Friday, December 31, 2010

A Delicious Champagne Cocktail

Something anyone interested in a lovely looking and tasting drink that people who do not enjoy champagne will nonetheless enjoy (as Hannah and Rose will testify). Tom and I, who do enjoy champagne, liked it too.

Well Said For the Coming Year: Ring In the True

Via Amy H. Sturgis.

Ring Out Wild Bells
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

- Alfred Lord Tennyson, "Ring Out, Wild Bells"

What's Goin' On

I fully intend to continue with the top discoveries lists ... still uncovered are audiobooks, movies, blogs, and ... well ... discoveries in general.

However, I was thrown off yesterday by having coffee with a friend before going in to work. Coffee that lasted 2-1/2 hours. So you can see where that wound up being problematic.

Then, just when we were going to pick up Tom's car which had been refusing to recognize the key when he tried to start it (heaven save us from "smart" cars ... ), we got a panicked call from Rose about the bloody results of a dominance struggle between Zoe and ... someone. We're not sure which dog it was (our guess is Zapp) but Zoe was a sure thing because she's now missing a chunk out of her ear.

You know how much ears bleed. Rose applied paper-towel-pressure while I came home and ferried everyone to the vet for a suture or two.

Then, I returned to work to write a few paychecks, do some minor accounting, and drive Tom to pick up his car. After which, I picked up Zoe from the vet.

So it was a tad busy.

And today we are off work for our New Year's holiday (woohoo!) which means that I'm doing my Saturday chores today. Grocery shopping, cleaning, sweeping up the endless mud ... and all that jazz.

More blogging later, to be sure ... and later today I will share a talented new artist I've discovered who has graciously consented to share his work on the blog so that many more can appreciate it!

Next week, I'll tell you about a new project for 2011 which I think that some of you will get as excited about as I am!

And on that note of mystery, I  will say, "Happy New Year everyone!"

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010 Top Discoveries: Podcasts

Most of these actually were new in 2010. I'm a bit more up to date on the podcast scene than in other areas. Also, podcasts are a much newer concept (which you may read more about in my podcast sidebar if you are not familiar with them).


These are those that I am fond enough to listen to repeatedly. As you can see, it has been a very good year for podcasts and there is something here for practically everyone. The description comes from the podcasters themselves for the most part ... enjoy!

Spilled Milk - Matthew Amster-Burton and Molly Wizenberg combine food and comedy in a bowl and stir it up until it explodes. Join your jovial (possibly too jovial) hosts, Molly and Matthew, for recipes, cooking tips, winning lotto numbers, and catfights.

The Sporkful - The Sporkful is an award-winning podcast and blog about food, but not so much about cooking or recipes or restaurants. We discuss, debate, and obsess over the most ridiculous food-related minutiae, always seeking new and better ways to eat. Hosted by Dan Pashman and Mark Garrison, former co-workers at NPR, The Sporkful is where sacred cows get grilled.

Guys Can Read - A weekly podcast book discussion from a guy's perspective (two guys actually and the book talk is great).

The China History Podcast - Five millennia of Chinese history brought to you each week for your podcast listening pleasure.

A History of the World in 100 Objects - from the BBC (and unusually available in podcast form for all to enjoy).

History of Philosophy - Peter Adamson hosts a podcast covering the entire history of philosophy... without any gaps!

My Merry Christmas Podcast - The Merry Podcast is our audio edition of the best of MMC featuring one-of-a-kind programs exploring everything about Christmas with the help of the team from Merry Christmas Radio, our online radio station broadcasting Christmas year-round.

Chop Bard - The podcast dedicated to picking apart the works of William Shakespeare, scene by scene, offering a fresh and entertaining look at some old goods- it is the cure for boring Shakespeare.

Freakonomics Radio - Just like the books, Freakonomics Radio will explore “the hidden side of everything.” It will tell you things you always thought you knew but didn’t, and things you never thought you wanted to know, but do.

Movie Date from The Takeaway - Each week, Newsday film critic Rafer Guzman and Takeaway producer Kristen Meinzer get in a heated, but friendly debate about the movies.

99% Invisible - Trying to comprehend the 99% invisible activity that shapes the design of our world. (In the design category ...)

A Short History of Japan - A quick tour through the cool bits of Japanese history.

Catholic Stuff You Should Know - modeled after the popular podcast Stuff You Should Know, this podcast explains a wide range of topics ... everything from Stylites (standing on pillars in style) to Ethiopian Christianity to Bishop's Wear and beyond.

It's All Downhill From Here

A little something humorous to get us to the end of the week.


by xkcd

Reviewing "Full Catastrophe" - For Everyone Who Ever Wondered About Volunteering at Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying

Since my foray into the morgue some time ago, I have often been deputised to inspect the inhabitants and make sure that all are present and correct. Today as I check the bodies, a movement on the seccond shelf on the left-hand side almost has me joining the residents of the right-hand side. With my heart pounding in my ears and the ever-present sweat turned to ice, I tentatively reach for the offending sheet. My fingers are shaking so badly I can barely untie the knot.

I recognise the man and immediately realise he is still alive, if only just. Storming from the morgue I feel nothing but rage. The brothers are my targets and the first poor bugger that I see cops the full brunt of my attack. ...

Gathering the brothers around me an hour later I ask the all important question: 'How do you tell if somebody is dead?' The general consensus among them seems to be that the person has to be cold and not moving. My hands bury themselves in my hair in an attempt to prevent them from strangling one of the brothers. With more patience than I ever knew I possessed, I carefully explain the rudimentary function of the heart and the lungs. They find this highly amusing and inform me that of course they know all that. At this stage I explode and yell, 'Well then, why didn't you bloody well check them on this patient?' I take them all back down to the man in question and with the aid of a stethoscope ask them to check his heartbeat. As fate would have it, one look at the man tells me that we are already too late; however, the first brother happily reports a heartbeat ...
This book answers a question I have often wondered, though never thought about long enough to articulate. What is it like to actually be a volunteer in one of Mother Teresa's homes for the ill, destitute, and dying in Calcutta? Australian Tracey Leonard answers that and more in this book which also covers her brief time of volunteer work among the aborigines in Australia. About three-fourths of this book is about time spent in India with the Australian volunteering taking up most of the remaining book.

Leonard is honest, unpretentious, and humorous. She gives what I imagine is an excellent look at the real world, shorn of the unrealistic expectations that practically every volunteer must have when reporting for duty with the Missionaries of Charity. As well, Tracey's frequent encounters with expats who befriend her provide a brief respite from the grueling volunteer work and show us a brief view of what life in Calcutta is like for other expats who are there for business. She follows a similar pattern in recounting her time among the aborigines.

Inspirational moments are far and few between, but that does not seem to be what she is looking for. The few times she mentions such instances are the more powerful as the focus is mostly on the work of living in Calcutta or among aborigines and on providing care for the needy.

(ONE SPOILER IN THIS PARAGRAPH)
Leonard's car accident is the reason she wrote the book and one imagines that there would be more introspection given in the twelve pages covering the event and afterwards. However, that is not the case. We are told, in Leonard's characteristic, forthright style about what it is like to be a quadriplegic. As usual a quick summary of her thinking about the situation and what she has learned are covered in a couple of paragraphs and then she moves forward with an equally characteristic mental shrug and positive comment.

Overall I enjoyed the book although I would have wished for a bit more depth on Leonard's motivations for doing all the volunteering, which we never really find out about at all. I also would have liked more than a sentence here or there about her thoughts on deeper subjects.

It would have been nice if this book had been brought up to date. It was written in 1999 but is just now being published in this country. We wonder what happened to Tracey. However, all in all, the book was an enjoyable and informative look into actual experiences of working with those who are in desperate need, no matter what part of the world.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010 Top Discoveries - Nonfiction

Again, these may not have been new this year, but they were new to me. Today more hold-em-in-your-hand books (including Kindle ... but NOT audiobooks).

(Any short summaries are from my GoodReads list where you may see everything I read in 2010, which I may have shared here earlier in the year ...)

Paul Among the People - Sarah Ruden
My review is here (loosely written but you get the idea).

Confections of a Closet Master Baker - Gesine Bullock-Prado
Sandra Bullock's sister finally couldn't take Hollywood any more after running her famous sister's production company for years. She turned to her true passion, baking, and has a wonderful voice in this book about her life as a baker. A thoroughly enjoyable book that holds up standards without judging everyone around her by them, which these days is increasingly rare in the food writing world. Also, this is one of the few baking books that I have read recently to excite my imagination and interest me in trying some of the recipes. I have baked for long enough and read so many baking books that such an achievement is rare indeed.

Finding Martha's Place -Martha Hawkins
My review is here and an early, personal reaction may be read here.

You Are What You See - Scott Nehring
 I was privileged to read the galley for this book by Scott Nehring. He opens people's eyes to the power of film as a cultural force and unlocks the "key" of story so that you really understand what you are watching (well, ok, I already watched that way ... but I still was riveted by this book). It is simply fantastic. You will never watch movies the same way again. Scott lays out movie structure in a way that helps any movie viewer understand and enjoy movies better.

The Habit of Being - Flannery O'Connor
I grew to love Flannery more and more while I read this compilation of her letters to friends. As well as the little bits of daily life that she shared, there was a steady revelation of the underlying thoughts behind her stories and the underlying Catholic worldview that she wrote from (and lived from).

I read more and more slowly as I grew close to the end of the book. Her early death seemed so tragic and I dreaded it. Yes, this seems melodramatic but it is how I felt. She was pragmatic, straight forward, brave, and funny. In her letters to her friends I learned a lot about writing, the Catholic faith, and living a full life under difficult circumstances. And when I read that her last letter was found scribbled by hand after her death, I cried. Not a lot, but there were real tears and emotion there. I must say that now, when I get to Heaven (fingers crossed), one of the people I hope to meet is Flannery O'Connor.

The Roots of the Faith - Mike Aquilina
My review is here.

Full of Grace - Judith Dupre
My review on Patheos is here.

Oh Holy Night - Mark C. Snow
My review is here.

"Can't you see you're not making Christianity better, you're just making rock and roll worse?"*

... people who are in any way serious practicing Christians are increasingly a minority in our culture, and as such [are] ripe for being understood primarily based on their loudest representatives. That one of these should be a man angry that the local branch of Chase didn't have religious Christmas decorations on display seemed, if anything, a way of making people more averse to Christianity rather than the contrary. Indeed, if I were to list the difficulties that Christianity faces at this time, the failure to be endorsed by J. P. Morgan Chase does not seem high on the list.
I guess everyone chooses where to draw the line but sometimes the choice does seem rather arbitrary ... read the whole story at DarwinCatholic.

* Hank Hill [talking to Christian rock musician], Reborn to Be Wild episode

From Little Silences Come Great Gifts

In such a silence, if you have turned off the television and tempted your child away from his games with a good book, you can hear other things: the chatter and call of cardinals who have found the birdseed; the crack of a log in the fire; hot coffee being poured into a cup; the ticking of your last non-digital clock; the rhythmic breathing of tired child (or parent) who has dozed while reading; the soft thud of a book sliding to the floor.

You can hear life, forced into a slow-down; life less-deliberate; life lived as it was for centuries, before the busy inventiveness of the last five decades: life acquiescent to uncontrollable nature, and hunkered-down.

We have allowed silence to become a gift forgotten, one we only consent to unwrap when all of our alternative bows and strings have been unraveled, and our diversions have been utterly played out. Our inability to be silent puts our minds and our souls at a disadvantage, because it robs us of the ability to wonder, and if we are not wondering at the impossible perfection of the world in its creation—if we are not wondering at spinning atoms and Incarnations—then we are lost to humility, and to experiencing gratitude.
Isn't this absolutely beautiful?

It transports me to the actual place where I can hear that fire crackling, the birds calling ...

In fact, it puts me strongly in mind of the exact surge of gratitude I felt when reading the first chapter or so of Bill Bryson's A Short History of Everything. I got it for Tom, but truth be told I also got it for me. (Shhhhh, don't tell ...)

Reading about the creation of the universe, looking at the little tiny square drawn on the page that was the actual size of the universe before that Big Bang, I was so in awe of God's power, ability to think so far beyond us, and His love in creating this astounding world and putting us in it.

All of that happened yesterday morning in the very short space of finishing a cup of coffee, hearing the turning of pages while Tom read the paper, and the growling play of the dog pack that now lives with us. With no other sounds generated by us.

Trust The Anchoress to remind us of the first thing it takes to help us get to the important things. Go read it all.

Monday, December 27, 2010

On Reading and "Event Horizon"

Now I have wondered if there is a technical term for the time it takes a book to suck you into the story. Sometimes a book gets you going from the first pages and sometimes much more is required to be setup before you really enter the story. I wouldn’t say that a good book always grabs you from the beginning, but often this is true. I have also found enjoyable stories that took much more to setup, especially in Science Fiction where sometimes a lot of history in this universe must be explained first.

Now whether there is a technical term or not for this – I call it a books “Event Horizon”, this is where the escape velocity exceeds you’re wanting to leave the book. Once you have entered the Event Horizon you are sucked into the book and can not leave it. ...
The Curt Jester shares some thoughts on reading which I enjoyed. Go see for yourself.

Cute Mitten Report: Christmas Edition

Rose came home with zebras which she found at a thrift store in Chicago.

So soft!

So warm!

So adorable!

So, we were lucky that she hadn't bought her Christmas gifts yet.

Under the tree on Christmas morning, Hannah found these little owls.



And for me ... foxes!

These are KnitWits brand and you can find them all over the internet as well as, evidently, at a thrift shop in Chicago if you are very lucky!

2010 Top Discoveries: Books - Fiction

These may not have been new this year, in fact I can practically guarantee many of them were not, but they were new to me. Naturally I had to share them with you! Today we'll look at fiction in actual, hold-em-in-your-hand books (including Kindle ... but NOT audiobooks).

(All summaries are from my GoodReads list where you may see everything I read in 2010, which I may have shared here earlier in the year ...)

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie - 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.

High Spirits - 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.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand - Helen Simenson
My review is here.

The Help - Kathryn Stockett
Honestly, if I’d really known what it was about I’d never have been interested but once I was engrossed in it I was glad to have read this excellent book. Told by two different servants and one young woman who doesn’t fit into the Jackson, Mississippi society because she didn’t immediately get married and begin a family, this is a story of their unexpected collaboration on a secret project that results in all of them crossing lines that are not acknowledged aloud but which must be crossed in order to truly know themselves. I raced through the last fourth of it. Highly recommended. HIGHLY!

Vampire$ - John Steakley
My review is here.

Through the Wall - Cleveland Moffett
A noted detective is getting ready to go to Brazil for an important job. He drops by Notre Dame where a young woman he never met says a few sentences to him that leave him pale and canceling his trip. A young woman, deeply in love, spurns her lover's marriage proposal because she loves him too much. A international celebrity is found mysteriously killed in a variation of the locked room mystery. All these events are connected and are set in 1909 Paris, where the atmosphere is romantic and mysterious and the art of detective investigation is very much to the fore in the story. This was on a list from Michael Grost's list for Mystery Scene magazine of classic mysteries that you should read but probably haven't. Here is a piece about this book which I believe was written in 1907. It is a locked room mystery, which I normally do not like, but the way the author slowly uncovers layers truth behind the mysterious situations is already very apparent. It has the effect of a book of one cliff-hanger after another and I am hooked. Final word: what a splendid plot and story telling. Truly this is the story of a master detective pitted against a master criminal, all wound around a tale of love and friendship. I got this from the library but I'd bet it is available free at Project Gutenberg. I plan on  reading this on Forgotten Classics.

Carnacki, The Ghost-Finder - William Hope Hodgson
Whenever Carnacki finishes a tough case of tracking down the supernatural he calls together his three friends to have dinner at their London club and tells them the story. Sometimes he discovers the supernatural, sometimes a hoax, and occasionally an intriguing mix of the two. Thus we get seven fine ghost tales from William Hope Hodgson who is better known for The House on the Border Land, which I have never read, but surely shall someday. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which I picked up from Amazon for free and read on the Kindle. I would look at Project Gutenberg for it as a free public-domain book if you can't find it anywhere.

Trouble is My Business - Raymond Chandler
Having suffered through City of Dragons, I realized I'd never really read any of the prototypical genre she was attempting to emulate. My random selections of Raymond Chandler from the library yielded a book of short stories and a novel. Beginning with this book of short stories, I discovered that Chandler is an author I am enjoying. These pithy stories are exactly what you would expect from the creator of Philip Marlowe, except that they show the quintessential hard-boiled detective from a developmental stage through many different stories. The last four stories, so I'm told from the book blurb, have Philip Marlowe in them, though I am not sure how he differs from the 'tecs I've read about thus far (except in name). Great fun.

Nightmare Town by Dashiell Hammett
Yep. I couldn't just try Chandler without also sampling the other great master of hard-boiled mystery fiction, Dashiell Hammett. Again, my random library selections yielded a novel and this short story selection. It also has an interesting overview of Hammett's life in the introduction. These stories contain hard boiled detectives but also, surprisingly, twist ending stories from different points of view as well. Hammett is a more varied writer than Chandler and I am always amused whenever the main detective describes himself as short and stout (which seems to happen frequently).

Till We Have Faces - C. S. Lewis
This is an intriguing retelling of the story of Cupid and Psyche written in a way that puts me in mind of Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy. It was gripping in a way I didn't expect and which I find difficult to explain. This story works as plain storytelling, as myth, as truth underlying myth, as character study, as unbelievably delicately written prose, and as fantasy. In short, this book is not nearly as difficult to read as I'd heard, while on the other hand containing rich layers that lend to repeated readings. I definitely enjoyed seeing Lewis's echoes of what is familiar in myth but which also is a bit of truth about Christianity.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

How One Sailor Saved Christmas for Eighteen People

Admiral David L. McDonald, USN
Chief of Naval Operations
Washington, D.C.

Dear Admiral McDonald,

Eighteen people asked me to write this letter to you.

Last year at Christmas time, my wife, three boys and I were in France, on our way from Paris to Nice. For five wretched days everything had gone wrong. Our hotels were “tourist traps,” our rented car broke down; we were all restless and irritable in the crowded car. On Christmas Eve, when we checked into our hotel in Nice, there was no Christmas spirit in our hearts.

It was raining and cold when we went out to eat. We found a drab little restaurant shoddily decorated for the holiday. Only five tables were occupied. There were two German couples, two French families, and an American sailor, by himself. In the corner a piano player listlessly played Christmas music.

I was too tired and miserable to leave. I noticed that the other customers were eating in stony silence. The only person who seemed happy was the American sailor. While eating, he was writing a letter, and a half-smile lighted his face.
Read the rest at The Art of Manliness. I know I said I was gone but couldn't resist popping back in to share this wonderful story.

Google's Merry Christmas from Around the World

Google's holiday doodle this year is interactive with 17 images from Christmas celebrations around the world. They'll have it up through Christmas so do go take a look

And then go read the WSJ's story about it. Fascinating.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Well Said

For the Serenity prayer mug giveaway, Dick gave us Psalm 51:15:
Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare your praise.

When "Meaning Well" Isn't Enough: Reviewing "The Judas Syndrome"

We have all heard of ancient heresies from the time when the Church was new and when the Church Fathers were considering what the revelation of Jesus Christ meant to Christians. However, there is a great tendency to think of those heresies as things that were dealt with and that went away. Who these days is called upon to point out the mistakes inherent in Pelagianism, Origenism, or Macedoniasm? As it turns out, all faithful Catholics are called upon to do that very thing. We just don't see the connection between ancient heresies and their modern manifestations.

The Judas Syndrome does great service to Catholics in examining several major heresies from the past and revealing at how they are still at work in modern culture. What author Thomas Colyandro reveals is that the great historical heresies were not begun by people who merely misunderstood truth or "meant well" but began as willful betrayals of Christ and the Church, hence the name of the book.

The book focuses on seven heresies, with each chapter examining a different heresy indepth. Colyandro begins by stating a Church teaching and then briefly stating the origin and summary of the heresy against that teaching. He then clearly traces Old Testament precursors and New Testament fulfillment in Christ of Church teachings as the reasoning behind Church positions. This prepares the reader for the inherent problem with the heresy under examination.

The origin and history of the particular heresy are then examined. Responses from Church defenders are given, ranging from apostles to Church Fathers. In all instances, Colyandro quotes excerpts that make it easy to see just what is at stake. In fact, when reading some of the Fathers' refutations of particular heresies I would feel a shock of recognition because they were discussing behavior I had seen in people around me.

Finally, modern examples of the heresy's development in our culture are revealed. This is when the reader receives confirmation of suspicions about modern heresies that had been building during the chapter. As well, there are often other examples tied in which have been in existence for so long that the reader may well have not thought to question it. Thanks to Colyandro's careful unfolding of the path a heresy has taken from the very beginning to our own lifetime, readers are given the tools to help recognize them and to begin refuting them.

The book's conclusion discusses the liturgy as an antidote to the Judas syndrome. Colyandro takes the reader back to Christ, to the apostles, to the Church Fathers, all of whom never forgot that the main point was God's desire for an intimate relationship with us. The liturgy is the final expression of that key point and Colyandro takes great care to make it crystal clear that the liturgical requirements are in place specifically to keep us in communion with Christ.

Highly recommended.

A Few of Our Favorite Christmas Things: Baking

What has the Christmas baking yielded? Many, many cookies which you may read about at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

And a few batches of rolls, including Pecan Rolls, which I never realized that I have neglected to share with y'all until now. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Christmas Light in Shopping Madness

I certainly understand, and to some extent share [Father James] Martin’s frustration [with over-commercialization], but I am not yet ready to give up on December and Christmas. In the darkening days, we need the call for light, the promise of those twinkling wires hanging from trees and eaves and railings, and even gutters, shining in a darkness that does not overcome. Perhaps we simply have to make a more concerted effort to find and appreciate the small promptings hidden within Christmas excesses, that lead us toward the stilly night turned to song.
The Anchoress has a nice piece that reflects a good deal of what I think also.

We can snark all day along, every day, about how the Christian life is overshadowed by so much in our culture that is dark. Christmas brings it to the foreground, but the tendency is there always. Yet if we fight the tendency to succumb, we can ourselves be the turning point. Sometimes we are the ones who need to hear that voice of hope, sometimes it is those around us. Regardless, it is much needed and if we don't do it, then who will?

Yes, I've sung this song before and I'll do it again. It was one of the delights that I discovered waiting for me when I found out that God was a real person who loved me. He pays attention to the details and uses them to speak hope to us. That's how He gets our attention and we could do much worse than to do likewise for those around us.

The Anchoress says it well. And so does Mother Marie des Douleurs.
…You know very well that a friendly voice is enough to set restless and troubled minds at ease. Be one of those who notice when the thermometer is rising, and not one of those who is always pointing out that it’s getting colder.

… No, you are going to be the little smile which, though delicate, on certain winter afternoons reminds people of the springtime, and is its foreshadowing, and shows that the life and the joys of living are things that are still possible and not dead and buried.

There are enough people who bury every budding hope. You, you be one who brings hope out into the light.
Mother Marie des Douleurs

The Old, the New, and the Third: Reviewing "The Third Testament"

Fred is a grieving widower with one daughter who lives near Chicago. A faithful Catholic, he begins having a series of dreams which make him realize that he is being prompted to write the third testament to the Bible ... which would update it for modern times. Soon after this, he is served with what seems to be a bogus summons that nonetheless threatens to take his home from him and his daughter finds she has melanoma which is spreading rapidly through her body.

At this point, Fred turns to his writing as a panacea for his mental and emotional struggles. The current story serves as a thin thread which holds together the history that Fred is writing. The author includes much more of the history, both as Fred's thoughts and then as samples of what he is writing. Eklund has a knack for picking out interesting people and events and pulling up tidbits that I hadn't heard, even when I was familiar with the overall piece of history.

The Third Testament was an interesting book on several levels. It is clearly a first novel and the author does not have a very good ear for natural dialogue. He also has a tendency to preach a bit when the protagonist is thinking. For example, gazing at the sky and seeing an eagle, Fred suddenly takes a mental side trip onto American virtues. This is a bit wearying and tended to put me off the book.

The modern story is extremely one dimensional, yet, I nevertheless found myself interested in whether Ellen would beat her cancer, the different places that Fred would encounter his new friend (Tony), and whether we would get more than a whiff of evil from the lawyer suing Fred.

I am glad that I persevered despite the sometimes clunky writing in the modern section because the author has a much more natural flow when writing any of the "third testament" and detailing Catholic Church history. There still is a tendency to preach some but since it is within the context of the history this becomes easier to take.

The book as a whole overcomes the problems if one is willing to overlook them and I found it a satisfying read. I will be interested to see what this author writes next.

(Note: I read a review copy but I'd have criticized ... and praised ... the book anyway!)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Let It Dough

Creation of many things ... amusingly illustrated using cookie dough and sprinkles ... from the NY Times. Brilliant!

Many thanks to Mom for the heads up on this one!

A Profound Christmas Story from an Unexpected Source

Some lagniappe to be found at Forgotten Classics. It is about 15 minutes long but worth the time.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas Shopping Idea: Is That Angels I Hear Singing?

Voices: Chant from Avignon
The Nuns of the Abbaye de Notre-Dame de l'Annonciation, from a remote region of France near Avignon, won a worldwide search to find the world's finest female singers of Gregorian Chant. The search took in over 70 convents, including communities as far afield as North America and Africa.

The Nuns are part of an ancient order which dates back to the 6th Century. They continue the tradition of leading a hidden life, literally behind closed doors. To remain `secluded' to the outside world, any visitors, even family, must communicate with the sisters through a grill. Once vows have been taken to live in the Convent, the sisters remain there until their death.

The Nuns' album will feature the most ancient form of Gregorian Chant, which the sisters sing eight times a day, and was the first music ever to be written down.
That description is from the cd.

It is lovely that the nuns live such a dedicated life serving God in prayer and contemplation. We certainly can use it and they are wonderful examples as well.

However, what I really enjoy right now is having their CD playing in the evenings. It is like liquid gold, bathing the listeners in smooth, soaring song. It doesn't matter that I don't understand a word of it. The music is enough. It makes me pause from my occupation, stop and think, and sometimes ... pray.

If you are at all interested, I encourage you to listen to samples from Amazon (link above). It is something out of the ordinary.

Weekend Joke

A Christmas joke which I have used before but which still makes me laugh, via Miss Cellania (at whose site you will find objectionable material, so be warned).
A group of chess enthusiasts, when checking into a hotel, stand in the lobby loudly discussing recent victories.

After a few minutes the manager bursts out of his office and starts shouting at the group, telling them to get lost.

"Why are you being so unpleasant?" asks one.

"Because," says the manager, "I just can't stand chess nuts boasting in an open foyer.

Friday, December 17, 2010

In which we are treated to a retelling of the Epic of Gilgamesh

Doesn't that sound fun?

Ok, I know it doesn't.

But when Rose is doing the telling it becomes vivid and quite enjoyable. We also consider myth, literature, and the Bible. All at the Forgotten Classics podcast. Get it while it's hot!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The New Dappled Things Is Out!

Bernardo Aparicio wrote to say:
There's a new edition of Dappled Things online with some great content. Also, I want to remind you that while we publish a truly top-quality magazine, our budget is almost impossibly small, so we depend on word of mouth to reach readers. Please consider helping us in our mission to transform the culture by posting about and/or linking to our content. Here's a sampling of some of the great work featured in our most recently released edition:
  • The dramatic, haunting photographs of Rick Westcott;
  • A wonderful reconsideration of the unjustly forgotten Catholic novelist J.F. Powers;
  • "I've, like, got to get there, like, now" a delightful rant by the inimitable Eleanor Bourg Donlon on language, unintelligibility, and irreverence;
  • Reviews of award-winning graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang's new book of stories, The Eternal Smile; and of House of Words by Jonathan Potter, a beautiful book of poems which is the first title from Korrektiv Press, a promising new venture by the writers of Korrektiv.org;
  • "Achilleus Now," an insightful feature essay by Robert T. Miller on his experience teaching great books and how old books still matter to young students.
I was just sending a link from a Dappled Things article the other day to a friend when we were deep in a conversation about vampires and the Faith (yes, again). This is a great publication and well worth reading.

If you already read, why not consider giving them some Advent or Christmas alms to help their good works keep on going?

Or subscribe. They have an actual print version. If you want to see a sample issue just send your name and mailing address to "dappledthings [dot] cybulski [at] gmail.com. (Write "free sample" in the subject line.)

Time for one of the most delightful of activities ... choosing a new calendar!

It's a weakness, perhaps, but I simply love calendars. However, I am supremely picky about them. What a shock, eh?

I like a weekly planner (seeing a whole month's worth of obligations at a glance overwhelms me). I like a coil bound calendar so I can fold it up as small as possible. Also I'm ruthless about ripping out pages once a week has gone by, which coil binding makes easy.

This year I wanted to try to find a calendar that would tell me the Mass reading for each day. Any calendar like that would naturally include feast days (or so it seemed to me). It didn't need to be big. I prefer a really tiny calendar, but accept the fact that those are hard to find because most people want more room to write.

After looking around on the internet for a while, I found Family Centered Media's Catholic Daily Planner.
A useful, annual resource designed to help you live your Faith and order your life – every day! Each day lists feasts and ferias as well as the liturgical color proper to the day for both forms of the liturgy.

The weekly pages are formatted with plenty of space to record all of your tasks and appointments. Blank lined journal pages, contact/address book pages and weblog all help you order your life.

Liturgical observances (i.e. First Sunday of Advent, memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, etc); Mass reading citations for every day (ordinary form); holy days of obligation; First Friday and Saturday devotions; and daily rosary mystery reminders.
All true.

Plus there are a few pages in the front that help decode things (for example I didn't know that "feria" means a day has no feast or vigil ... but I do now!). The daily prayer pages have some simple, basic Catholic prayers that anyone can memorize and use at the appropriate time of day to stay connected with God. These are basics but something I hadn't ever practiced regularly. I think I am going to give that a shot with the New Year.

Each month is prefaced with a spread that shows the entire month's layout. This page also has the Papal Prayer Intentions for that month.

Most of the weekly spreads have an inspirational quote from the Pope or a saint. There is a little note in the corner of each day telling which decade of the rosary to say, if you like to follow the recommended order (I don't, but I'm not rosary-centric either ... being rather hit or miss in whether I feel moved for that particular meditation.)

There are nine cover images you can choose from.  All are lovely. I chose the most subdued but was tempted by many of them.


I like the basic calendar layout. If you want, you can pay a little extra to have a menu planner add-on.

There is a large version as well, but you know already that I got the small one, right?

There are images of inside pages although they don't enlarge very much. But they do give you an idea of the page layout so you can get a sense of whether it would work for you.

I am well pleased, which is no easy feat as y'all may know,  and am looking forward to using this calendar in 2011.

For Everyone Who, Like Me, Wished Connie Willis's Editor Had Been More Diligent

As the dedication in All Clear makes apparent, Willis' intent when writing these books was to celebrate and pay tribute to the ordinary people who sacrificed everything -- including their lives -- to help England endure through the harrowing war years. And she rises to the demands of honoring this history. One can only wish that she had given equal attention to the demands of fiction.
SF Site's review of Blackout and All Clear makes me positive I was wise to not read All Clear after dragging myself through Blackout ... my comments about Blackout may be read here.

To be fair, Amy H. Sturgis confirmed my decision much earlier.

I guess I just appreciate a nice turn of phrase. And these two books are very frustrating because Willis has long been a favorite author of mine.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

It's All Downhill From Here

Some humor to get us through the rest of the week. Click the image to see it larger. Many thanks to xkcd for this.

What Do I Want for Christmas? Seven Deadly Sins, Please!

Well, actually I want John Zmirak's latest book, The Bad Catholic's Guide to the Seven Deadly sins. Ian from Aquinas and More says the books are finally in stock.

I am a dedicated fan of the "Bad Catholic" books, so much so that I've had this book on my wish list since I found out months ago that it was close to publication.

I'll let Ian give you the samples and then you can go pick up your own copy of at least one of those books.
So who should you send this latest guide to? I’ll let Mr. Zmirak give you his thoughts on that:
Think of the person who most gets on your nerves with the scruples he likes to share, who spams you with email sob stories, or sniffs disgustedly at your jokes. You know, the person who makes you bite your tongue for fear of piercing his preternaturally thin skin…Put this book down right away, find some really tasteful wrapping paper, wrap the book up, and give it to him.
Here’s a sample from the introduction:
One way of describing the Seven Deadly Sins might be “the seven key areas of life where Jesus ruins our fun.” By this, I mean the categories of normal human experience that make up the bulk of our lives – where our instincts, habits and egos have patched together perfectly serviceable habits of schlepping through, day to day. We’d just as soon our coping strategies weren’t disrupted by some fish-multiplying, wonder-working God-Man who speaks in riddles. But hey, thanks for thinking of us.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Full of Grace: Meditations on Mary, Love, and Transformation

My review of Judith Dupre's book Full of Grace is up and running at Patheos.

I think this book would be a simply wonderful gift for ... well, practically any Catholic and for lots of people who aren't Catholic but would be open to reading a book about Mary.


Here's the beginning of the review to get you started.
Among the practices indelibly associated with Catholics is the veneration of Mary and praying of the rosary. To outsiders it can seem as if Jesus is being cast aside while his mother is being unduly worshipped. Or, it might seem to be precisely the meaningless gabble of thoughtless prayer that Jesus warned against when he said, "In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words" (Mt. 6:7).
Anyone holding such opinion while encountering Judith Dupré's extraordinary book Full of Grace will soon realize how wrong those ideas can be. Dupré melds myriad written and artistic images -- a glittering mosaic of perspectives on Mary through the ages. Always, she is pointing to Her Son, Jesus. If one could produce a symphony in writing it would be similar to Full of Grace, which combines art, history, poetry and prose, personal experience and hearsay, traditional Catholic theology and Islam, and orthodoxy and feminist theology, into a marvelous and comprehensive look at the Mother of God.

Christmas Music: Shake It Up

I discovered this a couple of weeks ago via My Merry Christmas podcast and can't shake it out of my head (get it? shake it? hilarious ... I know ...)

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Swingin' Christmas: Our Favorite Christmas Albums

Last night at cocktail hour, several of our favorite Christmas albums were in the CD player. It made me want to share such enjoyment with y'all ... I might be missing one or two in which case Hannah and Rose will have to speak up. But this is a pretty solid list, in no particular order as mood may dictate which album jumps to the top.
  •  Let It Snow Baby, Let It Reindeer by Reliant K
    The word play in the title tells you that there is an undertone of humor that precisely fits our family. This is a 2008 album from alt rock Christian band Reliant K and it goes from reverent to goofy to explosive ... and then back again. Some of the songs are traditional, others are definitely not.
  • Ella Wishes You A Swingin' Christmas by Ella Fitzgerald
    It's Ella Fitzgerald. The greatest jazz singer of all time. Isn't that saying enough? These were recorded in 1960 and every song is perfect.
  • I Wanna Be Santa Claus by Ringo Starr
    A 1999 holiday album that was critically acclaimed but that did little in stores. We came across it a few years ago, via one of those critics bemoaning the fact that no one bought this album. It is often playful, even if it is only in using Scottish bagpipes to back up his inspired Little Drummer Boy (a song I usually hate, but with Ringo on the drums it is impossible not to smile). Other traditional Christmas songs are sung in a straight forward manner but all have creative tweaks to the music which add Caribbean beats, rockabilly, or guitar work to the backgrounds. The original songs are very good and sincere, which you might not expect.
  • New Orleans Christmas
    Blues, jazz, and swing put a different sound on these familiar carols which range from something naughty to something nice. Perfect for changing up the familiar tunes and keeping them fresh.
  • Christmas with the Rat Pack by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr.
    Any album that has these three singing Marshmallow World on it is ok with me. The good cheer and fun they display is infectious. Luckily all the other songs are winners too. (Rose is not a Sammy Davis, Jr. fan, but I contend that he is at his best here ... though I don't know why the poor guy always got stuck with a kid's chorus whenever such a song came up.)
  • White Christmas by Bing Crosby
    Isn't it a rule that you've got to have some Bing for Christmas? I like all of the songs in this collection but especially the novelty tune, Mele Kalikimaka. So sue me. I like it. And look at that album cover. How can you resist?
  • A Swingin' Christmas by Tony Bennett featuring the Count Basie Big Band
    Another one where the album cover sells it. Bennett's voice is not as strong as it could be but it is good enough and the Count Basie Band is just fantastic, more than compensating for any of Bennett's weaknesses.
  • Treasury of Christmas by Time-Life
    This is a multiple CD set is as close to a complete set of traditional songs as you can get. It has practically every Christmas carol you can imagine, by every classic popular singer who helped set the standards we expect ... Bing Crosby, Julie Andrews, Nat King Cole, and more.
  • The Lost Christmas Eve by Trans-Siberian Orchestra
    If you don't already know this group, then how do you describe their music? I'll use the description from the album description: "... features their trademark symphonic rock," which fuses elements of hard rock, Broadway, R&B, and classical music into a unique and distinctive blend of original compositions, symphony excerpts and holiday standards." As unlikely as that sounds it is true. It is also energizing, inspirational, and unique. You'll love it or hate it. We, of course, love it.
Every year we buy a new Christmas album, hoping to find one to add to the list above. Many years there are a few decent songs, but the overall albums are not that great.

This year? We suddenly became aware that we neglected the soundtrack from A Charlie Brown Christmas. Listening takes Tom and me right back to our childhoods when you could only see that TV special once a year when the network aired it. As adults though, we now have a deep appreciation for Vince Guarald's jazz genius so we can enjoy it on two levels.

One of the things that made me think of getting this album was listening to The Christmas Stocking Podcast's episode about Charlie Brown. It has fascinating back story info on how the show got made and enough of the music that it made me wonder why we never bought the album.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Why Will Your Priest Be Pretty in Pink onSunday?

If not exactly "pretty," he probably will be wearing rose colored vestments. The third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete Sunday, so called from the first word of the Introit at Mass (Gaudete, i.e. Rejoice). This is our sign that Advent is almost over and we may look forward with greater joy than ever to the Lord's coming as there will be only one more Sunday in Advent ... and then it will be Christmas!

Read more at New Advent.

On the Sunday Obligation to Attend Mass

Riparians at the Gate states this in a beautifully short and simple, yet comprehensive way. My favorite bits are below, but go read it all.
... There isn’t a secret calendar showing weeks when you can skip [Mass] based on a flimsy excuse, and other weeks when you have to show no matter what. Likewise, there isn’t a cosmic attendance policy giving you so many unexcused absences and then you fail the course.

You either can come, and therefore you must. Or you cannot come, and therefore, well, you cannot.

Much simpler than people fear. The Church is not out to get you. Well, okay, she is out to get you. But in a good way: She is out to get your soul into Heaven. And she knows that under ordinary circumstances, attending Mass on Sundays and Holy Days is what your soul needs. So go if you possibly can.
Italics are mine and that's what's going into my quote journal.

Those who would like more specifics on the why's and wherefore's may find it in the Catechism, beautifully stated as is the norm there.

Weekend Joke

Friday, December 10, 2010

U.S.'s First Approved Apparition of Mary

After a special morning Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help at Champion, Wis., Bishop David Ricken concluded two years of investigation by officially approving the authenticity of the Marian apparitions that took place on this site in 1859.

As Bishop of Green Bay, his official decree and proclamation makes Our Lady of Good Help the very first and the only site in the United States of an approved apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
I never had heard of this apparition and was interested to read about it.

For those who thought maybe some other apparition was already approved for the U.S. of A., please read America's 1st Approved Apparition is What? for Jimmy Akin's explanations. Do NOT read it, as I did, to see what Our Lady of Good Help is. He assumes you already know that and skips right to the 'splainin' of other things.

Now "Pantone" is Part of the Common Vocabulary. Who'd a Thunk It?

Once upon a time Pantone was something that behind-the-scenes people knew about. Their PMS (that's pantone matching system) color system was one that printers, designers, and anyone involved in precise color matching knew about. As graphics production and design folks, we had a long history of working with colors using that system.

Otherwise, who'd care?

In fact, a graphics designer asked just the other day what ever had happened to Pantone? Tom's answer ... fabrics, fashion, etc. ... was right as it turns out.

The very next day this story in the Wall Street Journal informed us that Pantone was busy answering that question as they revealed the new hue for 2011.

And more people cared than I'd ever have thought, as I was reminded when looking through Ten Thousand Place's list of cool stuff (it's a great list, by the way, you'll like it).

Me?

I was stunned to see that they even have a hotel. In Brussels. With a nifty, colorful website, of course.


I'd try it if I were ever going to be in Brussels. But in the meantime, for those of us without international traveling budgets, I thought these were cool.

I'm geeky that way. Though from the number available, I must not be the only one.

Everything Old Is New Again: Reviewing This Tremendous Lover

This is one of the most practical, down to earth books I have ever read about living one's Catholic faith in everyday life. Written by M. Eugene Boylan, a Trappist Monk, around 1945, "This Tremendous Lover" is actually a more timeless book than one might think. Human nature does not change from age to age and 1945 is not actually that long ago. Boylan clearly had practical experience in helping people look past their hectic lives in a culture often at odds with God. His insightful, accessible book gives straight forward advice on how to proceed toward holiness.

It is probably no surprise that Boylan always comes back to a few key points: knowing Jesus Christ in a personal relationship, turning away from pride, and embracing humility. He discusses seeking Christ through prayer, reading, in the sacraments, in conversation, and through our neighbor. He delves deeply into what it means to be a member of the body of Christ.

Because of its age, this book does have a few outdated assumptions that surface occasionally. For example, Boylan assumes that he must convince the ordinary person that their vocation is just as valid for seeking a deep experience with God as that of a priest or religious. That concept is one that we are all familiar with today, post-Vatican II, but at the time of original publication the point would have been very valid.

In the chapter about marriage and holiness, Boylan points out that the intimacies of married life are holy. Again, this is something that is nowadays taken to be a given and so might seem quaint as a reassurance. However, and this is an important point, even when the original assumption might seem old fashioned, Boylan's underlying theory remains sound. If one agrees to set aside prejudice against an attitude that might not agree with the way everyone thinks today, then the reader will discover a wealth of truth lying just beneath the surface for the taking. In continuing his discussion of married intimacies, Boylan says:
Let us once and for all get rid too of the notion, so harmful to the spiritual life, so heretical in its origin, and so widespread today, that there is anything intrinsically wrong in pleasure as such. God forbid! God made pleasure; man made pain. god share the pleasure of His creatures. All pleasure that is not inordinate, no matter how intense it is, can be offered to God. What is lawfully done to one's neighbor or to one's self is done to Christ. ... It is only when pleasure becomes inordinate—that is contrary to the will of God—that it is wrong. And no one can live without some pleasure, just as no one can live without some food and some rest.

Love demands expression, and love is nourished by expression, and that is true even of the most spiritual love. And the love of a man for his wife is a unique love and demands a unique expression, and God has provided an unique expression for it and has attached intense pleasure to it. And God has gone further still. For He has arranged that by that very act of expressing their love for one another, husband and wife become partners with Him in the work of producing a new creature. ...
This is the solid advice of a good theologian and a practical man. Surely this would have been very reassuring to those who read it when it was originally published. Just as certainly, in modern times it is beautiful to read such an outright declaration of the purpose of marital love and fidelity.

Time after time, Boylan gives practical advice that is elevated by a desire for his readers to find a deeper union with Christ. It is a challenge for any of us to fully live our lives seeking to follow in Christ's footsteps and learning to love him. With M. Eugene Boylan's help, we have a much better chance of finding the way with fewer missteps. Highest recommendation.

I received this book from Aquinas and More Catholic Bookstore.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

What's Goin' On: He Looks Like ... Someone Loves Him.

Hannah finally bit the bullet, upon seeing how well the foundling and her darling Zapp got along. She is adopting the-dog-formerly-known-as-Garrett and changing his name to Kif.

She bought him a reddish leather collar that coordinates nicely with his spots. It is funny the difference that putting the collar on Kif made. Suddenly he went from being homeless to looking like ... someone loves him.

Kif was neutered yesterday, the truly official sign at the vet that he has an owner.

Hannah said that when he was anesthetized, they x-rayed him. They found about 20 shotgun pellets embedded in one side. Poor guy. No wonder he doesn't like it when I toss him a treat. I can only imagine what abuse he has suffered. No wonder he completely melts when Hannah is around. She opened a world that Kif may not have even known existed ... that a human could love him.

Praying for Those Forgotten Souls in Purgatory ... No Matter Who They Are

I remember when Rose, a few years ago, suddenly had the realization in Mass (maybe during one of the Holy Week masses?) that Hitler and Stalin might have had sudden last minute realizations of the enormity of their sins ... and repented.

She was gripped with sorrow in case of that event and began praying for their souls.

This was a powerful moment for me because I'd always had a tender spot for those holy souls in Purgatory who had no one to pray for them. However, I'd always thought of them as someone much like the little match girl in Hans Christian Andersen's story. Huddled in a corner, everyone they knew was gone, and no one left to pray for them.

It hadn't occurred to me that those forgotten souls might be forgotten because it never would have occurred to anyone that someone so evil in life might have repented and now be in need of prayers while in Purgatory.

It dovetailed nicely though with one of my favorite images from Madeleine L'Engles meditations in one of her books (and I can't remember which one right now, but aren't we glad I wrote it down to remember?).
... There is an old legend that after his death Judas found himself at the bottom of a deep and slimy pit. For thousands of years he wept his repentance, and when the tears were finally spent he looked up and saw, way, way up, a tiny glimmer of light. After he had contemplated it for another thousand years or so, he began to try to climb up towards it. The walls of the pit were dank and slimy, and he kept slipping back down. Finally, after great effort, he neared the top, and then he slipped and fell all the way back down. It took him many years to recover, all the time weeping bitter tears of grief and repentance, and then he started to climb up again. After many more falls and efforts and failures he reached the top and dragged himself into an upper room with twelve people seated around a table. "We've been waiting for you, Judas," Jesus said. "We couldn't begin till you came."
Why do I bring all this up?

It came inexorably to mind when Frank at Why I Am Catholic began considering the fact that Vlad the Impaler was Catholic. You know him, right? Vlad Dracul III? Dracula? The real one.

As always Frank's cogitations are good ones. Go read. Think. And don't forget to pray for those forgotten souls. Whoever they are.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What We Can Learn From 120 Years of Climate Catastrophe Reporting

The media falls in love with catastrophic predictions, and is consistently 10-15 years behind(!) in reporting on what the global temperature is actually doing.
Via Steven Riddle who links to lots and lots of good things every day.

Mark Shea, Mary, and the Eastern Orthodox Church

I have been very remiss in not writing a review of Mark Shea's three wonderful books about Mary (and I say this as someone who does not have a specific devotion to Mary). I paid for them with my own money, loved and marked them up, and then was too busy to do a proper review.

For today's Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Mark puts a substantial excerpt out there about how the Eastern Church views Mary's Immaculate Conception. Do go read it. If you like it, I can guarantee you are going to like the books he wrote. Here's a bit to get you started.
That said, the question still remains: If the Immaculate Conception is truly apostolic teaching, then why do the Eastern Orthodox Churches reject it? After all, those Churches trace their lineage to apostolic times just as the Catholic Church does. To answer that, we have to understand why the Roman Church developed her doctrine in the way she did and why the East did not take the same path.

Some people have the notion the Eastern Orthodox Churches reject the Immaculate Conception because a few early Eastern Fathers (Origen, Basil, and John Chrysostom) expressed a couple of doubts about Mary's sinlessness. Origen thought that, during Christ's Passion, the sword that pierced Mary's soul was disbelief. Basil had the same notion. And John Chrysostom thought her guilty of ambition and pushiness in Matthew 12:46 (an incident we have already examined).

But the remarkable thing about these opinions is how isolated they turn out to be. Essentially, they demonstrate (once again) something about the development of doctrine that we've already seen in connection with the Trinity: The Catholic Church is not a monolith and her people, even very good people, sometimes voice in good faith ideas that end up departing from the orthodox norm. For the reality is that, apart from these three, the overwhelming consensus of the Fathers in both east and west is that Mary is "most pure," “formed without any stain,” "all-Holy," “undefiled,” "spotless," "immaculate of the immaculate," “inviolate and free from every stain of sin,” and created in a condition more sublime and glorious than all other natures.

Salsa Mac 'N' Cheese

Something good to make with that Velveeta I was talking about on Forgotten Classics a few days ago.

In which Noah and family leave the ark and God promises rainbows.

Yes, I finally get a chance to finish the next episode of Forgotten Classics and end that cliffhanger with Noah and his family bobbing about on the ocean. Get it while it's hot!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Oh, I See ... Why I Am Catholic Ain't Good Enuff for Zombies, Eh?

Webster Bull bowed out of writing for Why I Am Catholic and I, for one, have missed him there. Not that the rest of the gang ain't writin' great pieces which I read all the time. But I still miss him.

Now it turns out that Webster's out there writing on the sly at a place I can't even spell, much less pronounce. He's turned his thoughts to zombies (did he think no one would tell me this? c'mon, we're talkin' zombies!), our lives, our souls, and why Catholics might care.
Second, we propose a different view of death in life and life in death than that proposed by zombie flicks. There may be a ring of hell reserved for zombies, creatures who can’t talk and don't think, whose only motive is the consumption of flesh. But no, actually I don't think zombies even exist in the Catholic view of the cosmos.
As is the case with vampires, Frankenstein's monster, et al. Despite that little bit of serious consideration of the monsters themselves, Webster's article is focused on higher things and makes good points about how we live lives of faith.

I, myself, am not so interested in the zombies themselves, per se, but in the nature of the apocalypse and what people do with it. Which is what gives us such gems as Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, The Reapers Are the Angels, and World War Z. (As I mentioned yesterday, I don't really tend to agree with that article.)

(Many thanks to my spy, whose name begins with "F" and ends with "rank.")

Don't Forget: Tomorrow is a Holy Day of Obligation

For the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

I believe we'll be at the 8 a.m. Mass ...

In which we discover more than anyone ever wanted to know about Velveeta. Except me. I wanted to know.

A little something extra from Forgotten Classics.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Not That I Might Talk About Zombies Too Much ...

... but I had more than one person sending me a link to this New York Times story, My Zombie, Myself: Why Modern Life Feels Rather Undead.

For the record, though I think the writer is off base. George Romero's zombie movies were about capitalism and discrimination ... in a casual kind of way. 28 Days Later was looking at abuse of power ... kind of ... what with the military guys and the airplane later (though I don't want to say too much in case you haven't seen it and are planning on doing so). The zombies are merely the newest "toy" in the threats and are being explored in various ways.

Most apocalypse stories have something else at the core than the anxiety over everyday life. Otherwise, why not pick up on The Stand by Stephen King? Those characters fretted over everyday life enough that one of them even subconsciously got anxious over April 15, even though the need for paying taxes was long gone.

Not that I'm opinionated or anything.

We Can't Never Get Enuff o' Turkey Bone Gumbo

Made the broth using the turkey bones and skin on Thanksgiving weekend. Froze it along with enough turkey to make it.

Thawed the whole buncha it out and made Turkey Bone Gumbo yesterday.

Yes, you've heard about it before, but it's good enough to take another look. Once again, my thanks to Sara Roahen for graciously taking the initiative to send me that recipe. I love it so much that I'll make a turkey just to have the gumbo later.

Though I'm considering saving up roasted chicken carcasses during the year so we can have some Chicken Bone Gumbo.

Madeleine L'Engle, Eve, and Advent

I hadn't seen this poem before (note to self, MUST pick up Magnificat from Church office!).

The Anchoress has featured it, coupled with a gorgeous piece of art by a nun. Don't miss it.

And the Winner of the Serenity Prayer Mug is ....

[drumroll]


Deb!

I numbered the names and then asked a coworker (who cares little about Catholics, blogs, or the Serenity prayer) to pick a number in that range.

He chose Deb's number and I am delighted because she's a wonderful friend of mine who deserves to win a Serenity mug.

(Of course, I feel that every person who entered deserved to win one ... I love you all.)

I'll be featuring a different quote from the giveaway every day.

Many thanks again for this giveaway to The Catholic Company where we can all go to buy our very own Serenity prayer mugs or other gifts.

Top Ten Fictional Characters I'd Want for a Bestie

This idea, encountered at Linus's Blanket, intrigued me. I was surprised at just how many fictional characters sprang to the top of my mind. I suppose that is because for a main character to be really successful, at least in most books, they must be easy to relate to on at least some level. For books that you love, I suspect the main characters are those who you love as well. Here are some of those for me.
  1. Laura from The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
    Was it just me or did everyone else also feel that Laura was expressing so much of what they themselves felt? I think we'd understand each other.
  2. Abbess Catherine from In This House of Brede.
    Again, I related to her. Plus I liked the very practical approach she took to balancing problem solving and spiritual matters, as well as the way she threw herself at the Lord's feet when overwhelmed. Which I only wish I could do as well as she.
  3. Odd Thomas from Dean Koontz's series.
    Odd is endearing and a heckuva fry cook. Though I don't really want to hear the details about his eerie adventures. I'd like to hang out with him inbetween. (Yes, I just want the cozy, nice side of those stories in my own life.)
  4. Jane Eyre
    She's smart, interesting, and diplomatic when being honest. And we could argue (politely) about why she admires that cousin of hers so much.
  5. The Grand Sophy
    A take charge kind of gal in the best of the books that began the Regency romance genre, Sophy not only is clear sighted and honest, but she'd do anything for a pal. You might be annoyed by her but you'd also probably be amused at the same time. And she's got a kind heart.
  6. Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings
    Who wouldn't want Gandalf for a best friend? That relationship he has with Frodo is one anyone would want, a combination friend and mentor who helps you be your best.
  7. Miss Marple from the Agatha Christie mysteries
    She's a hoot! And a sweetie too. I never could relate to Hercule Poirot or Hastings, but Miss Marple ... I wanted to live in her little village and have tea while we both knit together, exchanging knowing glances over why the Generals' second maid was late again to the dentist. (Or something like that.)
  8. Aibileen from The Help
    A strong woman who can look past people's exteriors to give them a chance. Looking at her friendship with Minny, her mothering of the children in her care even while she knew from sad experience how they'd probably treat her when they were older, and her downright smarts, anyone would be proud to have a friend like her. As would I.
  9. Harry Dresden from the Jim Butcher series
    Yes, he'd probably drive me crazy because he's such a smart aleck. But that's what'd keep me laughing at the same time. And until my car was torn to shred by monsters when he borrowed it for an emergency, I think we could have a lot of fun hanging out. He'd be an expensive friend, but definitely a lot of fun.
  10. Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park
    Because I go for quirky oddballs who happen to also be brilliant. At least when they're in a book I seem to go for them. He's the only guy in this book who has a handle on the big picture of what is going on. And I'd purely love to be pals with this guy.