Saturday, February 26, 2011

Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow ... For Answered Prayers Last Night

This is the sort of story that strains the credulity of anyone who prefers coincidence over God's providence, but I am so thankful that we're charging ahead with it anyway.

You may recall my speaking about Hannah's rescue dog, Kif, who was abused and is spooky as can be around everyone except her. He's part Staffordshire Terrier (pit bull) and looks it but is as gentle toward people as can be.

He got out last night and Hannah wasn't home. A combination that strikes fear into the heart of anyone in our family.

I was bringing in the groceries, during which the other three dogs (our two Boxers and Hannah's other rescue dog who is German Shepherd-Chow Chow and something else) go in and out with me for entertainment. Kif's been increasingly curious about the good times those dogs have in the garage and is always close to the door to the garage when I come in laden with bags. I was at the back of the van, pulling out the last of the things, and a white shape ghosted past the corner of my eye.  (Did the door just come open? Did I not shut it? Who cared. The thing was done.)

"Nooooooo," I howled to the heavens. Softly. I howled it softly. Because there was still a chance I could lure him back to the house.

"Kiffer. Kif boy. C'mon back in ... goooood dog."

Gently. Sweetly.

He came back to the bottom of the driveway and looked at me. The person who gives him raw hamburger, dog treats, and whatever else is around when he's in the kitchen. But yet the person he just can't bring himself to trust. *sigh*

Nope. He ghosted away down the alley.

I cried in my heart but wheedled again, "Kif boy. Kiffer. Here, boy."

He reappeared. Looked at me curiously again from the bottom of the driveway. I could tell he wanted to go back in. I thought of how it took the entire volunteer fire department of the little town of Garrett to catch him. I though of how terrified he was of people. That he would never come to anyone. Of the fact that people would see nothing but a "stray pit bull" slinking in the bushed and ... Texas has many homeowners who have guns.

I sweetened my tones. Stood aside from the door. Made myself as inconspicuous as possible and tried to make myself sound like Hannah, who he adores (not out of the bounds of reality because we do sound alike).

No good. He couldn't make himself do it and ran down the alley. toward the six-lane street we live two houses away from, naturally.

I sprang into action, grabbed a handful of dog treats, ran down the alley, calling. Got Hannah's other dog, Zap, and walked him around the driveway and that bit of alley, thinking that dogs were "safe" and might lure him back.

No good again.

Called Hannah, who was on her way home from work and about 15 minutes away. Called Tom, who dropped everything at work and sped the five minutes home to begin looking.

We began canvasing the neighborhood in our cars, Hannah and I calling, Tom silent because he knew Kif would never respond to a male voice. Cell phones, bless them, were on and ready to call Hannah to wherever we might spot him. I'm not sure what was worse, calling and calling with no response or stopping to ask people if they'd seen a medium-sized, white dog running loose and having to answer the inevitable, "what does he look like" with a reluctant "kind of like a pit bull, but he isn't one, he's really sweet." Ah, the stigma of that breed name.

Hannah prayed. I prayed. I reminded God about the sparrows he looks after and that this terrified dog needed some looking after. I asked my guardian angel to go find him (I had a definite impression of refusal over that). Ok. Fine. Back to God, then. That if we didn't find him, and who knew how far this dog could run in his fear, that some nice family would find him. Someone who would have the patience and kindness to invest in him.

As it turns out, a nice family did find him.

Tom was broadening his search yet again, after 40 minutes of looking, and saw Kif slowly going from bushes to house, bushes to house, bushes to house. It was clear that he was trying to find his way home. It was equally clear that he was scared to death.

Hannah was not even one minute away, got there, and called to him from the car. That stopped him. She got out of the car and the joyous reunion took place.

What a relief.

Tom called me to end the search. I, too, was converging on the spot where the other two had been looking. Clearly we would have all been at the very same spot within minutes of each other.

This isn't out of the realm of possibility. It was near enough to our house after all. But for Kif to have stayed in the neighborhood, for us to all be coming on that spot when he was finally obvious and looking for the house ... that all smacked of a little divine guidance to me.

Whether or not, my heart filled with joy and thankfulness.

And you have never seen such a happy dog in your life. When I sat on the kitchen floor and held out my hand, he came up to have his ears rubbed.

Which, in itself, was some kind of miracle.

Weekend Joke: It's Funny Because It's True

From Ironic Catholic who adds this context: It's true, too. Told to me years ago by a Southern Protestant minister who was working in his church during the racial desegregation of the schools, culture, and to his parishioners' horror, churches.
Church lady: I don't see why things can't stay the way they have been--whites go to our church, and blacks have theirs. I mean, it doesn't harm anyone. It's the way it's always been, separate but equal. This is our special space--I just don't want to be that close to them, you know? I just don't understand why you want to invite blacks to our church.

Pastor: Well, ma'am, I just want to keep some folks from going to hell.

Church lady: Oh, well, I don't want them to go to hell!

Pastor: I wasn't talking about them.

Friday, February 25, 2011

I pay so little attention to the Academy Awards ...

... that I just now realized why I've been seeing so many stories about Oscar-related items. I had to look up the Academy Awards date on Wikipedia to see that they were coming up this Sunday.

(Note: language warning for the bottom of this story)

It's not that I necessarily have anything against them. Ever since Tom and I went to see Forrest Gump and then Il Postino because they won Oscars (figure out how long ago that was for yourselves), and were underwhelmed, I have been fairly disinterested in the Academy's opinion.

However, I still find myself reading the related articles. And when I'm sent a good one, this time by Margaret, like this one about the nun who is still a voting member of the Academy, then I am actually engaged. Especially when she seems to have common sense as well.
I don’t think that they would be shocked by the gore and the sex and the violence in the movies as much as they would just feel that their time had been wasted. (On sharing all the movies with her community)
Hey, that's how I feel about the Oscars!
When I see Natalie Portman masturbating [in Black Swan], I hear the kids come in and talk about their problems with masturbating. What offends me is, Is the movie itself going to leave people without hope? You have to help them know that there is a way through their grief and their pain.

Because while I am disinterested in the Academy's opinion, I love movies and the way they can show us a different view.

Perfectly Put

We live in a bizarre society where one of the national pastimes is getting all huffy because someone else’s life isn’t one long giant defense of your own personal decisions.
I have never seen it put so well.

If you read the rest of what Jennifer at Riparians at the Gate says, and then click through to the link (oh, thanks by the way, Jen, because I needed another blog to read) you will find a good illustration of this point.

I read the original post about the 16-year-old in Haiti and it made me instantly flash back to reading the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder which remind us that life for most people, including children, was often not easy or fun. Yet, Laura and her family were rich in the things that many people in our extremely privileged society today don't even know they are missing: proper perspective, flexibility, appreciation for the good things they received, and ... most of all ... love.

And that's sad.

(You know, I call her Jen to myself ... because I feel just that comfortable with her. DANG, she's a good writer.)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Secret Adversary is #2 at Free Listens

I was most gratified to note that my recording of The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie, done at Forgotten Classics, has turned up in second place in the Top 10 list at Free Listens (most popular free audiobook reviews at Free Listens, as determined by the number of page visits).

Of course, I was already extremely gratified with Free Listens extremely favorable review, so this just doubles the pleasure. I already enjoy doing the podcast ... nice comments and reviews just make it that much better.'s 2011 Readers' Choice Awards: Time to Vote for Catholic Sites

Though there is precious little representation of anyone except the usual biggies. I was quite surprised at the lack of creativity in most of the nominations. Even some of the usual biggies aren't there like Amy Welborn or Mark Shea. However, as The Crescat points out, there is the occasional wild card in the running.

You can begin voting here and the bottom of each page has a prompt that takes you through all the Catholic categories.

I, personally, am looking forward to The Crescat's 2011 Cannonball Awards. That's where all the interesting folks come into their own. She sez details will be up on March 1.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Holy Moly! Female "Deacon" Renounces Her Alleged Ordination.

Now, here's something you don't see every day. But it is most welcome.
On July 22, 2007, I was ordained to the diaconate by Bishop Patricia Fresen, of Germany and South Africa who was ordained by three male bishops in Germany for the group called Roman Catholic Women Priests. The ordination took place at the Santa Barbara Immaculate Heart Spiritual Center. Because neither Patricia Fresen nor myself were given permission for the ordination by Pope Benedict XVI, the ordinations were illegitimate and not recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. Thus an excommunication process called Latae Sententiae occurred, excommunicating oneself by failure to observe the Canon Laws of the Church.

I wish to renounce the alleged ordination and publicly state that I did not act as a deacon as a part of this group except on two occasions, when I read the gospel once at mass and distributed communion once at this same mass. I withdrew from the program within two weeks of the ceremony because I realized that I had made a mistake in studying for the priesthood. I confess to the truth of Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. I confess the authority of the Holy Father on these issues of ordination and recognize that Christ founded the ordination only for men.

Formally, I relinquish all connection to the program of Roman Catholic Women Priests and I disclaim the alleged ordination publicly with apologies to those whose lives I have offended or scandalized by my actions. I ask God’s blessings upon each of these folks and their families.

Norma Jean Coon, RN, MFCC, PhD
San Diego, California
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
It takes courage and humility to admit your mistakes, especially those made so publicly. Let us pray for Ms. Coon and also for those who have not yet admitted their errors. You may see the original post on this at The Last Papist Standing. Via The Curt Jester.

It's All Downhill From Here

A little humor to help us through the rest of the week. Courtesy of xkcd, whose comics are not the only humor of his that I enjoy. As witness this warning from the bottom of his site.
Warning: this comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors).

Accepting God's Challenges

I'm a semi-professional writer in real life with a tidy handful of paid publications under my belt--mostly horror and dark fantasy short stories--but in recent months I've been feeling the call to write something altogether different. Actually, calling it "a call" is being generous, unless "the Call" involves occasional divine whacks over the head. It's more like this:

Me: Ooh, I just had this idea for a novel, but... God, I can't write stuff like that, I have no experience...
God: *points*
Me: Yeah, but... listen, that's a LOT of research you're asking of me, and we're talking, like, years of notes and writing and revising and actually talking to professors and you know I'm anti-social...
God: *points*
Me: But other people have done it already...
God: *points*
Me: There's no money in it!
God: *points*
God: *points*
Me: Sigh. Fine. *slinks off to the computer*

So, I'm trying hard to listen and trust that He knows what He's doing. On that note, if anyone has any book recs about the historical St. Peter, and the history and culture of his time period, please feel free to send them my way. I have quite a few already, but I'm always on the lookout for more.
I like that: God: *points*

I know someone else (hi Joanette!) who also is stepping out in faith in a big way. She would have to change her entire life to take up God's challenge. She's been "called" if you like via a longing that has been there since childhood but that she always thought was too unachievable. (No, we're not talking about joining an order, but we are talking about vocation.) I mean, she'd have to move. Far away. Take up a different way of life for several years. From our conversations the path does seem clearly marked for this challenge to be undertaken at this time. She's been prepped. She's been put in the right place to take advantage of it. So she's taken the first steps. She's ready. Excited. Scared. But most of all -- ready.

I recently read something by St. Teresa of Avila which applies to this. Many of you know that she was a lady who plunged ahead doing lots of God's challenges, despite huge odds against her. I told Joanette I'd send it to her but I see no reason not to share it with everyone in the process.
I would not hesitate to do anything the Beloved [God] asks, regardless of its difficulty. Experience has taught me that when I accept a challenge for his sake, a gnawing doubt regarding my ability to perform will bless me. When the work is finished, the reward is high satisfaction This is a reward we receive her and now rather than in heaven.

The only ones who can understand what I am saying are those who have also tasted these sweet pleasures. I have been through this many times.

Sometimes an assignment has far-reaching implications. In such cases, I will give you my best advice: If you are inspired to take on a worthy project, don't hesitate. Have no fear that you may not be able to accomplish it. Turn yourself over to God. Take yourself out of it. You need not be afraid you can't do the job. God can do all things.
St. Teresa of Avila, excerpt in A Little Daily Wisdom
Those goals are individual to us. They can have a big impact on others, no doubt about it. But, they are tuned to what we need at that particular time.

I have a friend who several years ago faced the challenge of stopping home schooling, enrolling all their children in public school, and entering the work force. Terrifying at the time, but it has enriched every community that their family has touched.

I have another friend who recently began homeschooling which brings challenges which would make me quail before them. I know that it had to cause, at the least, great trepidation. However, I have no doubt that when I hear the long term results, they will show a story which my friend couldn't have predicted either.

If we are persistent and faithful, God's challenges yield results which may surprise us, which may succeed or fail, and which may require constant attempts to fulfill. Our vision may be too small or too big or we may try in completely the wrong way. Through all this we must take the huge risk of making a full commitment of ourselves. I think that is what God wants above all. It is in the doing that we learn, whether it comes off the way we think it should or not.

Been there. Done that. Surprise, surprise. Doesn't everything around here wind up being about me?

Of course it doesn't end at that because God is all about the organic process, so to speak. He's got that bigger view of working with us and through us ... and one challenge just isn't gonna cut it in achieving his goal. Onward and upward is the way that works.

So, I've got my own new challenge that I realized was being pushed in my face a few months ago. I've been doing my best to avoid it, ignore it, pretend I couldn't do it, and so on. You know the drill, right? As a recent correspondent wrote to me:
My relationship with God so often feels like an extremely patient father dealing with a recalcitrant three year old. I keep kicking, yelling, and throwing myself boneless on the ground, and he keeps patiently picking me up, dusting me off, and guiding me back into place. The funny thing, though: When I stop fighting him and actually -look- at what it is he wants me to do--sure, it's going to be difficult, but it's also something I'm uniquely suited for.
The fact is, I know God is going to do something with me while I am working on this challenge. Slowly, imperceptibly perhaps. But if he's made it this clear, then who am I to say no? And with that acceptance comes a certain amount of relief, even as I prepare for difficult, challenging work along the way.

Naturally, I read something just this morning that St. Teresa said about this too.
I have learned, through experience as well as reading, that an obedient soul receives much blessing. Through obedience, we advance in virtue and gain humility. Obedience prevents us from worrying about straying from the path to heaven.

We also gain a precious spiritual relaxation. Once we completely resign ourselves to the practice of holy obedience, surrendering our thoughts and not seeking any other opinion than our confessor or superior, the devil will stop harassing us. Our restless fidgeting, which makes us eager to do what we desire even if it is unreasonable, ceases.


I will add that one thing I am already struggling with is the desire to be great at what I'm doing, the first time out of the gate. This particular challenge I'm working on has no goal, no deadline, and no expectations set by anyone ... except by me. I am the only judge of it at this point anyway. And yet, despite the knowledge that I have a long way to go, just in the doing of this I am finding joy, excitement, and a more interesting life. If that isn't positive feedback, then I don't know what is.

I keep reminding myself that what counts here is persistence, patience, and adherence to my goal.

I was helped quite a bit by the fact that Tom chose a particularly perfect video to show at our weekly creativity meeting this morning. It is The Secret Truth About Executing Great Ideas from 99%. There's nothing about faith there. But there is everything about risk-taking, failure, persistence, and just doing it. You may find it helpful too.

Monday, February 21, 2011

What's Goin' On: Birding

We finally got a weekend without terrible weather or sick family members so Tom and I were able to undertake a New Year's resolution we'd made together. Psyched up by having identified a Carolina Wren; we decided to add occasional birdwatching treks to our time together (yes, we know they live everywhere and we should have noticed them before this year but we'd never stopped to look at one before so ... it was a big accomplishment for us).

With Hannah in tow we set off for nearby White Rock Lake. And when I say nearby I'm not kidding. Maybe 10 minutes in traffic. Maybe. Hannah actually wasn't in tow but more leading the pack as she loves birds and also identifying trees. However, we didn't want to haul lots of books around so we settled for the one Hannah had bought for her bird class which truly did make it easy to figure out which birds were which. I mean to say when you're looking at gulls from quite a distance away it can be hard to tell which one has a ring around the end of its beak and which has a ring around the middle of its beak ... unless you know that one lives in California exclusively (yes, the imaginatively named California Gull).

Eventually we found a fairly unused part of the bike trail in our wanderings and some teeny tiny birds that were buggers to see in the tangle of branches they were hopping around in. Plus they were against the sun so it was tough to see any feather colors. However, working as a team (Hannah - white eye ring, striping on feathers, Tom-forked tail, me-beak and body shape) we figured out it was a Ruby Crowned Kinglet. Which seems a misnomer because you only get to see the itty-bitty patch of ruby when a male is excited ... or maybe when it is annoyed. Anyway, you couldn't see any ruby really. Most of the time it looked like this. I felt especially proud because when Hannah was flipping pages, the kinglet general picture caught my eye and I kept coming back to it (beak shape is all important to me).

We also saw innumerable other birds which I forgot were actually birds (ducks, seagulls, etc.) because I was on the outlook for something new. However, we now have proper names to go with them.
  • American White Pelican (to be fair, this is not exactly common; we were pretty surprised to see a pair of them settle on the water near us)
  • Ring Beaked Gull
  • Double Crested Cormorant
  • Great Egret
  • Green Parakeets (there are colonies of feral parakeets living at the lake from the larger sized such as these, down to the budgie sort)
  • American Coot Duck
And, of course, starlings, grackles, mourning doves, mockingbirds, cardinals, and sparrows. Which are all so common I can see them in my yard. But at least after this I did remember that they were birds. Not just part of the scenery.

The extra bonus was that we were near the spillway and the trail there winds through trees and has water flowing picturesquely over rocks. It was lovely and a balm to the soul as long as you were sure to stay "Left!" so the bikers could whip by.

We're looking forward to doing this again and I'm pretty excited thinking about going to Chicago in May (when Rose graduates) so we can go to Jackson Park which has prime bird watching, or so I've read.

On a side note, Jackson Park is fast turning into the place we are all looking forward to. Rose has long recommended the Industrial Museum as something Tom would enjoy. He's been reading The Devil in the White City and how has come across the park's huge connection to the World's Fair which is the central event of the book. So we're getting many a fine tale told about not only the fair but the Jackson Park connection. We'll be well prepared for that day trip.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Nothing says “I want to be alone” quite like an atomized sulfur cloud.

During the breeding season, in February and March, 
female skunks may spray males when they're no longer in the mood 
(Photo: Dan and Lin Dzurisin, Creative Commons license)

Do skunks spray other skunks?

It never would have occurred to me to even ask the question.

Luckily, Hannah asked the question at Crowded Creatures and Bonnie had the answer. And there's a link to more info about skunks and spraying (which is where I picked up the photo). Which every inquiring mind wants to know, right? Right!

More reviews of Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist

These reviews, also at the Patheos book club, are honest and affecting. I'm giving you a bit but I think you'll appreciate their testimony to how the book affected them personally.

Rick Rice, who is working his way back to the Church, finds solid food for the journey.
I’ve been away from the Catholic faith for 40 years, in essence wandering in the wilderness as the Jews who were led out of Egypt. My trek toward belief in the Real Presence has been slow and methodical, perhaps even too cerebral; my struggles have been, well . . . real and present.  Pitre’s book has helped fill the intellectual gaps and in that sense is an enormous assist.
Simcha Fisher, who I have mentioned here before for her humor and candor alike,  appreciates the same details that I did ... and more.
But, the details!

Did you know that the Jews’ Passover lamb was commonly nailed to a cross-shaped board? Did you know that the manna which sustained the Hebrews in the desert was thought to have been created before the Fall, and “had existed ‘on high’ in heaven” until God gave it to the people to eat? Did you know that the Bread of the Presence, which was consecrated and reserved in the tabernacle of the Temple, constituted both meal and unbloody sacrifice, and was offered with wine each Sabbath?

Did you know that temporarily-celibate Jewish priests would elevate this bread on feast days, and proclaim, “Behold, God’s love for you!”

Movie Plots Summed Up in Venn Diagrams

I never made this connection before but don't know why not. No wonder I love Mal Reynolds (from Joss Whedon's creations Firefly and Serenity).

This was #25 in the contest. It was my favorite though there were some very good entries. We all know, though, that I'm a sucker for Firefly and Serenity ... oh, yes, and Nathan Fillion.

(Note: has no qualms about explicit language and the linked post has some, so don't click through if such will be upsetting to you.)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Not always was the Kangaroo as now we do behold him, but a Different Animal with four short legs.

The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo is up at Forgotten Classics. Don't miss this lesser known Kipling tale.

"Comedy is, in some way, the point of everything."

It is the dismissal of comedy as "un-important" that worries me.  ... RCA and I had a similar discussion a few weeks ago, when she said "I just don't see the point of Comedy." I'm still a little shocked by that statement--it has left me speechless for three full weeks, because, it seems to me Comedy is, in some way, the point of everything.  Dante's journey through the afterlife is called a "comedia" for a reason.  And while slapstick and puns and romantic comedies are not la comedia in this fullest sense, they share something of it's nature.  Comedy is about justice and about reason--even at its most absurd. A pun is funny because it surprises our reason with a new connection.  Slapstick is funny because no one deserves a pie in the face.  The Misanthrope is funny because he is absurd, and yet, we pity him and see ourselves in him, and the only way to deal with such absurdity in ourselves is to throw up out hands and laugh.
Margaret at Ten Thousand Places defends comedy very well (go read it). Once again, Margaret says what I am thinking with her speechlessness in the face of a complete rejection of comedy.  (That quote which serves as my headline? It's going straight to the pool room ... uhhh ... quote journal.)

She also, perhaps, justifies why my movie of choice for this week's A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast is The Castle. Scott and I find a surprising amount to say about this quirky, warm little-known Australian comedy, as well as family, marriage, manners, and being friendly.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

It's All Downhill From Here

Since we've been talking zombies today, here's a little midweek entertainment, courtesy of Doug Savage.

He's got a book out ... didja know? Take a look.

Those Zombies Are Nothing That a Little Lysol (and a great big chainsaw) Can't Clean Up

Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator, is a fun romp through the zombie genre that is more akin to Shaun of the Dead than to the more "serious" zombie books I've read (World War Z, The Reapers Are The Angels).

The zombie apocalypse is actually somewhat in balance at the point in which this book takes place. Neeta Lyffe is following in her mother's footsteps as a zombie exterminator. Due to some legal problems she is in need of extra income which is why she agreed to participate in a television reality show in which she trains wanna-be zombie exterminators. The winner will win a million dollars and the others, should they survive, will have been trained in a useful occupation. Naturally, each person has their own reasons for wanting this training and we see a bit below the surface into each person's motivations. Neeta herself loathes the necessity that made her agree to the series but is determined that each person will be properly trained. This puts her into direct opposition with the show's producer who is all about the visual thrills and exploiting every emotion to titillate viewers.

Author Karina Fabian is very imaginative in her creation. For example, the zombies are repelled by common household cleaners. They have some dregs of habit left when they rise from the grave which makes them inclined to "visit" their loved ones or drawn to cultural icons they used to frequent. This is an amusing twist which Fabian exploits for full comic or adventure value as needed.

Fabian is Catholic but repeatedly mentioned that the book is not Catholic. True enough but there is a solid worldview beneath this fantasy which Catholics will appreciate. I know that I did.

I truly enjoyed this light, amusing book. I became invested enough in Neeta to worry that she might be dating the wrong person, to worry about who might die in the ending climax, to become annoyed with the troll that haunts a fan forum for the show. It is a quick read, but one that I anticipate rereading whenever I need a lift in spirits. My review copy was a Kindle file and I'm putting the actual paperback on my wish list so I can have a real hands-on book on my shelf.

Note: As I said, I received a review copy of this book. Guess what? I'd have liked it anyway.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Simply Terrific Book About The Eucharist

I really loved Jesus and The Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Brant Pitre. Read my review at the Patheos book club to find out why it made me say, "For I was blind but now I see ..."

You can read Chapter One here.

An author interview is here.

Monday, February 14, 2011

What Do These Have in Common: Murder. Pope Leo XIII. Zombies. Outer Space. Sherlock Holmes.

All are connected with Karina Fabian.

Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator
Karina wrote Neeta Lyffe, which I just finished reading (at breakneck speed) last night and enjoyed very much. Review coming soon, soon, soon! Suffice it to say for the moment that I am buying an actual book to have on my shelves. Read more here.

Infinite Space, Infinite God II
Which we'll just call ISIG-II to make things easier, shall we? Karina edited this and, if it is like the last one, I'd bet we'll see a story from her in it. That is the next book in my reading queue on the Kindle. Karina's blog tour for the book will be hosted here on Tuesday, April 19, so you have plenty of time to get your own copy and be ready to join in.

You may recall that I enjoyed the first Infinite Space, Infinite God and I am really looking forward to this book. Karina's website describes it thusly:
Twelve science fiction stories featuring Catholic heroes. Meet a time traveler who sacrifices his life to give a man a sip of water, and the nun who faces venomous snakes to save a friend. Share the adventures of priests who battle aliens and machines in order serve the greater good. Infinite Space, Infinite God II spans the gamut of science fiction, from near-future dystopias to time travel to space opera, puzzles of logic to laugh-out-loud humor and against-the-clock suspense. A great read for any science fiction fan--a must-read for the Catholic sci-fi lover.
 Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes
Karina must like to stay very, very busy, she is helping a friend organize a blog tour for Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes.

Yes, the Vatican and Sherlock Holmes. It can hardly get better. We'll host the blog tour for that book on Thursday, April 7, so get reading! Karina says:
Do you or your readers like mystery? Sherlock Holmes? Then I invite you to join the virtual book tour for Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, written by Ann Margaret Lewis.

About the Book: A sudden death in the Vatican. An international incident over stolen artifacts. A priest’s wrongful imprisonment for murder. In this collection of three as yet untold tales, hinted at in the original Holmes stories, the voices of Dr. John H. Watson and the legendary Pope Leo XIII reveal how the great Sherlock Holmes brought these grim ecclesial cases to startling and poignant conclusions. Learn more here.

This book has been receiving critical acclaim from both mystery and Sherlock Holmes organizations, including the Chesterton Society.

Happy Valentine's Day

Tom and I will be going out for cocktails to a new place that has a good reputation and then strolling down the street for pizza. Yes. Pizza. Lady's choice, so that makes it ok, right? And it is some of the most delicious pizza you've ever had. Which is what matters most.

The Anchoress had more than just herself on her mind and, therefore, has some loverly links for the day. Check it out.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Global Warming, Climate Change, Whatever You Call It: It Isn't Making the Weather Weirder

In the climate models, the extremes get more extreme as we move into a doubled CO2 world in 100 years," atmospheric scientist Gilbert Compo, one of the researchers on the project [The Twentieth Century Reanalysis Project], tells me from his office at the University of Colorado, Boulder. "So we were surprised that none of the three major indices of climate variability that we used show a trend of increased circulation going back to 1871."

In other words, researchers have yet to find evidence of more-extreme weather patterns over the period, contrary to what the models predict. "There's no data-driven answer yet to the question of how human activity has affected extreme weather," adds Roger Pielke Jr., another University of Colorado climate researcher.
Read the whole story at The Wall Street Journal.

Though, as Mike Flynn points out, that doesn't stop people from making up theories of weather change affecting just about anything.
NYT columnist Paul Krugman has determined that the Egyptian uprising was due to Global Warming™ [I mean, Climate Change; I mean, Climate Disruption]. The rationale is that Global Warming results in droughts (when it isn't causing increased rainfall or snow) which leads to reduced crops, which leads to higher prices, which leads to mobs crying out for governments to sprinkle magic pixie dust to make food cheaper. It's a wonderful theory. Except for one thing.
Another interesting instance of "what everybody knows" versus the facts.

Why 911 Wildlife Is So Amazing, Relocating Racoons, and Other Interesting Info

The raccoons Bonnie deals with are almost exclusively orphaned, usually by efforts to remove the mother from someone's house or backyard. This is, in fact, one example of a reason live-trapping can be inhumane. Most people can't tell if a raccoon (or squirrel, opossum or skunk) is a lactating mother, and taking her to another location could mean leaving her babies to fend for themselves.
Crowded Creatures has the scoop. Take a look around the other posts at this new blog to find out why coyotes probably didn't eat someone's dog and tips about what to do in event of a dog fight.

Yes, this is written by our very own Hannah whose two dogs have swelled our dog population to "pack" status. Check it out.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Reviewing "The Art of Eating In"

Cathy Erway needed an interesting subject for the food blog she was considering beginning. She decided to give up eating out, though that would be difficult for a young twenty-something in New York City, and begin cooking her meals at home. What began as an interesting experiment became something of an obsession. As Cathy's blog, Not Eating Out In New York, grew in popularity, she threw herself into the project with an increasing passion that lasted two years.
My review is at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

Mubarak Out, Anchoress Cites Marian Connection

Just this morning I was looking at the front page photo on the Wall Street Journal of that stubborn, stubborn man and saying, "What does it take for him to get a clue?"

Evidently he got it and got out.

The Anchoress realized that today is the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and has a list of other historic events that have occurred on Marian feast days. An interesting list to look over ... check it out.

Steven Riddle's Review of The Reapers Are The Angels

Think James Lee Burke filtered through Cormac McCarthy's The Road with zombies.  Boy, that really wasn't very helpful was it.  Let me try another pair of words: unexpectedly lovely.
Such is my respect for Steven that I'm not sure what made me happier, reading that he liked the book or his opening paragraph about our compatibility as reading partners. I feel super smart now.

As you know, I can also strongly recommend the audio version. It is amazing.

Google Salutes Edison's 164th Birthday

Google celebrates Edison's birthday with a wonderful animated gif in which gears turn and the light illuminates. Go check it out.

I know a bit too much about Edison's shameless self promotion, shameless to the point where others were done down to achieve it, to celebrate him as wholeheartedly as I could. His behavior during the AC/DC war, his treatment of Nikola Tesla, his behavior toward Georges Méliès, and his film licensing monopoly which is why the motion picture industry moved to California are just a few examples. However, there is no denying the fact that he is an American icon.

The Google tribute is truly striking, no matter who inspired it.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Blogging Around: A Few Interesting Things

  • A blog I like is Riparians at the Gate where Jennifer Fitz blogs about catechesis, books, prayer, economics (an interesting continuing series) and occasionally points out an interesting blog that I want to read too ... which is what made me mention her to you.

  • Thomas L. McDonald at State of Play tells the origin of tarot cards and shows some delightful images of French tarot.
    Tarot cards were not created for "divination," but to play games. Some people dispute this, claiming that the trump cards of a tarot deck (called the "Major Arcana") can be traced back to Jewish Cabbalism or ancient Egyptian mysticism.

    This is the worst kind of pseudo-history, and yet another example of new agers inventing ancient "sources" for modern practices in order to give them a patina of credibility. There is no evidence at all that the Trumps were adapted for fortune-telling purposes before the 18th century, while the cards themselves date back at least several hundred years earlier. Any person or source that claims otherwise is just making things up.

  • Is Whispering Harmful to Your Voice? Doesn't everyone know that it is? The NY Times' "Really" column looks closer. Because it isn't that simple. Naturally.

  • 5 Complaints About Modern Life That Are Statistically B.S. from Things that everybody knows like "everything is so expensive" and "people are getting stupider" ain't necessarily so. Keeping in mind that this is from, don't be surprised at a certain amount of bad language flung about for emphasis. That said, their articles make me laugh and teach me at the same time. Rose gets the credit for pointing me to their articles.

  • Another blog I like, Strange Herring, is a new one to me. (Can't remember where I saw it linked originally.) Lots of links and some interesting short stories about subjects such as why SlingBlade is the most explicitly Christian movie ever made or "Italians We Like: Steve Buscemi." And gems such as this:
    Medieval Italian Manuscript Feeds Entire Colony. Safeway Stocks Up on Dante, Ariosto.

    So this book, written in 1293, started to decay, as really old things tend to do. But it was decaying in a manner that caught the eye of microbiologists. Turns out it was home to “an entire ecosystem.”

    Now you know how the mainstream press will play this: “Vatican Library Withholds Food for Millions. Pope Blasted.”

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Stephen Sommers to Direct "Odd Thomas." NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!

We remember Stephen Sommers don't we?

He began his career with The Mummy which was quite enjoyable and has slid steadily downhill ever since, winding up with a bump at G.I. Joe.

The guy whose personal quote is "Don't let them tell you less is more. More is more."

The director who Industrial Light & Magic created their own personal CGI demands scale for.

He'll be directing a movie about one of my favorite fictional characters of all time. And not only that ...
Looks like Stephen Sommers wrote the script himself, and is producing it as well.
This news just gets better and better, right?

(Thanks to Rose for the tip on this one.)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Google Salutes Jules Verne's 183rd Birthday

Seriously, you have to go check this out.

It is the best of ingenious art used as homage. When you move the lever the image seen through the sub windows moves. If you don't move the lever, you are floating on the waves, so naturally the image bobs because the sub would be bobbing.

When Beowulf Knits Socks ...

It might look like this.

I especially like this since I am fighting off the urge to buy a book (darn that book fast) called What Would Madame Defarge Knit? (Edited by Heather Ordover at CraftLit with many original patterns based on classic books).

Thanks to Theocoid for this, who got the link from Mark Shea.

When Superheroes Play Poker

This is funny.

I laughed out loud. At work.

You have to like superheroes. And not mind a bad word.

Thanks to Rose for this one.

iPhone App Aids in Confession and Carries Imprimatur (corrected)

A new app for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch has been “developed for those who frequent the sacrament and those who wish to return” in what is the first known imprimatur to be given for an iPhone or iPad app.
I'm sure that I am late in noticing this, but a pal sent me the link, asking what I thought about it. I thought I'd post this as it is how I let Tom know about interesting Catholic news.

It actually just looks like another way to organize your thoughts more than anything.

I, myself, resist cell phones, apps, and all that. That's just a personal thing. I have so many gadgets. So I use note cards. They are easy to stack and don't need batteries.
This app looks no worse than having a printed out examination of conscience, and prompts to get through confession (which I have handwritten on a note card).

Though I do NOT write down a list of sins ... they are burned onto my mind until I talk to the priest! (So much safer that way.)

The original headline said this carries a Vatican imprimatur and I had clicked around and found numerous stories from reputable sources which said that very thing. However, it turns out that they didn't really check their sources any further than I did. There is an imprimatur but it was bestowed by an American, Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

The place to get the real story as well as see all the ways the story was misrepresented in the news it at the always-valuable Get Religion.

Monday, February 7, 2011

In other news ... Kif and Wash got into a serious, no-holds barred fight for supremacy

This was last Friday when Hannah and I went in the back yard to frolic in the 5" snowfall with the dogs.

Playing, which always has an edge of hierarchy for dogs, turned in the blink of an eye into fighting between Wash (the Boxer) and Kif (part Staffordshire Terrier). Wash won, but that was only because Hannah hit Kif over the head with a plastic lawn chair to make him stop. She wielded it like a Valkyrie, doing this mother's heart proud, especially as I was racking my brain to think of how we could shock Kif enough to get him to stop.

Otherwise, I shudder to think what might have happened. I had Wash's collar but he kept on fighting and with Kif underneath no one could get a hand inbetween them to grab Kif's collar.

Hannah grabbed Kif and moved him across the yard.

Zoe and Zapp had been bouncing excitedly around the edges (mentally chanting, "fight, fight, fight!"). They had no doubt who "won" and immediately ran after Kif and attacked him. Luckily, they weren't as passionate and I was able to call them off with voice alone, because I couldn't let go of Wash.

Wash had multiple puncture wounds to both legs with a few bad enough to need stapling.

Kif had to have his ear sewn up in a couple of spots so the honors were about even.

The next day, we were filled with trepidation about how to have these two dogs in the same household. However, we followed the Barkbuster's lady's advice. We reintroduced them to each other in the yard where the fight broke out, with a hose ready and waiting in case of renewed trouble. But both dogs knew that Kif had disengaged first. Neither cared it was because of a lawn chair and both felt Wash had won.

So, unbelievably to me, we are now back to where we began.

Except that it seemed to clear the air in some way that we humans couldn't really see.

Wash has a new bounce in his step and a take-charge manner in the pack proper. Questions about chew bones get settled by him, he gives a sharper reprimand when the others try to push him around and he is first up for guard duties.

Kif, surprisingly, has gotten braver around me and now will look me in the eye. Crazy. But it is as if he now knows just where he belongs and feels more secure. Hannah thinks it is because in Wash he sees a strong leader.

Who knows?

Whatever the reason, we have peace and it seems to have done both dogs some mental good. It is just too bad about the wear and tear on our mental good. Not to mention the vet bills!

Gulliver's Travels, the Catholic Church, and the Meaning of Life

You never know just where the conversation is going to go when you participate in an SFFaudio podcast.

Jesse Willis (SFFaudio host), Gregg Margarite, and I all read Gulliver's Travels and then discussed it yesterday. This is a longish podcast at almost two hours, however, readers of this blog may find the discussion extra interesting since it eventually ranged all over the place with the last hour popping in and out of faith discussions.

It was a fascinating discussion to participate in and a truly wonderful example of Socratic learning (for me anyway) with a couple of folks who are willing to pursue learning wherever they find it.

Click through and have a listen.

Keeping on Track with St. Teresa: reviewing "a little daily wisdom"

St. Teresa of Avila is not a lofty, inaccessible saint; she’s a companion, and has been taking Christians on a journey through their own interior “castles” for hundreds of years. Honest, humorous, and insightful, her devotional and spiritual reflections show readers how to open up themselves to God in new ways.
This little book from Paraclete Press is true treasure. The daily quotes from St. Teresa may be tender or pithy, patient or sharp, but they have so far had something I needed to hear practically every day. Partially this is because of Bernard Bangley's accessible translations which capture Teresa's sparkling, vivid personality in naturally flowing language. Partially, though, it is because St. Teresa herself has a gift for communicating the important things we need to remember in striving to grow in our love for God.

What Teresa knew, and what Bangley has excerpted so well, is that we are easily distracted and must always be brought back to focus on the important things. Those things usually seem extremely simple when we are reading about them but are difficult to remember in the flow of everyday life. That is why it is good to have these brief excerpts to read every day so that we may ponder them and keep ourselves on the right path.

I was so impressed with this book after looking through it that I began using it every morning before prayer. It has proven very helpful and oftentimes I find Teresa's advice comes into my mind throughout the day. I have come across several entries that speak to me particularly and I will share them throughout this week in the daily quotes. Highly recommended.

Friday, February 4, 2011

First Friday Fast for an End to Abortion: February

Here's the background info and I see that I've been doing this since February 2007 which makes this my 4 year anniversary of this practice.

I had been slackening up in the last couple of months but the March for Life, as always, reminded me of just how urgent all our actions are on behalf of the unborn. There is nothing like that community, the solidarity, the common action of the body of Christ who works to save those among us who have no voices to cry out.

If you're not already fully involved in working toward this goal, I invite you to join me in a monthly day of sacrificial fasting and prayer for the unborn, the mothers and fathers who are tempted to make the mistake of abortion, those who work to end abortion and for the souls of those who have been so lied to that they work for abortion.

Reconciling the Reality of Hell and a God Who is Love

The Curt Jester calls our attention to an article called Debunking the Myth of Hell which has this basic premise.
I’m writing about hell because it is an unthinkable, horrible, destructive concept that can’t possibly be true.
My own personal comment about that is there are many people just don't have much imagination. This author seems to be one. God is so far outside our range of what could "possibly be true" that believing in anything else that goes along with Him should be a piece of cake. People who say that sort of thing just aren't trying hard enough. Or even looking into it much. More correctly, the statement should say, "I don't want to believe in it."
The first time I encountered the concept was from a high school English teacher and it affected me not at all since I cared nothing for God or Hell at the time other than to be surprised that someone would rather disappear ... that teacher's favored imagining of the punishment for not doing what one should ... than to just, well, go ahead and do what one should. She was kind of a ditzy hippy and we all knew it and that also took away all emphasis from what she was trying to "teach" that day, for me at any rate.

Anyway, The Curt Jester has his own comments which I liked very much and pithily sums up with the kicker which really sums up the concept which we should remember when faced with this statement from others.
She ends the article with the statement “God is Love.” So to reverse her question “Can a loving God force someone to Heaven who doesn’t want to be with him?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Streets as Icy as Skating Rinks Continue in Dallas

Just thought I'd catch everyone up on the weather. So it is day 3 of the big ice-in, with below freezing temperatures and a city system that is just not prepared for this sort of thing.

The mail still gets delivered (love you, U.S. Postal System!), the power is on though I have heard of some neighborhoods where they are having "rolling black outs" to help conserve power, and although we didn't have newspaper delivery yesterday, today we found two WSJs on our doorstep (yesterday's and today's).

Tom has gone to work all three days because ... I'll just say it ... he's a warrior. (Also, when you have a small business you wind up being like a farmer. No one else is going to feed those cows, right? And our clients may be unable to leave their homes but they still are asking for work to be done ... as well as the fact that we have many clients who aren't in Dallas and are asking for jobs.) I went to work on day one and then after having a series of small heart attacks over the driving conditions he drove me home at the end of the day. Because he's just that great ... yes he is!

Hannah went to work on days 1 and 2 and was one of the few people able to show up at work at the vet (where half her working days are spent as an assistant vet tech). Good thing she did because they have 18 dogs boarding and most of the people who work there live a good distance away and couldn't make it in. She showed up at 7 a.m. on the second day because she figured the 7 a.m. shift for dog walking and feeding wouldn't be there. She was right. What a good girl ... I am so proud of her for driving over icy roads to make sure the dogs were taken care of and walked.

Our own dogs are in heaven because people have been around so much of the time and they haven't had to be in their crates during the day.

Although ... we are beginning to run out of dinner-type food. We can eat sandwiches for some time but I will be venturing out to go to the store sometime soon so we can restock other sorts of supplies.

There must be more but that's all I can think of for now!

January Book Report - Part 2

Continuing the discussion of books I read in January, I see that I could also have called this the Diana Wynne Jones report. I did read quite a few of her books all at once and was entranced by this "new" author.
  • Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
    I loved the movie and a friend who had been telling me how superior the book is was kind enough to lend it to me. I began glancing through it and found myself pulled in by the humorous beginning. It was written with a bit of self awareness but not so much that it ever took over the story. The story is complex and yet the author managed to keep it all clear as the story ramped up, extra characters appeared, and everyone came together at the end. (Although I was a bit confused about the two piecemeal characters until that was completely sorted out ... but perhaps that is as it should be.) Definitely better than the movie!

    I can't really describe the plot well except to say that Sophie's troubles all begin after an encounter with the Witch of the Waste which leaves her artificially aged to about 90. When Sophie goes out to find help she winds up at Howl's moving castle (which whirs through the countryside at an alarming pace). Those are the simplest elements but it is an entrancing book. Although Diana Wynne Jones writes for the juvenile/young adult audience her books are absorbing whatever one's age and this is one which I highly recommend.

    My friend then brought me several other of her family's favorite books by Jones and I enjoyed them all as you can see below.

  • Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones
    The dogstar Sirius has been convicted of a crime and condemned to a mortal life, as a dog. He is being given a chance to find who actually committed the crime he is accused of. First, however, he must learn to navigate the world and life as a dog, beginning as a newborn puppy. This gives the author the opportunity to write about understanding the world from a canine point of view and later, as he meets some cats, from his interpretation of a feline POV as well. Sirius belongs to a gentle, nature loving girl who is much put upon by her aunt, upon whom she depends for everything.

    While the insights into canine understanding are well written, I was not very interested in that aspect. I was much more interested in Sirius' true nature and quest. That is understandable, however, as the book was written for juveniles and I am far past that point. That makes it all the more remarkable that this author still held  my interest in the story and characters.

    The last half of the book proved to pick up the pace and focus more on Sirus's attempts to achieve his goal rather than his life as a dog ... they were probably divided about evenly. I found it a most satisfying book to the point where I stayed up late to finish it.

  • The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones
    Following my reading of Dogsbody, I went on to this book in sampling Diana Wynne Jones' oeuvre. She came up with yet another completely different concept, unique world system, and set of problems to solve. As well, Jamie, the protagonist seems different from those I read about in Howl's Moving Castle and Dogsbody.

    Jamie has a happy enough life with his family in a poor but active neighborhood of a large city. One day, when delivering groceries for his father's store, he happens upon a building that seems unlike those he has encountered before. When looking through the windows, he sees Them (which is the only way that these persons are ever described). They seem to be playing a gigantic board game and the glimmers of overheard conversation are tantalizing. He escapes detection and seeming danger but can't resist coming back later to see more. This time They see him and turn Jamie into a discarded player in their game, where he is doomed to walk the boundaries between worlds, bouncing from one to the next in the hopes of being able to find his way back home. He is not the only discarded player and meets those somewhat familiar to us (the Wandering Jew, the Flying Dutchman) and those who definitely are not. Jamie's discoveries and struggles make for absorbing reading and a book that I couldn't put down.

    This is a juvenile fiction work but, aside from some plot points that are probably much more obvious to the adult reader than to the intended audience, there is enough here that one never really feels as if the book is written for a lower age group. Highly recommended.

  • The Lives of Christopher Chant by Diana Wynne Jones
    For as long as he can remember Christopher could walk in his dreams through the Place Between to different valleys for visits to the different towns and people there. Sometimes, if he worked hard at it, he could even bring back some of the gifts they gave him. This led to his uncle noticing his abilities and setting a series of experiments for Christopher to do while in these worlds. As time goes by, we watch Christopher grow, go to school, and eventually discover what his true talent is and what it means to the world.

    I don't want to include spoilers so the above description sounds dreadfully boring and this book is anything but that. I stayed up late last night in order to finish the last thirty pages at break-neck speed. I finished and thought of the Harry Potter books, a comparison which hadn't occurred to me until that moment. I enjoyed the Harry Potter books very much, but felt that this was so much fresher and more original that I was surprised.

    Diana Wynne Jones has a talent for developing personalities as well as worlds and we feel that main characters have become our friends. When the Goddess expresses a heartfelt desire to go to school, we understand and want that for her too. When Christopher suddenly sees how the face he's been showing to the world is not what he thought, we feel his shock too. As with the other books I have read, the author is highly imaginative at developing new worlds and scenarios that do not seem at all derivative of any of the others that preceded it. I am curious to read more of this series to see how it is handled.

  • Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones
    This is a modernization and re-imagining of the ballad of Tam Lin, a young man stolen by fairies who must be rescued by his true love. My experience with Pamela Dean's attempt to do this to a story made me leery but I should have trusted Jones from the beginning. She uses her vivid imagination to create the story of a young girl, Polly, who encounters a grown man with whom she fashions home-grown heroic adventures. (The imagining of the giant in the supermarket is particularly humorous and effective as an illustrative event.)

    As Polly grows up, her life is punctuated with these imaginings as well as the man's regular gifts of books shipped from anywhere he happens to be on tour in his profession as symphonic cellist. Thus, not only do we get a wonderful story, but we see Jones's idea of what books are suitable for encouraging imagination in children. As I read many of these same books when I was growing up, this was a particularly enjoyable bit of detail. It is bit of detail that becomes very important later in the book, I might add. The entire story is set in the framework of Polly as a college student, realizing with shock that she had forgotten this entire segment of her life. Thus the story is at once ongoing and a series of flashbacks. Highly recommended.

The Rite Presents God As Santa Claus

Like many films that center on the presence of the devil, the ultimate point of this production is to use the existence of the devil as proof of the presence of God. Demons are presented in fantastic, freighting ways and seem to be all powerful. Non-belief is reduced in importance because of the great evil present, and the resulting fear-based faith allows God to vanquish His enemy. This may seem correct since it sets man over God, but in actuality man’s faith is not the controlling factor in his relationship with the Almighty. God does not need man nor does He require his faith in order to act on his behalf.

This type movie, therefore, I believe, distorts the purposes of the Lord into some spiritual warfare Santa Claus.
Scott Nehring from Good News Film Reviews not only points out the problematic moral underpinning to The Rite, but also correctly skewers those who indulge in wishful thinking while reviewing the film because they are so hopeful to have a "Christian" movie taken seriously by the mainstream.

Scott also points out the many flaws inherent in the storyline in case all you were looking for was a good flick. Wow, it seems as if they really got The Rite ... wrong. Go read it all.

Good Story #3: Black Cherry Blues

This time around, Julie and Scott discuss James Lee Burke's Black Cherry Blues. This gritty story won an Edgar Award for Best Novel in 1990, and is third of Burke's Dave Robicheaux novels. The book is remarkable for its well-written prose and the emotional baggage carried by nearly every character. The setting is contemporary Louisiana and Montana.
Emotional baggage ... no kidding!

Plus there's a whole lotta confession goin' on. Not our confessions. But we talk about the sacrament,  mercy, forgiveness, and sleeping around. What can I say? It's a noir-ish story written by a Catholic author who ain't afraid to let it all hang out.

Join us at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast for the whole thing.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Nightcrawler, one of God's cleverest tricks to interest comic lovers in the Church

Now this is a conversion story I understand and a convert whose taste I admire.
Unfortunately for my career as a Witch, I liked two things: horror novels and comic books. Both piqued my interest in the Roman Catholic Church. (Bear with me here!) Ever notice, when real evil threatens in classic horror, it's the Catholic Church that's called on to save the day? And my favorite character in the comics was Nightcrawler of the X-Men, a devout Roman Catholic. (So if you ever want proof that God can reach us through literally anything, there it is, right there. I owe the first steps of my conversion to The Exorcist, Dracula, and a fuzzy blue mutant with a German accent and a penchant for buckling swash.)
I fell in love with Nightcrawler in the X-Men movies. What Catholic wouldn't?

I'm so glad I saw Libby's name go by ... I forget where ... and then saw her new blog pop up in the stats. She doesn't have an actual first post up yet, but go by and read her conversion story!

The Smoke of Satan

So, the feeding of the five thousand wasn't a miracle. Instead the "real miracle" was that everyone shared their lunch. Everything had to be questioned and "re-interpreted" in such a way that it could be accepted and understood by modern people. So when we call Jesus Christ "God Incarnate" what we really mean was that he was so fully human that as he reached his potential as a man, he showed us what divinity looks like. When we speak of the Blessed Virgin we mean she was "a very good and holy Jewish young woman." When we speak of the "Real Presence" we mean that we see the "Christ that is within each one of us."

I hate this crap.
Me too.

Here's my two cents worth on one of the miracle debunking lines that annoys me most.

Jesus fed the 5,000. No one pulled out their lunches.

For something that I just learned to pay attention to from listening to the St. Irenaeus Ministries podcast which is working its way through the Gospel According to  John right now, go read chapter 6 and pay close attention to these lines.
12 When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, "Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted."

13 So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets 8 with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.
My emphasis added, obviously. Where did those fragments come from? Not from people's lunches. From the five barley loaves. John wasn't leaving that point to chance.

Now that I've expressed myself on that point, let us return to the well written article that prompted it.
Read the whole thing by Father Dwight Longenecker at Patheos.

January Book Report - Part 1

A few of the books I read and enjoyed last month, just in case you haven't come across these yet.
  • Who's Your Mama, Are You Catholic and Can You Make a Roux? by Marcelle Bienvenu
    If the title doesn't tell you that this book is an authentic look at life and cooking in Cajun country, then you haven't ever visited Louisiana. Luckily, my husband has a branch of the family firmly entrenched in New Orleans and I have had the pleasure of several visits to the city and a few day trips to the countryside. Marcelle Bienvenu's book intersperses little vignettes of family life as she grew up near St. Martinville. It is a charming book and I've seen several recipes that I'm interested in trying out. Funny how Tom keeps giving me Creole and Cajun cookbooks. I'd better get busy and make something from them!

  • The Neon Rain by James Lee Burke
    I almost felt like putting "foreign lands" as a tag on this book as James Lee Burke writes so lyrically about New Orleans and Louisiana that it is like a travelogue. A travelogue through a very gritty, dark place though. This first book in a series is a noir style tale of police detective Dave Robicheaux's struggle with personal demons, both internal and from organized crime in the city makes a compelling tale. Even more surprising than the lyrical descriptions though, is the underlying Catholicism that defines Robicheaux's character ... down to the point that he prays the rosary when he can't sleep due to fighting off urges to drink.

  • Heaven's Prisoners by James Lee Burke
    This book continues Dave Robicheaux's story after he has turned his back on the New Orleans police force and struck out on his own with a bait/rental shop and barbecue shack in his home town in Cajun country. He finally has the chance for a happy life until one day he sees a plane crash in the lake where he is fishing. This sets into motion a chain of events that severely test his ability to stay away from the detective business.

    I'd say more, but to do so would involve many spoilers. I found this book interesting for the portray of the addict's struggle (Dave is in AA, although I would contend that is not all he is addicted to). He falls short in many ways and I wound up disliking his character very much more in this book than in the previous one, Neon Rain. I wonder if that is because I am a woman, while Dave is very much tuned into his manly needs and tends to define his interpersonal relationships that way when dealing with women ... in a way I found unrealistic and distasteful. Or perhaps it is because the author does not give us enough extra info to help understand the reasons behind that behavior. Dave himself seems to understand what it means to be an alcoholic but he does not recognize his many other problems (or so it seems to me).

    So I found this book to be a disappointment because I couldn't feel that Dave had done the right thing for most of the book and, in fact, directly brought the biggest tragedies of the story on himself. More importantly, I'm not sure that he really learned anything.

  • Black Cherry Blues by James Lee Burke
    This is the third in the Dave Robicheaux series and the subject of this week's discussion at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast. It is the reason I read Neon Rain and Heaven's Prisoners. We see Dave's story arc continue as he continues to deal with the personal repercussions of the events in Heaven's Prisoners. He is still running his bait shop and when trouble rears its head this time he has learned to keep his head down (more or less). However, when he is involved in an old friend's trouble and his family is threatened, Dave must once again act to protect those he loves. This leaves him accused of murder and traveling to Montana to clear his name. The themes of forgiveness, confession, and mercy are strong in this novel.

  • The Mystery of Grace by Charles de Lint
    I was intrigued both by the title and by the fact that Charles de Lint was writing about somewhere besides Canada so right after Christmas I took a chance on this when splurging at the bookstore before beginning this year's book fast. Set in the American Southwest this story is a story that is anchored in two worlds. Grace (Altagracia Quintero)loves customizing hot rods, rockabilly, and tattoos. She has one of Nuestra Señora de Altagracia (Our Lady of Grace) on her shoulder. John is a computer geek and artist who is haunted by the loss of his younger brother. Their worlds collide in an unexpected way that leaves them (and us) pondering guilt, love, life after death, when to let go, and the mystery of grace.

    This was a completely unexpected book that was at once fascinating, engrossing, and thought provoking. I used to read de Lint long ago at the beginning of his career but hadn't been interested in his work for several years. This was a welcome return to the sort of writing that I used to enjoy.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

So when they said, "100% probability of ice pellets and snow," they weren't kidding.

The streets are like sheets of ice, under a snowy layer that is very gradually growing to cover it.

I remember when I first moved to Dallas in the early 1980s and there were continual snow storms and ice storms. Then we had a twenty-something year warm cycle, or so it seems, when we would be wearing shorts practically all winter.

This is the second year for vividly cold weather, at least after the holidays. Looks as if that warm blip is over!