our first reaction is often rebellion.

      It is here we may practice in real life what we often merely give lip service to in our relationship with God. We are offered the opportunity to respect, love, and trust those other people in our lives so much that we relinquish control. At all ages this encourages us to look past the immediate possible annoyance to a greater good, whether that greater good is considering unsolicited advice or something as simple as taking out the trash. In turn, this may help us to reflect upon our relationship with God through those very practices. Do we trust His love and care for us even when our lives are taking turns that we do not understand or, often, appreciate?

      Church teachings on this subject have considered such larger issues as citizens’ duty to civil authority and the family as the foundation of society. These too have their place in our meditations, as we see in the examination of conscience below. However, at the heart of this commandment we see the fundamental call of love, both of God’s love for us and our expression of that love as we interact with each other in our families.

      It can be helpful to examine our consciences in light of this consideration. The examination below is offered in that spirit. 

      Examination of Conscience**: 4th Commandment
      •    Do I obey and respect my parents or legitimate superiors?
      •    Do I give good religious example to my family?
      •    Do I give my children proper food, clothing, shelter, education, discipline and care?
      •    Do I actively take an interest in the religious education and formation of my children?
      •    Do I educate myself on the true teachings of the Church?
      •    Do I pray with and for my children?
      •    Do I cause tension and fights in my family?
      •    Do I care for my aged and infirm relatives?
      •    Do I give a full day’s work for a full day’s pay?
      •    Do I give a fair wage to my employees?
      •    Do I live in humble obedience to those who legitimately exercise authority over me?

      *    Deut 5:16; Mk 7:10
      ** An examination of conscience is not intended to be a checklist used only in preparation for the sacrament of reconciliation. The purpose is to help souls know what actions or attitudes are sinful and realize the gravity of committing them. This may help in avoidance or in turning away from sin and towards God and joy.

      There’s a pattern in these Commandments of setting things apart so that their holiness will be perceived.  Every day is holy, but the Sabbath is set apart so that the holiness of time can be experienced. Every human being is worthy of honor, but the conscious discipline of honor is learned from this setting apart of the mother and father, who usually labor and are heavy-laden, and may be cranky or stingy or ignorant or overbearing.  Believe me, I know this can be a hard Commandment to keep.  But the rewards of obedience are great, because at the root of real honor is always the sense of the sacredness of the person who is its object.
      Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

      … God designed these human relationships to be a dance between equals playing different roles, not a power struggle between unequals for the same “top” role. It is to be like the Trinity. When God the Son became a man, he revealed to us the Trinitiarian nature of God as a love relationship among three equal Persons who are nevertheless related on an order of authority and obedience. The Son “obeys” the Father in all things. He thus radically changed our understanding of both authority and obedience and corrected our natural misunderstanding. This misunderstanding is to confuse authority with power; and obedience with inferiority, weakness, or servility. The misunderstanding comes from using the world’s point of view instead of God’s. The world treasures power; God treasures goodness. Authority in the biblical sense is not a power word but a goodness word. It means right, not might.
      Catholic Christianity by Peter Kreeft

      Monday, January 25, 2010

      It suddenly occurred to me that "right" and "left" sock patterns means I'll have to pay attention to which foot I'm putting my socks on.

      Guess what?

      No way.

      I have enough trouble just getting dressed in the morning without worrying about which lace pattern on the anklet "faces" the other one.

      So the pattern for the "carnation" yarn in the Knit Picks booklet just got tons easier. Guess which pattern I'm not making? Whichever foot has the "sssk" part. (You know, the one I picked to begin with, naturally.) Yes, knitters, a triple slip and then knitting of  three stitches together. I'm tellin' ya, I was looking for a way to get out of that one. It is tortuous getting the left needle through the three stitches after slipping in order to knit them together.


      And I've got the finger-stabbing pain to prove it.

      So "other foot" lace pattern, here I come! (By the way, that "toe up" thing is not too bad so far.)

      Laissez les bon temps rouler ...

      That was a supremely satisfying ending to the Vikings-Saints game last night.

      Not only did I have the American's love of seeing the underdog do well but I also had the pleasure of seeing Brett Favre relive history as he made a fatal mistake at the end of last night's game. (Not that I hold a grudge or anything ...)

      Not that I have anything against the Colts but I am just so pleased that the Saints finally get their trip to the Super Bowl after being such a losing team for so long.

      Woohoo! Go Saints!

      Things I've Learned from Flannery O'Connor ... and "The Abbess of Andalusia"

      Joy in the face of suffering might seem impossible to achieve, but to avoid gloominess Flannery relied on God's grace -- a grace, she told one correspondent, that came through the sacraments. Writing to T.R. Spivey, a Protestant, she acknowledged that many things that bring Catholics grace -- going to Mass, regular fasting -- are done out of obligation, or become "merely habit." However, she believed that it was better to "be held to the Church by habit than not to be held at all." What's more, she believed that by prescribing such habitual obligations, the Church showed itself to be "mighty realistic" about human nature, since obligations provide needed structure. They also bring opportunities for grace.

      Flannery believed there was something we can do to make ourselves more receptive to God's free gift of grace: "You have to practice self-denial," she told Spivey. For her that meant immersing herself in writing: "I never completely forget myself except when I am writing," she wrote to Hester. She also practiced self-denial by giving money to charity rather than spending it on herself. ...
      This is a long overdue review which was delayed only by the holidays and my subsequent busy schedule, not by my enthusiasm for the work itself (generously provided by Tan for my review).

      Lorraine Murray has done a splendid job of giving us a view of Flannery O'Connor which skillfully reveals the author's spiritual journey through her writing and life. Most of us are at least vaguely aware that O'Connor wrote what is often called Southern gothic stories. As such, her stories often feature the uncomfortable and grotesque, although O'Connor insisted that her stories always have a very Catholic core.

      I must admit that I am one of the many who has merely dipped my toe into O'Connor's work and after finding it both difficult and uncomfortable had determined to let it strictly alone. However, this book has changed my mind. Murray does enough explication of various stories as she traces O'Connor's career that I was left interested despite myself in exploring her stories again. Believe me, this is no small accomplishment.

      I also was left feeling that Flannery O'Connor and I have much more in common than I ever would have dreamed.
      • Flannery delighted in the ridiculous and her descriptions of the priest's St. Patrick day decorations left me feeling that we surely would have agreed on our amusement and dismay over much of the "dumbed down" architecture, art, music, and liturgy that is encountered in the Church today.
      • She sparred with her mother regularly while still loving and appreciating her. This is not my situation with my mother at all as we generally agree on many things, but it certainly is helpful to keep in mind when I encounter others who I really like but who sometimes drive me to distraction nonetheless.
      • Her generosity to other writers is well chronicled. Lately I have had the honor to be asked for advice in a similar way by those I do not know at all. When I thought despairingly of my busy schedule, I remembered Flannery whose schedule was limited by her physical frailty but never failed to give her best advice and support to others. Thus I attempt to do likewise.
      • Flannery seems to have had the same duality of feeling that I do about such places as Lourdes. While not overly caring about pilgrimages and steadfastly resisting a well meaning benefactor's donation of a trip to Lourdes, she finally went, viewing the entire thing as a sacrifice. That would have been me to a T. As she wrote, "It is obvious to me that faith has to be shown, acted out."
      • She never succumbed to self-pity but always presented things with a light-hearted approach. What a great example she is. This is not my tendency unfortunately. However, may I do likewise, Lord hear my prayer.
      • A disciplined schedule to accomplish is necessary if you are serious about achieving something. Here I am thinking of Flannery's set time for writing each morning, at a desk that faced a white wall so there were no distractions. That's a lesson that many of us in this twittering, facebooking, emailing, IMing world would do well to remember.
      • There is a pure enjoyment that comes to us from nature and the creatures in it which can't be found elsewhere. Flannery's love of her peacocks, chickens, mules, and other animals around the farm is a tonic, especially in a society where we are beginning to hear about Vitamin D deficiencies becoming widespread since we don't get outside enough.
      • Hand in hand with nature went Flannery's love of her friends as evidenced through the of letters she wrote and received. I am working my way very slowly through The Habit of Being which is a chronological collection of her correspondence. Her personality shines through with a great sense of humor. We can't be isolated. We need community, friends, family to be complete.
       The only thing I was missing in this book was the recommendation of a book that would help in tapping into O'Connor's stories, especially for those of us who are uninitiated into the world of critical reading and symbolism that they seem to require. However, Murray does use some key stories (with spoilers) to make points about O'Connor's spirituality and perhaps that is guide enough.

      Highly recommended.

      For another excerpt and the realization it gave, please click through.

      Friday, January 22, 2010

      In which I get suckered into learning something new ... toe up sock knitting

      It always has to be "suckered" and that's something I regret. But, there you go ... it's how I roll (or resist rolling, now that I think of it).

      I am finally back to working on Rose's afghan which I began ... oh, only two years ago. Yes, knitting is not my passion. It is definitely my hobby. Also, I somehow lost about half of the afghan squares I knit which set me back in the timeline a considerable amount. And I detoured to make about five Baby Bobbi Bears. Not that I flit from project to project or anything...

      However, then I saw this adorable Mary Jane style anklet and was suckered into buying the kit. What a deal! Materials and patterns for seven different anklet patterns for only about $30. Interesting looking knitting, small enough to carry around, and fairly quick projects. Though at the rate that I knit I bet I can drag it out for a while.

      So far, so good.

      The kit arrived yesterday and as I looked through the pattern book I realized with a sinking feeling that these patterns were all ... toe up! I have avoided the toe up sock just because I am perfectly happy with the regular top down sock. I don't know what's wrong with all the people who are constantly complaining that they run out of yarn for the second sock they are knitting? Do they not read patterns? Do they not know how much yarn is in their possession? A careful planner by nature, this has never been a problem for me.

      The main mystery of how to cast on in such a way that there isn't a hole in the toe was not (I repeat, NOT) clarified for me in the least by the kit which was written blithely as if we all knit toe up socks every day and can cast on in our sleep. All those charts and not a single illustration of the casting on. Really? Don't y'all at Knit Picks have at least one novice you can shove the instructions at to see how they come across? (I won't even get into the general unclarity of the overall review of the socks. That's beside the point and with much back-and-forth reading I did finally pick that up.)

      Giving credit where credit is due, however, I am extremely happy to give extra points for the fact that the lace instructions are both charted and written out line by line. Thank you! I hate those damned charts. Yes. I said damned and I meant it. I don't mind if other people need them but I resent the fact that so many pattern writers cavalierly drop written instructions if a chart is present. I relate to the written word, obviously. So Knit Picks regains the points it lost.

      Especially since a quick on-line search sent me to Denise's Toe-Up Socks lesson one. Thank you Denise! Those cast-on illustrations are priceless and I now have an understanding of how there can be no hole in the toe. Quite ingenious, I must say.

      Thursday, January 21, 2010

      January 22 - Day of Penance and Prayer for Life

      Per the U.S. Bishops. I was reminded of this by Eric Sammons who will be marching for life tomorrow with his children.
      In all the dioceses of the United States of America, January 22 (or January 23, when January 22 falls on a Sunday) shall be observed as a particular day of penance for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion, and of prayer for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life. The Mass "For Peace and Justice" (no. 22 of the "Masses for Various Needs") should be celebrated with violet vestments as an appropriate liturgical observance for this day.
      General Instruction of the Roman Missal, no. 373

      If the Saints Wrote Conversation Hearts ...

      You might get this from Padre Pio for Valentine's Day ...

      See lots more at Acts of the Apostasy. Be sure to check the comments box for some very clever reader contributions as well. Via, that master of humor himself, The Curt Jester.

      Tuesday, January 19, 2010

      I suppose it's to Pat Robertson's credit that he just doesn't understand how deals with the Devil work

      The Devil sets him straight (speaking through the Minneapolis-Star Tribune).
      ... The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished. Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on earth -- glamour, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle. Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake. Haven't you seen "Crossroads"? Or "Damn Yankees"? ...

      Read the whole thing at the link above. Via New Advent who appreciates a good sense of humor.

      This is Where We Live

      A promotional film 4th Estate Publishers' 25th Anniversary that was produced in stop-motion over 3 weeks in Autumn 2008. Found at lines and colors where they describe it perfectly:
      It starts, aptly enough, with a bit of flip book style animation in the pages of a book, and transitions nicely into a walk through the the book world; including nicely atmospheric “night” scenes, in which the darker side of things is displayed.

      Charming, imaginative and beautifully done.
      It is only 2-3 minutes long so do take a look. Especially pay attention to some of the book covers as time changes from day to night. So clever.

      This Is Where We Live from 4th Estate on Vimeo.

      The More You Try to Avoid Suffering, the More You Suffer

      As is well known to regular visitors here, I have never been able to get through The Seven Story Mountain, Thomas Merton's autobiography. However, I owe a debt of thanks to Jim Campanella at Uvula Audio. He is departing from his regular science fiction, P.G. Wodehouse, and other old classics to read for us this book on his podcast (podcast RSS here). It has made a world of difference and I find myself enjoying it very much, as well as getting good points to ponder about spiritual living.

      A few of these lines he wrote about suffering are fairly well represented on the internet as I look about, but not in sufficient length, or so it seems to me. His point is exactly what I saw my father and mother suffer over the last year or two as they struggled with various ailments and problems, but without any faith. Merton wrote this in response to remembering his father's death from cancer in the 1920s.
      What could I make of so much suffering? There was no way for me, or for anyone in the family, to get anything out of it. It was a raw wound for which there was no adequate relief. You had to take it, like an animal. We were in the condition of most of the world, the condition of men without faith in the presence of war, disease, pain, starvation, suffering, plague, bombardment, death. You just had to take it, like a dumb animal. Try to avoid it if you could. But you must eventually reach the point where you can’t avoid it any more. Take it. Try to stupefy yourself, if you like, so that it won’t hurt so much. But you will always have to take some of it. And it will all devour you in the end.

      Indeed the truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most: and his suffering comes to him from things so little and so trivial that one can say that it is no longer objective at all. It is his own existence, his own being that is at once the source of his pain, and his very existence and consciousness is his greatest torture. This is another of the great perversions by which the devil uses our philosophies to turn our whole nature inside out, and eviscerate all our capacities for good, turning them against ourselves.
      As many Catholics will tell you, one of the things they love and appreciate about our great faith is that capacity to use suffering, to not let it go to waste by offering it up. The best explanation I have seen for this lately comes from Praying the Mass: A Guide to the New English Translation of the Mass by Jeffrey Pinyan (which I can recommend, by the way, though I am not quite done with it).

      This is part of Pinyan's commentary upon the part of the Mass where the priest prays that the sacrifice being offered will be accepted by God.
      The bread and wine (and afterwards, the Eucharist) and ourselves are united as one at the hands of the priest. The bread and wine which the priest holds during the words of consecration represent us, since they represent the fruits of our labor. Then, as the priest offers the Eucharist to God, we join our very lives -- all of our worries, cares, sufferings, and prayers -- to Christ in the Eucharist. It is only by joining ourselves to Christ, the perfect sacrifice, that the contribution of our living, spiritual sacrifice can be truly acceptable to the Father. (cf. Rom. 12:1, 1 Pet. 2:5)

      Because Christ is both priest and victim, our share in His priesthood (exercised in intercessory prayer, as well as in this offering of ourselves as living sacrifices of praise) must also include a share in His victimhood. This does not mean that we should expect to undergo a persecution and death as grievous as His, but we should unite the suffering we encounter in our lives to the suffering that Christ endured for our sake. The words of St. Paul to the Colossians are particularly meaningful in this regard: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church." (Col. 1:24) St. Paul is not saying that Christ's sufferings were imperfect or incomplete, but that our participation in Christ's sufferings has yet to be fulfilled; in St. Paul's suffering for the sake of the Church, he is completing his participation in Christ's life, which he began in his baptism.
      We do not seek suffering, of course, but when it comes and we offer it up at least it does not go to waste. For me, that is a thought that helps a great deal when suffering comes my way, as it inevitably does in life.

      Of course, there is another great benefit which Merton goes on to mention. He says that his father was refined and purified by the suffering he experienced until he became saintly. Which brings me to Peter Cameron's commentary in this month's Magnificat. This hit me and then hits me again as I contemplate all the above:
      The difficult circumstances of our lives are not just things to put up with. We are deluded if we think that peace and contentment will come if we can just figure out how to "improve" our circumstances once and for all. God deploys the problematic circumstances of our life to awaken us, challenge us, educate us. For the way that we deal with our circumstances reveals to us and to the world just who Jesus Christ is for us. We think that, when something goes wrong in our life, our predicament is outside the all-embracing purpose and meaning of life. But God intends such circumstances to move us to discover this meaning.
      This is why I also ask God to show me the good that will come out of the bad I am experiencing. And you know what? It's a prayer He answers more than you'd think.

      Monday, January 18, 2010

      More on the March for Life

      Here is Heather's piece about the March.

      She also pointed me toward Fallible Blogma's piece which contains a conversation with a protester against the march and many great photos.

      I meant to mention in my previous post that Tom and I walked from the DART stop to the cathedral with a lovely lady who deemed herself "a token evangelical." Not so. I met PLENTY of evangelicals ... none of them token, by the way. This lady, whose name I cannot remember (so sorry!) was a representative of Life Chain, which I hadn't heard of before. She introduced me to many of the Life Chain people and it seemed both a worthy cause and a truly ecumenical group.

      Announcement: Self Publishing? Or Using a Small Publisher? I Beg of You ...

      For love of all that is holy ... or better yet, for love of the eye of your readers ... please don't just use whatever default Word has on when you have begun typing.

      Print out your page and compare it to some of your favorite novels, whether old or new, that are from regular publishers. Note that the type is not suitable for someone who is over 80 years old. Also note that a drop cap does not add leading (the space between the lines) that is not obvious in the rest of the paragraph. Additionally, note that the last line of the chapter also has the same leading (not more) as the rest of the book.

      Please spare us. It not only looks amateurish but leads one to suspect that the quantity of pages is of more value to the writer than the quality of the writing ... which will show its quality even when the type is a suitably small size to match a well typeset book.

      I speak not only for myself, who is admittedly super-sensitive to this as I do graphic layout for a living, but for those who ask why they must hold a book at full arm's length so the type does not overwhelm them on the page. It takes just a little time to make a book as lovely to look at as the words are delightful to read (at least one hopes that the words are delightful to read).

      That is all. You may return to your previous activities.

      Aha! Got Him with the Legal Mumbo Jumbo

      Out of the mouths of babes…

      I was recently discussing today’s Gospel reading, The Wedding Feast at Cana, with a friend. I asked why it was that Jesus did Mary’s bidding, though He believed His time had not yet come. Nine year old Elizabeth piped up without hesitation, “Because Mary was His Mother and even God has to obey His own Commandments. He had to honor His mother.”

      Case closed.

      The Spirit is strong with that little one. This isn’t the first time she has proven capable of confounding the Pontifical Biblical Commission. Her point is well made.

      Jesus came to show us that it was possible to perfect ourselves according to His law. That perfection calls for submission to authority. Though He was God who took on human flesh, he chose Mary as His mother and was obliged to not merely obey her, but to be true to Himself in His own Words and honor her. She didn’t command Him, pull rank. She made her wishes known. That was enough. In honoring Mary, Jesus showed His complete obedience to His mother, as well as His Father in Heaven. It was through such obedience that He perfected Himself in His human nature.
      This is just the beginning of a thoughtful meditation on the Gospel reading from yesterday from Coming Home. Go read it all.

      $10 Wine Hall of Fame

      For those who were intrigued by my review of The Wine Trials 2010 which focuses on inexpensive but delicious wines ... my friend Web has a heads-up to The Wine Curmudgeon's 2010 $10 Hall of Fame. Looks intriguing.

      Sunday, January 17, 2010

      Saturday, January 16, 2010

      Back from the Pro-Life March

      This is the first year we have just done the March and I must say that it left us feeling much more energetic than the previous years when we have come to the Mass also. (That wasn't the goal, simply a nice side effect.)

      Although rain was predicted, the day turned into a bright, sunny one. People were handing out free signs.

      It was really wonderful to see so many people from our parish scattered throughout the crowd. It seemed that everywhere I turned there was another friend coming up to give a hug. As well, we connected with Heather which was a delight. She marched with us which was a wonderful continuation of our tradition (of three years?). We looked for Mark Windsor, the founder of this tradition, but the crowd was so large that we never saw him.

      On the way I fell into conversation with a wonderful woman, Terry Jenkins, from a nearby parish when I heard her in conversation about the times she and her husband had been arrested for pro-life protesting. Now, when you look over and a lovely, distinguished lady of 82 is saying these things, you simply must join in the conversation! At least, y'all know well enough that I had to!

      It turns out that Terry was a veteran pro-life protester dating from the very first March held in Dallas. "There were just enough people here to fill a small parking lot," she told me. "That's the good thing about living a long life. You get to see the fruit." Beaming she gestured at the big crowd around us, "and this is fruit!"

      We had a really interesting conversation the entire time and I am so glad I looked over at the smiling lady in the bright red coat today.

      As well, the schedule had been slightly rearranged from previous years so that all the talks were held outside the Federal courthouse. This was a big improvement since we'd never been able to hear the ones held outside the cathedral in previous years.  They were very inspirational and renewed my determination for another year of First Friday Fasting and Prayer for an End to Abortion.

      So ... who's with me? Regular readers know the drill, but there's no harm at looking at the familiar reminder to get my fasting/prayer game on for another year.

      A twelve-week old fetus baby in the womb.*
      It all began here in Dallas -- in our home town, where we raise our families, where we go to church, where we live, and love, and learn, and work.

      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 year's commitment will culminate at the annual Dallas March for Life in January of 2009, where we will join our bishop and the faithful of this city in marching to the courthouse where Roe was originally argued.
      In addition to unborn babies and their families, I will be including all those who work to end abortion, as well as the souls of those who work for abortion in my intentions. Also included will be solid catechesis for all Catholics as that is a key issue to most of the misunderstandings on both this issue and others in the secular world.

      For your reading and information, here is an excellent article Why Conception? by Michael from The Deeps of Time. Highly recommended.

      *I used to be among those who believed the secular propaganda that a 12-week-old baby was just "a blob of cells." Even after coming to the truth, I never knew just how vividly untrue that was until seeing this image, via Father Dwight Longenecker, who points out that 89% of abortions take place in the first twelve weeks. No wonder pro-abortion activists protest ultrasounds for mothers who are seeking counseling. This is unmistakably a baby.

      Friday, January 15, 2010

      Ohhhh noooo ... NOW it's ON!

      Soooo, now the true colors are showing.

      Ironic Catholic is ready with smack about the Cowboys versus Vikings. 
      We're holy and ironic and better at football. See you on the other side of the field, Dallas Bloggers!
      Well, ok, I must admit as smack goes, that's pretty mild. (IC is way too nice that way. Me? Not so much.)

      Let's face facts. Even Brett Favre is scared.

      First, he says:
       “Honestly, I see us sitting here next week having this press conference again. If that doesn’t happen, to me, it will be a shock.”
      NOW, he's tryin' to take it back, but we all know what he meant.

      Uh, huh. Scared.

      Seriously, do you want to back a quarterback who throws down the gauntlet and then tries to take it back?

      Because he knows what that sort of thing does to the Cowboys. (The Saints sure do...)

      Y'all enjoy that game-time lutefisk while we hunker down with nachos. Wait a minute, we win at football food too ...

      Game on.

      (In a mild, love-ya-IC kinda way, of course!)

      I must give credit where credit is due (since this is a Catholic thing) ... IC has got the last word in Theological Trash Talk. Cowboys fans, you just help yourself to a few and straighten out our misguided Northern brethren.

      "It's so hard to help."

      I was trying to prepare myself for what we would encounter when we started handing out water. In situations like this there are two types of people. There are those that are grateful for what they can find or are given and are often humble. There are others who in that state of need feel that they have to take more than they need because they might not ever have again. We encountered both today and it was difficult and frustrating. After handing out bread from the truck in a giant, open former sports arena now turned refuge camp the only thing Jean could say as we drove away was, “It’s so hard to help.” His point was that sometimes the very people you are trying to help make it difficult for themselves and others. Jackson and I looked at our hands that were scratched and bleeding from being mauled and it made me sad. I was sad because I saw the desperation in the eyes of some of the kids that so badly just wanted one piece of bread, but had to fight those that felt they needed to take everything they could. I tried my best to try and connect one piece of bread with one hand at a time to make sure it got spread around, but it was hard. So very hard.
      Rollings in Haiti share what is happening in Haiti right now as they do what they can to help. For those who have not seen the numerous links to Chris's moving post about his experience of the earthquake, which I found via New Advent, I encourage reading it to get a real feel for bringing a personal, human feeling to the large numbers that can tend to overwhelm us from general media reports.

      More on Helping
      • There are many relief organizations we can support who are working to help in Haiti and the one I am choosing to use is Catholic Relief Services.

      • The USCCB is urging pastors to take up a second collection this Sunday for relief efforts. If your church doesn't do it this weekend, ask your pastor about doing it next weekend. 

      • Jeffrey Overstreet tells us about a recently published book of Haitian teenagers' photographs. Buying it will garner a $10 donation to Haitian relief.

      Tuesday, January 12, 2010

      In which it gets suddenly cold and misty ... inside the house ...

      ... oh, yes, and we meet Miss Holloway. More of The Uninvited is ready for your listening pleasure at Forgotten Classics.

      Why We Serve Champagne Year-Round: Reviewing "The Wine Trials 2010"

      Several years ago one of my sisters-in-law introduced me to Domaine Ste. Michelle Cuvee Brut. It tasted delicious but, amazingly, cost only about $7.00 at that time. I began stocking it regularly since I'm a firm believer that champagne goes with everything and that everyone likes champagne. Plus it is so very festive and makes people feel extra special. This is a win-win. Gradually the price has risen to about $9 (less on sale) but there is no denying that it remains a fantastic deal and a delicious bottle of sparkling wine.

      Hence, you can understand my glee and the necessity of reading Tom the first three paragraphs of the latest review book I received, The Wine Trials 2010: The World's Bestselling Guide to Inexpensive Wines, with the 150 Winning Wines Under $15 from the Latest Vintages. (Yes, a long title, but you are never left in doubt as to what the book offers.)
      Dom Perignon, a $150 Champagne from France, and Domaine St. Michelle Cuvee Brut, a $12 sparkling wine from Washington State, are both made in the traditional Champagne method. Both wines are widely available at wine stores, liquor stores, and restaurants. Both are dry, with high acidity. The two bottle are more or less the same size and shape. So why are consumers willing to pay more than 12 times more for one than for the other?

      The most obvious explanation would be that, to most wine drinkers. the liquid inside the bottle of Dom Perignon tastes better than the liquid inside the bottle of Domaine St. Michelle -- if not 12 times better, then at least somewhat better. However, that doesn't seem to be the case. Between fall 2007 and spring 2008, we conducted an experiment serving these two sparkling wines head-to-head in five different blind tastings, with the bottles hidden inside brown paper bags. And 41 of 62 tasters -- about two thirds -- preferred the Domaine St. Michelle.

      In October 2009, we replicated the experiment on a smaller scale with newer releases of the two sparkling wines. This time, we served them to a group of professional chefs, certified sommeliers, and food writers, of which more than 70% preferred the humble $12 bottle to the famous $150 one. this time, we also threw in Veuve Clicquot, a popular $40 Champagne from the same luxury products group -- LVMH -- that makes Dom Perignon. More than 85% of the tasters preferred the Domaine Ste. Michelle to the Veuve.
      Yes, I feel even more justified than before. Add in the fact that I feel I am splurging if I spend $15 on a bottle of wine and you can see that The Wine Trials is clearly a book to which I was receptive.

      The first few chapters talk about wine critics, marketing, actual cost versus perceived values and such things. I was much more interested in the last part of the book which contains the 150 wines under $15 that beat bottles costing over $50 in brown-bag blind testings. Each has its own page, complete with a photo of the bottle, which discusses:
      • cost
      • type (Old World or New World, white or red, heavy or light)
      • country
      • vintage tasted
      • grapes
      • drink with (what foods it accompanies best)
      • website for the producer
      • commentary: this is sometimes about the type of wine or grapes, sometimes about the winery, and then always segues into the wine itself
      • nose (always in understandable terms)
      • mouth (again always in understandable terms) 
      • design: a critique of the label and/or bottle. This is the iffy part to me, especially when you consider that sometimes a vineyard that has several bottles featured in the book will receive scathing remarks in one review for something which is completely glossed over or even called "cute" in the very next review. I think that a simple comment when the label is goofy is enough and they were pretty picky about labels. That is coming from someone who is pretty picky herself about graphic design ... so lighten up gang.
      I definitely got a good feel from reading the reviews as to which wines I was interested in looking for and which would probably not appeal to my taste. This is an excellent resource and I recommend it to anyone who is more interested in good wine value and taste rather than impressing others by conspicuous consumption based solely on how much is spent on a bottle of wine.

      Note: as I mentioned this is a review book. I'd recommend it even if I bought it myself.

      Monday, January 11, 2010

      Five Excuses You're Using to Avoid the Seminary

      From Vocation Boom's blog ... these are good and the answers are even better.

      Body (and practically everything else) by Victoria's Secret

      In case we forgot the message of the infamous Dove evolution video (see below) here comes a story via Gadgetopia (thanks Tom!) about how much this Victoria's Secret photo was changed. Not only did a bag get clumsily erased but her skin color was lightened and various other features one would expect noticed at Victoria's Secret were altered as well. Find out here. (Note: the comparison photo which shows the model in a different photo and also much less covered up ... a la a scanty bikini in my estimation.)

      I'll note that I didn't read the article as thoroughly as Tom did, but it seems to me that one thing missed by everyone is that the girl's other hand is held completely unnaturally for someone simply walking. She probably was holding something else in that hand also.

      At any rate, when one sees the photo manipulation it is simply incredible. The girl is already a model, chosen because she is considerably better looking than the general population. Did they really need to do such extreme manipulation? I contend they did not.

      Here's the Dove evolution video which is a good thing to review every so often.

      Saturday, January 9, 2010

      How. Bout. Them. Cowboys!

      Cowboys 34, Eagles 14
      13 long years since a playoff game won. Until now. Against Philly.
      Oh, how sweet it is.

      Let's Talk Pro-Life March

      It suddenly dawned on me that the annual Pro-Life March is in January.

      Wait. This is January.

      The March is on Saturday, January 16. Ok, time to get our game faces (and prayer) on.

      Here is the website with Dallas info.

      Here is a pdf with more detailed times and info.

      I mentioned this to a friend who was instrumental in getting me to go to the March the first time. She said, "Oh, I might skip this year. It's so cold outside."

      You know what?

      It's colder if you're dead. Or if you're living with lifelong regrets. Or if one of the first people you meet after you die is the baby you killed before he or she was born. (I say this last with full knowledge that those who do so have been lied to and it is only the grace of God that kept me from similar acts when I fully believed the "morality" of secular society.)

      I think I can take an hour or two -- especially since the media and the government don't count intentions. They only count numbers.
      Last year, 5,000 prayed and marched for life. Bishop Farrell challenged everyone to “double it” in 2010 – so, “Bring a friend to make it 10 in ’10!” – 10,000 praying and marching for life on January 16, 2010!
      Don't care about abortion on spiritual grounds?

      Then let's look at it as a justice issue.

      My dear friend Stevie introduced me recently to an excellent blog, Coming Home: Science in Service of the Pro-Life Movement. There is a lot of good scientific information there, especially about Margaret Sanger, the mother of Planned Parenthood and her agenda toward minorities.

      And then we have that justice issue pithily presented in this video, which I got from Semicolon.

      Tom and I will be there for the march, probably around 11:30. We'll take the DART down to the cathedral.

      If anyone is interested in joining us, just let me know and we'll work out a meeting place. Hope to see lots and lots of people there!

      Oh, Gosh!

      A nice tangy libation to sip while reading about books ... or heck, while reading a book itself!

      Wednesday, January 6, 2010

      Manly Hobby #44


      Knitting? Knitting?! The thing that your grandma adores and your great aunt uses to make you a scarf for Christmas? Yes, knitting. Far from the sissy activity that many think it to be, men invented knitting, and it’s time we reclaim our place in its history. Men were the first professional knitters, plying their trade in Europe during the 16th century. And sailors were the other original knitters. They would make fishing nets and sweaters to keep them warm.  These days, knitting for men is making a comeback; it’s both useful and relaxing. My good friend Cameron learned to knit while on a mission in Bolivia ,and he was the only man in the knitting club at law school. And his manliness is unassailable. Be sure to watch this video about knitting and men and join your knitting brothers at Men Who Knit.
      I like a blog that's not afraid to take one on the chin in pursuit of true manliness. Check out the other hobbies in The Art of Manliness's 45 Manly Hobbies.

      If you are Catholic, have you encouraged or discouraged your child to consider the priesthood or religious life?

      This is just the first of several questions that The Anchoress is asking you to answer in her polls (so easy, just click through the link and then click the answer, and click vote).

      She awoke with the thought that “someone’s son has to be the priest; someone’s child must be the soldier, and the cop.” Which led her to become curious and create the polls.

      I have to say that I always clutched my little girls a bit closer when the prayers of the faithful came to praying for vocations. I thought, "Not my girls, Lord, please." Then one day the stray thought came (and we all know where those come from when I'm in front of the Eucharist during Mass, right?) ... these children do not belong to me. They belong to themselves and to God. With that thought and a brief pang I was able to let them go. At first unwillingly and then, gradually, as I could see the great blessing that we receive from those in religious orders, more gladly and freely.

      I am not sure that other mothers would appreciate the fact that I have had a serious conversation with one young man about his consideration of the priesthood (boy, oh boy, that was a toughie to begin. Talk about stepping out in faith.). Or that I have given a serious book about discernment to another young man who was in a long process of doing that very thing. (As far as I can tell, he has not felt that call enough ... but that's just fine. The main thing is to be open if it comes.) Yet another young man is seriously considering joining the Marines and though I quake inwardly for his safety I also am proud to know that he is open to see where he is called.

      Have I discussed becoming a religious with the girls? Honestly I can't remember. However, I think that both would tell you that they know Tom and I would be supportive of either a secular or religious vocation. God created them with a distinct plan and it is not up to us to get in the way of it or them. We can't look back ourselves on God's clear path for us and not know that the same path, of whatever sort, exists for our children as well.

      Ok, that was way more than I intended ... just go answer the polls will ya?

      It's All Downhill From Here ...

      A little midweek humor for the Epiphany.
      In a small southern town there was a "Nativity Scene" that showed great skill and talent had gone into creating it. One small feature bothered me.

      The three wise men were wearing firemen's helmets.

      Totally unable to come up with a reason or explanation, I left. At a "Quik Stop" on the edge of town, I asked the lady behind the counter about the helmets. She exploded into a rage, yelling at me, "You stupid Yankees never do read the Bible!" I assured her that I did, but simply couldn't recall anything about firemen in the Bible.

      She jerked her Bible from behind the counter and ruffled through some pages, and finally jabbed her finger at a passage. Sticking it in my face she said "See, it says right here, the three wise man came from afar."

      The Uninvited ...

      ... chapter 10 is now up and ready over at Forgotten Classics. Yes, just one chapter but it's chock-full of action and ghostliness!

      Tuesday, January 5, 2010

      Is it wrong to be so excited that Decent Films now has an RSS feed?

      Of course not!

      Any movie lover should know and value Steven Greydanus' thorough and thoughtful reviews, featured at his website Decent Films. If you're Catholic then that goes double as he always takes pains to look at films through a Christian lens, without making faith a necessity for a good film.

      My only problem has been that I tend to forget to check his blog and until now there has been no RSS feed. Well, that is a problem no longer. The whole site has been redesigned and you can read here about the improvements.

      "Brace for impact." "You must choose."
      Two voices, one epiphany: reviewing Flight of Faith

      I looked out at the city skyline and then at the wing. The water was closing in. I squinted to try to estimate our altitude, and wondered what a river ditching would feel like. Into my mind flashed images of the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 767 off the coast of the Comoros Islands. Not two months prior, I had seen a television documentary on aviation disasters, and I remembered how that plane had careened across the ocean and broken into several pieces, killing most of the passengers on board. A video camera, operated by a vacationing tourist on the shore, caught the crash in the last few seconds. It had been startling to watch, and now the scene played over and over in my mind's eye.
      It is extremely embarrassing to be reading a book while riding an exercise bike and to be wiping away tears simultaneously. Even if the only witness is one's husband who I am sure would have merely asked what I was reading if he had turned his head and witnessed it. Granted, he would not have had to ask since I had been peppering him with quotations from the air traffic controller's conversation with the pilot of the famously miraculous safe landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River.

      This slender volume is extremely well written and easily achieves its goal of taking us with Fred Berretta to the point where his presence as a passenger on that flight is instrumental in hearing and answering God's call when he is facing imminent death. The book begins with Berretta's daily routine on that fateful morning and then, through a series of flashbacks, shows us how his spiritual struggles, whether for better or worse, has primed him for being able to honestly consider death, eternity, and salvation in the very short time he was given. We know by then that Berretta is a pilot himself, having long been fascinated with flying, and well able to judge the danger in which everyone was placed when the engines were destroyed by a random encounter with a flock of geese.

      The skill of the writing becomes apparent when one considers that we already know the outcome. The flight was landed safely, The passengers were all rescued. The crew performed their duties heroically and received accolades modestly. Berretta had a spiritual epiphany which he joyfully mentioned whenever given the opportunity. However, by interspersing Berretta's eye witness passenger testimony with the conversation between the air traffic controller and the pilot, tension is maintained as the increasingly incredulous and frantic controller struggles to offer options which the aircraft cannot achieve. We also are very interested in what Berretta will experience within his soul as his last moment reflections are gradually revealed to our anxious gaze.

      As I mentioned, this is a slender volume, extremely slender in fact at only 36 pages of text with five additional pages of photos. I began to read thinking that $14.95 was surely too much to ask for so little. By the end I had revised my opinion, realizing that such an honest testimony would be worth that amount to someone who needed it.

      However, there is one big problem with the book. Just at the moment when we are primed to hear a resolution, a conclusion to the adventure, the story ends abruptly. Had not the author survived to write the book we would have thought that he dictated to someone on the way down and died during rescue. At that point the reader is aching to know Berretta's further spiritual progress or realizations, what happened to the stout man of his acquaintance he greets earlier (otherwise, why bother mentioning him at all?), and, at the very least, about the landing of the plane. To simply drop the story at that point is a huge letdown.

      I read a pre-publication proof of the book so am hoping that the publishers and author will consider finishing the story to which I would otherwise give a big thumbs-up. Certainly there is wiggle room in the page count versus the cost, tons of it. It is only that consideration which prevents me from giving it a "highest recommendation" rating. C'mon publisher, give us the rest of the story!

      The publisher sez:
      I will save you from your frustration and tell you that it was just the first five chapters – it is 12 chapters total. ;-) No worries – you will get the read the end!

      It is not unheard of to publish advanced reader copies with only a few chapters as a teaser. Especially as we were hoping very much to publish this book by the anniversary of the crash, we had to move quickly to get the advance reader copies out.
      If the galley said that anywhere it wasn't obvious. However, imagine my relief!

      Monday, January 4, 2010

      This 'N That

      Leave Taking: Rose leaves today for Chicago. She planned a two week visit so she could go back and work at the job she so recently acquired. *sigh* The only good thing about this is that it is making her rethink her decision to only come home during the summer for a two-week visit, also planned around working.

      Playing Around: We got a couple of games over the holidays that turned out to be tons of fun. Both keyed around how well one knew one's opponents. Loaded Questions has you read a question from a card (what wrestling name would you take? what two books would you want on a deserted island?). Everyone else writes their answers, which are read to you. You move a corresponding number of spaces to the number of people you correctly match with their answers. You'd think this would be pretty easy. Not so. Although the game says it takes an hour, we never finished it in less than 4. And we played it twice. With breaks. However, we clearly liked it (and laughed a lot) as we kept coming back for more.

      GiftTRAP has you selecting gifts for the other players from a selection presented on cards (all in the same price range). Then you rank how desirable you find the gift yourself. Everyone else is doing likewise. Depending on how accurate their gift giving is for you and yours for them, everyone moves toward ... well, I can't remember what the game calls it but I call it winning. This was also well liked and had a lot of laughing involved.

      Finished Reading: Free-Range Knitter by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. An assortment of alternately interesting, insightful essays with goofy ones. I wound being largely unamused by the pieces clearly intended to amuse such as letters to a sweater and I was generally uninterested in the pieces about McPhee's children which analyzed them as knitters and took that into musings on their personalities in general (or vice versa). However, those are admittedly personal preferences as there are many who probably would like those essays.

      Watched: It Might Get Loud - documentary chronicling the motivations and meeting of three virtuoso guitarists: Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White. Most interesting to those who know or care about those artists or about their take on creativity as expressed through guitar playing. Mildly interesting to those who don't. I went in and out of being interested which is probably appropriate as that is how one reacts to extended bouts of story telling, which is what a lot of this was comprised of. (And, as I seem to stand alone in my disinterest, I'll mention here that I don't care about U2 one way or the other so that hook didn't necessarily grab me. They bore me.) 3 out of 5 stars.

      The Cutting Edge - documentary about film editing, which despite being fairly interesting, had sloppy transitions (according to Rose, the film editing student) and seemed as if it could have been better edited (according to me). Worthwhile if you care about the subject and anyone who watches movies much probably does. 3 out of 5 stars.

      The Guild, season 1 - a web video series about a "guild" of online role playing gamers whose obsession leaves them very small interaction with real life. I received the dvd with the first two seasons for Christmas. Each episode is extremely brief and the first season lasted only about an hour. It was hilarious. Hilarious. At least to those who have ever been obsessed with a computer game of any sort. Baldur's Gate (Shadows of Amn) anyone? It also has plenty of language and content issues which will be problematic for the sensitive viewer. Not being one such, I found it brilliant. Hannah has yet to watch it although her boyfriend saw it with us. She knows she must watch it so that she gets the context when he hugs her tenderly and murmurs, "Shut up. Just shut up." in her ear.

      The Flight of the Conchords, season 1 - Hannah owns this and luckily brought it home. We wound up watching most of season 1 so far. We'd heard it praised by several friends but not having cable we hadn't come across it or bothered to find the dvd yet. For the few who don't know The Flight of the Conchords is the story of a couple of New Zealanders who bring their rock duo to New York City to try to achieve success. They are largely clueless but sweet and surrounded by other clueless characters as well. Each episode features a music video as well which is worked into the context of the show and has equally clueless songs (diabolically clever in their cluelessness). How they do it, I don't know. But this is a seemingly aimless series that grows on you and is really funny.

      Saturday, January 2, 2010

      New Year's Resolutions - Updated

      Hmmm, I have long rejected the New Year's resolutions concept. This has gone hand-in-hand with the fct that I seem to renew or refine my personal goals on a biweekly or monthly basis.

      I have been painfully aware as many podcasts and blogs pointed out recently that thinking about achieving goals is not the same as doing what is necessary. Especially to the point was Roy H. Williams' 7-Step Secret of Success post and Forging Habits of Steel: 7 tips on making and breaking habits from The Art of Manliness that have been rolling around in my mind.

      So what the heck? In for a penny, in for a pound.
      1. Daily prayer time.
        Yeah, I know. This is a constant renewed resolution for me. You'd think that was a no-brainer, right? Ok, it is a no-brainer. Want to love God more? Hey, spend some face time with Him daily just like I do with my family. Except I don't do it. I intend to, but somehow that time is always spent somewhere else. For the last couple of weeks though I have been fairly regular by dint of riding the exercise bike each morning and praying/reading the Bible (right now, the fantastic and eye opening translation of Genesis by Robert Alter). Thanks to Jen's reminder that "you pray before battle" and that every day is important in our spiritual battle, I hope I can realign my priorities and improve on my morning routine to the point where the prayer/reading is a non-negotiable "must" for each day.

      2. No book buying for a year.
        Actually, this is just from curiosity to see if I can do it. To see what it feels like to be able to only buy a book if absolutely necessary for the book club (my one allowed exception). It isn't as if the Dallas Public Library doesn't have a gigantic selection, complete with new books coming in every day. I actually feel giddy about this one.

      3. Return to making a weekly meal plan. And to picking a recipe from a different cookbook each week.
        Why I quit doing this last year I don't know. Well, except maybe because I was seduced by those many cooks who just waltz through their market and come home with a gourmet meal inspired by what they picked up on the way. Now, this has never been my style. I'm a planner. Not all that flexible. Well, wait, I am flexible about meals in that I may not follow my meal plan at all and do my improvising after I get it all home. In fact, I actually may improvise while buying groceries. But first I have to be switching from the plan I had to begin with. I just don't work well from ground zero on the run.

      4. Spend dedicated time every evening to writing.
        I've got bulletin inserts to write, am constantly behind on book reviews, and there are various other irons in the fire that I've promised to this or that person. Also when mulling over these projects is when God does some serious tapping on my soul. This is reflection and, I suppose also a sort of prayer, that I'm not gonna get any other way as I have recently realized. Eventually it comes out as something that must be written down in some form, whether review, insert, or post. However, if I don't set aside some dedicated time to just write all this ain't gonna happen. I have to be working toward that goal for all the thinking to matter. And then, why not write it down? Just as with the prayer, I often find excuses not to do. That's gotta stop.
      Ok, that's plenty. How about y'all?

      Oh the irony! Shortly after I wrote this yesterday, Rose and I went to Half-Price Books with two bags of books to sell. However, I (wo)manfully strode right past the books to the DVD section. Since the main point of the resolution wasn't to save money I felt justified ... and came away with three movies for $6 each that I'd been wishing to watch again but didn't have the forethought to have rented whenever that impulse came to mind. Lady in the Water, A Knight's Tale, and Die Hard.

      Oh, and I scored Season 6 of The Simpsons ... which Zoe the Intense and Wash the Destructor (you must say this as "Destruct-or" is said at the end of Ghost Busters) had strewn over the back yard some time ago, complete with deep scratches.

        Friday, January 1, 2010

        Avatar: The movie so green it recycles the plot

        Studio Exec: Hey, James Cameron, do you think we should change it up at all? Maybe add some unexpected twist or unique character?
        James Cameron: No, if it worked for Pocahontas and Dances with Wolves, it will work for us!

        Studio Exec: But do you think people will notice that we ripped off a bunch of other movies?

        James Cameron: I already set it on an alien planet which I've cleverly named Pandora! What more do you want?

        Studio Exec: Touche.
        Rose's review from The Girl's' Tent
        I haven't seen Avatar although I have read many reviews for it, especially enjoying Scott Nehring's savaging as he is quite clever and always amuses me even if I disagree (though I do not necessarily do so in this case, not having seen the movie). I also have heard many heated conversations in the last 24-hours with Rose (thumbs down) sparring against Hannah and Matt (two thumbs waaay up).

        Rose also set off a firestorm of comment on her Facebook page when she changed her status to: Rose Davis has seen Avatar in IMAX 3D. Really James Cameron? You started directing again for this? Really?!?

        I will say that Rose gives the film its due, saying that the graphics are worth a viewing and that the movie was entertaining, if you don't thnk too much.  However, she says so, so much more. Go read it.

        Sherlock Holmes: and now for something completely different
        There has been a great deal of nonsense talked about the new Sherlock Holmes movie not being a faithful presentation of Holmes and Watson. In actuality, Jude Law is one of the great Watsons, adding to the virtues of his acting a face straight out of the Paget illustrations. It was eerie. Downey did a miraculous job of playing Holmes without playing any of his actor predecessors in the role. With help from the script, he even managed to convince one that the one factor that neither Holmes nor he could alter — height — was meant to be shortness, not tallness. It was a great pleasure to see him go to work, or rather, to see Holmes emerge, fully formed, from Downey. Downey and Law made a great team, a faithful depiction of the young Holmes and Watson having adventures.
        Aliens in This World wrote a lengthy review/response to nitpicky critics of the newest Sherlock Holmes movie. I also enjoyed reading this as it echoed my own first thoughts on seeing the trailer and reading initial reviews. Primarily among those were that Doyle wrote Holmes for money not art, much preferring his own historical novels, and that my own love of Without a Clue which also twists the Holmesian legend. At any rate, it is worth reading.