Friday, July 29, 2011

Two Good WSJ Editorials That Are Pro-Baby

There is nothing so heartening as reading this sort of editorial with my morning coffee!

Life and Faith in Hell's Kitchen
William McGowan writes about the Sisters of Life and their ministry to help unwed mothers in NYC.
Safe, legal and rare" has long been the pro-choice mantra, but these days it applies less and less to the reality of abortion. In New York City, officials reported this year that 41% of pregnancies end in abortion—double the national rate. In the black community, the figure is 60%.

Numbers like these motivate the Sisters of Life, a small order of nuns celebrating its 20th anniversary this summer. The sisters take traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, but they also take a fourth vow "to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life." According to Archbishop Timothy Dolan, once the sisters connect with unwed pregnant women in need, "the battle is half over."
Of Beckhams and Babies
Shortly after Mrs. Beckham gave birth [to her fourth child] this month, Mr. Ross [the chief executive of the British nonprofit group Population Matters] told Britain's Observer that "The Beckhams, and others like London Mayor Boris Johnson, are very bad role models with their large families. There's no point in people trying to reduce their carbon emissions and then increasing them 100% by having another child."
This Review & Outlook editorial is brief but positive about putting Mr. Ross in his place.

Note: if the links turn out to go to stories for subscribers only, try finding the article in Google (the headlines are those of the editorials). It should let you in through the Google link. That's how I found 'em.

Bloggurgatory ... or ... Purgatory for Catholic Bloggers

Acts of the Apostasy began it.
Maybe Catholic bloggers will have to endure sufferings that are a bit more...I don't know, personal. Custom-fit.
And carried on with an amusing list of tailor-made purifications for the likes of:
Fr Z - drink instant coffee while blogging on a 386...with a dial-up connection.
The Curt Jester picked up that baton and ran with it (what a shock!) and came up with one of my actual fears.
Fr. Phillip Neri Powell, OP His purgatory would be something like being trapped in a gigantic library with no books on the shelves.  Kind of like the Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough at Last” where book lover Burgess Merideth and ends with a gigantic pile of books around him and his glasses broken.  In fact that would be my Purgatory also – or perhaps Hell.  This would also be purgatory for Video meliora, proboque; Deteriora sequor, and Happy Catholic.
Although I actually always saw Purgatory as a place filled with books that are super-old and I always managed to avoid, but now find that had information that would have turned me into a saint if only I had read those people's take on holiness. (St. Faustina's diary is among my special fears. I'm into the divine mercy and all, I just don't want to have to read her book about it.)

So do yourself a favor. Go see what they've dreamed up. You will laugh and maybe it will scare you straight ... straight into holiness!  (Be sure to read Ironic Catholic's purgatory ... that is my other fear.)

St. Martha's Feast Day: "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things."

Today is St. Martha's feast day. Depending on the source you check, she's the patron saint of housewives, cooks, and servants.

She is also my patron saint.

I was looking over a list of saints before I was confirmed and saw that she was the patron saint of housewives. I love being at home and cooking (though not cleaning). That aside, I figured that was as good a reason as any. Also the main story I knew (the one we all think of) made me think of her as a little sassy. That fit too.

Little did I know that, once again, God was being sneaky in pairing me up with the perfect “big sister” to help me get through some of my worst tendencies. As I looked into her story more, I saw someone who had a unique friendship with Jesus and whose faith journey is clearly traced for us.

I have the privilege of presenting St. Martha to a wider audience at Patheos today, on her special day ... in my A Free Mind column. Please do go read about my dear Martha there.

What Do You Get When You Mix a Snoring Scholar and a Happy Catholic?

What do you find is the most compelling part of your story as more people read your book and you share your story with them?

If this doesn’t sound too presumptuous, it is that I get to see a little of how the Holy Spirit works. Honestly, I am very often humbled by what people say that God shows them when reading the book. Very little of what they have found is what I put in there, if that makes sense. They are getting messages that I didn’t specifically write. That is God at work.

The lovely, charming, sweet, and popular blogger, Sarah Reinhard (aka Snoring Scholar) interviewed me via email.

Click through on the link to read it and while you're there be sure to look around. For one thing, Sarah reads all sorts of books that I wouldn't think to try. Often I find myself adding to my list after visiting her place. And her sunny personality and love of her faith is everywhere.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

UDMC Catholic Conference 2011

Evidently they've been having this great conference here for several years ... and I just found out about it.

This is actually titled a Ministry Conference, but many of the talks are more general than that. They say:
If you are interested in participating in the conference as a Catholic parishioner, we encourage you to check out the following tracks, which are relevant to every Catholic. They feature talks that discuss family life, marriage, parenting, social justice, faith formation, Scripture, and Christian spirituality.
John Allen will be giving two talks and Lisa Hendey also will be giving two talks. I met Lisa a couple of years ago in San Antonio at the Catholic New Media Conference. What a sweetheart!

Also, I have an early copy of her new book, A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms, and I'm just going to say, you need a copy. Don't let the "Moms" on the cover fool you. This is for anyone in a family ... wives, husbands, grown children ... it is simply fantastic. I'd tell you all about it but I've promised that "mum's the word" until the official publishing date. It. is. amazing. Trust me on this.

Ahem ... now, what was I saying?

Oh, right. So Tom and I are going to the UDMC in late October. It is surprisingly inexpensive. Check it out if you live near enough to make it for the weekend.

A Big Story in the Big Valley Discussing Some Big Ideas ...

East of Eden is up for discussion at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast, where I eat crow with surprising grace (I think) considering how hard I was screaming about having to read Steinbeck.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The 2011 Bulwer-Lytton Contest Winners Are Here!

What is the Bulwer-Lytton Contest?
Since 1982 the English Department at San Jose State University has sponsored the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels. The contest was the brainchild of Professor Scott Rice, whose graduate school excavations unearthed the source of the line "It was a dark and stormy night." ...
My favorites from this year's roundup are:
Runner Up

As I stood among the ransacked ruin that had been my home, surveying the aftermath of the senseless horrors and atrocities that had been perpetrated on my family and everything I hold dear, I swore to myself that no matter where I had to go, no matter what I had to do or endure, I would find the man who did this . . . and when I did, when I did, oh, there would be words.

Rodney Reed
Ooltewah, TN

Winner: Adventure

From the limbs of ancient live oaks moccasins hung like fat black sausages -- which are sometimes called boudin noir, black pudding or blood pudding, though why anyone would refer to a sausage as pudding is hard to understand and it is even more difficult to divine why a person would knowingly eat something made from dried blood in the first place -- but be that as it may, our tale is of voodoo and foul murder, not disgusting food.

Jack Barry

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ancient Arabia, Djinn, and Two Improbable Heroes: reviewing The Desert of Souls

The Desert of SoulsThe Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The glittering tradition of sword-and-sorcery sweeps into the sands of ancient Arabia with the heart-stopping speed of a whirling dervish in this thrilling debut novel from new talent Howard Andrew Jones

In 8th century Baghdad, a stranger pleads with the vizier to safeguard the bejeweled tablet he carries, but he is murdered before he can explain. Charged with solving the puzzle, the scholar Dabir soon realizes that the tablet may unlock secrets hidden within the lost city of Ubar, the Atlantis of the sands. When the tablet is stolen from his care, Dabir and Captain Asim are sent after it, and into a life and death chase through the ancient Middle East.
This was an easy and exciting read and I finished it quickly, partially because I was flipping the pages so fast.

Asim and Dabir somewhat remind me of Number Ten Ox and Master Li from Barry Hughart's stories of a China that never was. Asim is not as dim as Number Ten Ox and Dabir is not as wise (or old) as Master Li, but it is a classic pairing of brawn and brains, which can lead to misunderstandings that are sometimes comic but which can endanger everything if both do not learn to trust one another. By the end of the book we are fond of both characters, as, indeed, they are of each other.

The adventure itself is multi-faceted and highly inventive, while still remaining true to form in what feels like a factually based universe. In fact, Jones has taken great care to keep the historical facts true to form with Jaffar and the caliph being based on the actual historical people. In this, he must have been highly influenced by the stories of Harold Lamb, several volumes of which he collected into anthologies before writing his own novel.

Room was clearly left for more adventures and I hope that Jones is at work on the next. I can't wait to see what Asim and Dabir must tangle with next.

Most of my reviews are posted on this Book Reviews page.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Church and New Media

This week I have completed nine years of blogging and so I can say that I have some perspective on the growth of the so-called Catholic “New Media.” Nine years ago I could pretty much read every post in the Catholic blogosphere during a short lunch. Catholic audio on the internet was extremely limited and podcasting was still a couple more years into the future. The growth of new media for Catholics has been quite an interesting thing to watch.

Bearing that in mind I was quite happy to review the new book by blogger Brandon Vogt The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops Who Tweet. ...
The Curt Jester has a great review which I was very interested to read. I am having trouble keeping my head above water just at the moment so won't be reviewing it ... so please do go check out Jeff's review. I've been reading his blog almost as long as he's been writing it and I trust him.

The Con is On ... Again ...

My review of Red Glove, book 2 in the series that began with White Cat, is up at SFFaudio.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Vi sørger med deg, Norge. (We grieve with thee, Norway.)

Kan dine barn hvile i fred. (May thy children rest in peace.)*

One of the problems with getting practically all your news from a printed newspaper and with not reading blogs (or at least many of them) over the weekend, is that the television, the blogosphere, and all that other new media move so fast past any big news story.

I was horrified to read about the massacres in Norway.

As *Maureen says so well, we grieve with you and pray for you.

Weekend Joke

Ok, I know it is the wrong time of year for this, but I just couldn't help it. You've got to have this joke!
I was driving down a lonely country road one cold winter day when it began to sleet pretty heavily. My windows were getting icy and my wiper blades were badly worn and quickly fell apart under the strain.

Unable to drive any further because of the ice building up on my front window I suddenly had a great idea. I stopped and began to overturn large rocks until I located two very lethargic hibernating rattle snakes. I grabbed them up, straightened them out flat and installed them on my blades and they worked just fine.

What! You've never heard of . . . wind chilled vipers?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Audio: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, narrated by Jim Dale

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter, #1)Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Everyone knows this story.

I read this aloud to the girls, long ago, when it first came out. In fact, it was handy having the series coming out as it did. We read along with each book. Harry's world got more complex as he grew older and the girls grew older just at the right time to enjoy each one. We must have read at least the first three or four books in the series that way. Then we'd get the new one and pass it around, reading at break-neck speed and steadfastly refusing to discuss it until the last person had finished.

With the last movie coming out, I began thinking about rereading the books but already have too much reading on my plate. So I got the audio for the first book from the library.

What a treat!

Jim Dale is such an accomplished narrator that the book is taking on new life. Not only am I rediscovering what a wonderful book it is, but his voicing of the characters is giving each of them new depth and life as well.

That is what the really good audiobooks do, though, is make a book into a new experience. It also becomes more immediate, more personal, if you will. (I discovered that listening to East of Eden, when I had to switch to the regular printed book in order to distance myself from the bad people Steinbeck was writing about.)

My Goodreads reviews. For my older reviews, see the Books page on this blog.

Snapshot: I got into Google+ ...

... it echoes in there.

It's strange to be a place that is essentially Facebook but with so few people.

Kind of nice though. Like just having moved into a house, before you get all the furniture.

And the "circles" idea is good. Though I haven't done much with any of it yet.

Not that I do much with Facebook either, though.

The Good Wife: great summer TV

The seemingly endless days of high Texas temperatures have sapped my interest in talking about books. I'd recommend a movie but brainless summer movies like Transformers 3 or Zookeeper sap my energy even more.

What is a free mind that loves good stories to do? Turn to television, of course!

Allow me to recommend "The Good Wife," an addictive pleasure worth a lazy summer's evening. Part legal drama, part political commentary, and part soap opera, "The Good Wife" is intelligent, brilliantly nuanced, riveting entertainment. This show doesn't veer away from discussing faith and true human nature in authentic terms.
My latest A Free Mind column at Patheos ... read it all there!

Kate Wicker's review of Happy Catholic: " ... even pop culture can’t escape the wisdom of God."

... whether I’m reading something out of the mouth of a great theologian or an animated superhero from The Incredibles, I’m getting a glimpse of God and how He can be found everywhere – in humor, in sorrow, in the tabernacle, in a secular world, in the most quotidian particulars of life.

So much of our faith is found in living it, and it’s difficult to live our faith if we only feel God is nearby when we’re at church or when we’re participating in formal prayer. What I love about Julie’s approach to spirituality and religion is that there’s always an opportunity for growth and reflection no matter what you find yourself doing, seeing, reading, experiencing, or feeling.
That's not all Kate Wicker has to say in her really nice review of Happy Catholic (the book) ... including a special confession about the special place she goes to read it. I'm not tellin', I'm just sayin' you have to go read it for yourself.

While you're there, take a look around at Kate's blog. She's got her own new book out, Weightless, and you can see from her blog that she's another who sees God all around her. I especially liked "Why I Love My Grandma" (and no, it isn't as sappy as it sounds ... but you're used to that from being around here, right? Right!).

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My interview on Christopher Closeup ...

... or how I discovered that it really is the interviewer who makes the interview good.

From my point of view anyway. I guess if you listen and don't like the interview, then we know who to blame ... and it ain't Tony Rossi.

I had exchanged emails with Tony for years but it was a real pleasure to get to talk to him in person. What a swell guy! He really is a fitting representative for a great group like The Christophers.

The podcast is now online at The Christophers.

If you like Catholic radio instead of podcasts, the show will air on:
  • Sirius-XM’s The Catholic Channel (Channel 129) this Sunday July 24 at 7:00 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Eastern (6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Central).
  • Relevant Radio the same day at 2:30 p.m. Eastern (1:30 p.m. Central).

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Potatoes, Basil, and Creativity

There's a certain sense of accomplishment I feel when I am getting dinner ready, realizing that somehow I should be working in disparate ingredients from the CSA cooler. It's like being on one of those cooking shows, handed a box of odd ingredients and told to make dinner with it.

Certainly it pushes me out of my comfort zone and into inspiration. And sometimes ... every so often ... it pushes me into a place where my family is delighted with the inspiration.

Yesterday, for example, I was making Baked Salmon with Horseradish Sauce. I had picked up some fresh green beans at the store last weekend but was wondering what starch to have with the meal. Then I remembered the red potatoes from the CSA, some of them were fairly small. I could have potatoes and green beans.

Read the rest at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

Monday, July 18, 2011

John Carter of Mars Trailer

I could never get into the books (and oh how I've tried) but I could definitely get into this movie.

Directed by Andrew Stanton. Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Finding Nemo, Wall-E, and now this live action movie. I'm ready.

Via Scott at Rivets and Trees.

I forgot to say ... the music, oh the music! I am ready to buy that soundtrack now ...

For Better, For Worse, For God: the book every married couple should read - together

I have seen two different bloggers lately talk about the efforts they are making to reconnect with spouses. And I've gotten emails from two people that have mentioned the same problem.

We're talking "well-marriage" connections, which are an ever-present struggle for every couple, all the time. Let's just get that out there and think about it. All the time. Every couple.

This book really is like a marriage retreat in a book. I first reviewed this book back in 2009 and think that is it time to remind everyone about this great resource. I give it to newlyweds and it probably seems like an odd gift at the time. I hope that they crack the cover open later and delve into the goodness. There is much inside to help "well-marriages" get even better.

With that, let's rerun the review ...

... becoming one flesh means more than a physical union. Genesis says that God created man and woman to become one body. The Hebrew word for body or "flesh," refers to the physical body for sure, but it encompasses much more. Body includes the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. We're called to be united with our spouse physically, emotionally, and spiritually while retaining our unique individuality. God's design for this partnership is that it nurtures our lives and in so doing gives life to the world.

Men Are from Mars and Women Are from Venus--John Gray and his publishers picked a great title for his bestselling book on marriage. It has become a popular shorthand way of saying that men and women are profoundly different. They are so different that it often seems they live on different planets.

In addition to the obvious anatomical differences, men and women are "wired" differently in their communication styles, emotional makeup, and sexual responses. You and your spouse differ as individuals. Your temperaments are different. You come into marriage with dissimilar expectations, desires, hopes and approaches to problem solving. And while you don't really live on different planets, you come from different places. You were raised in different families. Your family of origin gave you ideas about marriage, child rearing, sex roles, and family values that are different from your spouse's. Some marriage experts say that incompatibility was never a valid reaon for divorce becuase all couples are incompatible to some extent.

Creating an "us" in the face of these differences is a challenging dimension of the vocation of marriage. to become "one," partners must understand the many ways in which they differ from each other and recognize how their differences can work in their favor in terms of their partnership. They also need to learn to manage these differences without hurting each other.

First, becoming an "us" is a realistic goal. The differences between men and women are great, but the desire to achieve unity is even greater. Men and women deeply desire each other; most men and women want to share their lives with a partner of the opposite sex. ... If God created us this way, we can be assured that he gives us the grace to achieve the union we desire.

Second, the work of becoming an "us" is spiritual work, and it requires spiritual disciplines, as already mentioned. Each vocation has its distinctive challenges, and becoming one with a particular other person for life is the unique challenge of marriage; the spiritual disciplines of marriage are the tools we use to achieve it. The disciplines we practice within marriage may seem mundane, such as counting to ten before returning an angry response, or waiting patiently for a spouse who is slow, but they accomplish something remarkable. They allow us to live in communion with someone who feels, perceives, reacts, responds, and loves differently from us.

Living in communion is holy because the conjugal life both mirrors and provides the world with an experience of belonging and acceptance God desires with us. Like the "communion" we experience in the sacraments of the Eucharist, marriage can provide the opportunity to "be one in Christ," the goal for all baptized believers.
Someone who has attended one of the Beyond Cana marriage enrichment retreats that Tom and I help to present may recognize many, if not all, of the principles above. Members of the presentation team definitely will. After working on these retreats for several years, I can tell you that I was blown away by Mary Jo Pederson's book. She consistently took the concepts that Tom and I have learned and practiced in that retreat and expanded upon them in knowledgeable, practical, spiritual, and even humorous ways.

If I included all the pieces that I read aloud to Tom, only to hear him say, "Wow. That is so true. This author is really good!" then we'd be here all day. This is the book I will be buying for newly weds, friends who wish they could make it to a retreat, and for our girls when they are getting married. It can't replace a retreat but it surely is a good supplement and a great grounding in reality for any married couple. Highest recommendations on this one.

Driveby Review: Two Brainless Movies

I rented these knowing that they required no brain and that I was going "off list" and that they hadn't really received critical acclaim.

I was going for summer blockbuster silliness. And we got it. Oh brotha, we got it.

Spoilers included because you've likely heard of these and they each had one point that annoyed me like crazy. As always, good reminders not to get your theology from Hollywood.

The A-Team
I suspended disbelief and so all was very well until we got to the part where Mr. T took up nonviolence. Actually, all was very well after that for some time because I was surprised and pleased that they would play with the action movie template in such an unexpected way.

Where I was annoyed was when Mr. T is pushed to give up his renunciation of his gangsta ways by using Gandi's quotes against him. Now, I get it. Obviously there's the set up so that Mr. T must choose to save his buddy from secondary villain. I was hoping that he would cleverly find a way to do it without killing him. Which would have shown Liam Neeson's character that he didn't know everything (btw, Liam looked like a wimpy grandpa amongst the macho guys in this film - he's no George Peppard ... I'm just sayin'). Wrong. When he pulled off his helmet to sport that gangsta/hood mohawk, I was so disappointed. Hannah said, "The worst thing is, most of the audiences probably saw this as positive character development." Ouch. That hurt even worse.

I'm not even gonna get into the "what were they thinking" comments we had about Jessica Biel's casting. No personality, an uptight character, and no chemistry with Bradley Cooper (who's got chemistry and to spare ... am I right, ladies?). Oh, I guess I did get into it.

Overall: not horrible if you are going for brainless action movie. Just not as good as it could have been. On the other hand, it was no Transformers movie, so it's got that going for it. What the heck. Rent it.

The Adjustment Bureau
If only I had known that it was based on a story by Philip K. Dick, I'd have expected the lack of free will nonsense being shown throughout the movie. Now, I haven't read the story but I'd bet it didn't have the nice, happy ending that they put in this. I'd bet there was memory erasure going at high speed. As for that "you can have free will if you're willing to fight for it" line ... that was pretty much nonsense if you look at all the trouble they went to hunting down Matt Damon and also freezing and adjusting people who got out of line with "the Chairman's plan." They weren't angels and the Chairman was a creepy vision of God. I was pulling for them to be fallen angels with the Chairman down under, if you know what I mean. However, stupid theology aside, the plot holes are big enough to drive a bus through.

Avoid this one.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Today We Saw the Face of God: trailer for the documentary Rose is editing

The team treated their last patient, gathered their supplies and set off towards their sleeping quarters.

And then the ground began to shake violently.

Instead of winging their way home from Haiti, the team of 23 volunteers found themselves the slender thread for survival as panic stricken Haitians thronged to their medical facility. They were suddenly first responders in an unprecedented medical crisis.

Today We Saw the Face of God is a true testament to the power of human connection in the face of unimaginable suffering.

Watch the trailer for Today We Saw the Face of God.

You can see Rose on the crew page (including her photo, which she blessedly did not put through Instagram ... the latest cause of fist-shaking in my codger-ish world).

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Weekend Joke:

A very wealthy lawyer retreated for several weeks each year to his summer home in the backwoods of Maine. Every summer, he would invite one friend or another to stay with him there for a week or two.

One summer he invited a Czechoslovakian friend to visit him. The friend, happy to get anything free from a lawyer, eagerly agreed. When the time came, they spent a wonderful time, getting up early every morning and enjoying the great outdoors.

One morning, as the lawyer and his Czechoslovakian friend were picking raspberries and blueberries for their breakfast, they were approached by two huge bears~~a male and a female.

The lawyer noticed them in time to run for cover. His friend, however, was not so lucky. The male bear reached him and swallowed him whole.

Seeing this, the lawyer ran back to his Mercedes and raced for the nearest town to get the local sheriff. The sheriff grabbed his high~powered rifle and raced back to the berry area with the lawyer. All the while, the lawyer was plagued by visions of lawsuit from his friend's family. He just had to save his friend.

Luckily, the bears were still there.

"He's in THAT one!" cried the lawyer, pointing to the male. The sheriff looked at the bears, leveled his gun, took careful aim, and shot the female.

"What did you do that for?!" exclaimed the lawyer, "I said he was in the other bear!"

"Exactly," replied the sheriff. "Would you believe a lawyer who told you that the Czech was in the male?"

Friday, July 15, 2011

This 'N' That on the HC Homestead

An Arborist in the Family
The company Hannah works at was downsizing and in the "last hired, first fired" action, she lost her job. However, less than a week later, she has been hired by a tree company. She couldn't be more pleased. She loves animals but she loves trees just as much (I don't understand it, I just nod and smile). We're all thrilled at the news though and I, personally, feel that this was so easy, with so many components being set in the perfect place, that God wants Hannah's next job to be as an arborist. She begins studying for the test soon ...

Last Car Payment!
I just mailed off the very last car payment for our Ford Freestyle. Woohoo! So we now have no car payments. Not that we don't have other things to sock that payment into, but still, it feels good to have two cars, no payments. Now to drive them until they just won't drive no more!

When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob-Bob-Bobbin' Along
Thanks to BirdNote podcast, I knew when I saw robins enjoying the sprinkler in a neighbor's yard on this morning's walk, that a lot of them probably had spotted breasts instead of red ones. I stopped my walk and began counting. There were twelve on the ground, with more in the trees. Sure enough, over half sported spotted breasts just tinged with a bit of red on the sides near their wings. They were watching the adults with some of them pecking at the ground in a desultory way. It didn't take long for every robin in the yard to soon fix me with an icy eye. You could see the wheels turning. "Do you eat robins?" they were all asking themselves. Taking no chances, after a minute they zoomed to the trees. Just a vignette of what happens when you keep your eyes open, even in a crowded suburb near downtown.

Flocks of Parrots Flying By
Lately both Tom and I have seen flocks of parrots flying overhead. Ten to fifteen large-ish birds whoosh together in and out of trees, flying pretty fast. These may be the legendary Quaker Parrots/Monk Parakeets of Dallas (I'm not kidding). If they are parakeets then they are much larger than that name implies. Noisy, green and ... really fast. It makes watering the lawn into a real birdwatching adventure.

Blogging Around: Why So Serious?

So many serious topics, sprinkled with something less so. All well written and worth taking a look at.

A Quality Of Irresponsibility Peculiar To This Century, Known Sometimes As Modernism
For Philip Larkin, the baleful influence of "modernism" on 20th century culture was embodied in "the three Ps": Pound, Picasso, and Parker (Charlie). Of course, we should bear in mind that Larkin was wont to play the role of reactionary Philistine in order to get a rise out of people (particularly interviewers). But he was entirely serious. And he was entirely correct.
Read it at First Known When Lost.

Heresy is Rare and Everywhere
We have a rule in our family: you may disagree and argue with someone on any topic as long as you can first state your opponent’s position to his satisfaction. Most folks cannot state the Catholic position on birth control, gay marriage, abortion or divorce with any understanding beyond crude bumperstickerspeak and caricature. They may say “the church hates abortion and gay marriage” but they won’t be able to articulate an understanding as to why. In this case, the heresy may be rooted in an ignorance that distorts intention, and the fault of their ignorance lies with all of us. In that case, if there is heresy, then we all of us have contributed to it, either by refusing to learn, refusing to teach, or teaching in a manner so off-putting as to foment resistance or dismissal.
An excellent rule of life which is in an excellent piece by The Anchoress.

Even Our Sissypants Wonk Patsies are Hardcore
What a prince Bill Keller is. In reviewing John Julius Norwich’s Absolute Monarchs, he warns that this “rollicking narrative” featuring “265 popes (plus various usurpers and anti­popes), feral hordes of Vandals, Huns and Visigoths, expansionist emperors, Byzantine intriguers, Borgias and Medicis, heretic zealots, conspiring clerics, bestial inquisitors and more” might not appeal to “devout Catholics.”

It’s a nice little warning label: The following history contains scenes that might shock or upset readers. Not recommended for expectant mothers or members of the Mystical Body of Christ.

I have one question for Keller: son, just who the hell do you think you’re talking to? ...

There’s real pride to be taken in knowing that even our screw-ups are epic and spectacular.
Max Lindenman ... he cracks me up. He's in the same territory as Harry Crocker III's Catholic Church history, Triumph ... if you're gonna glory in the church, go all the way!

Seven with John Desjarlais
Today, in celebration of the release of John Desjarlais‘s latest book, Viper, Sarah Reinhard brings you the man himself! I loved his first book in the series, Bleeder. I also loved Viper, though I haven't written the review yet. Go meet the man behind the mysteries.

Playing for Bob Dylan, Christina Aguilera, and God
Ray Hermann is a devout Catholic who's rubbed elbows with the biggies in his music career. The Deacon's Bench has the scoop.

In China, "It's a War"
For all the local difficulties that could easily keep the Vatican brass up at night, by far, one situation likely trumps all the rest these days.

That distinction belongs to the state of the beleaguered church in China, where recent months have witnessed a spike of tensions that've served to further roil an already tenuous balance between the state-sanctioned "official" church and the "underground" faithful who clandestinely maintain communion with Rome.
A really good piece from Whispers in the Loggia for those who don't know how the church is continually attacked by the Chinese authorities.

Shaun the Sheep: the Hedge Maze
Just go look. Simply amazing. State of Play has the maze pic and the original Shaun so you can compare them.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Snapshot: Tank the Boxer

At dinner last night, Hannah looked over at Zoe the Boxer and remarked that there was a fine young male Boxer who had the identical scars on his leg for cancer removal that she does.

Which led me to say how much I loved the name "Tank" for a Boxer.

Hannah then said, "What makes it even better is that he has two little girls in his family. When he came in for surgery his front toenails were painted pink and his back toenails were painted violet."

She added that when he left, sporting a brand new E-collar to keep him from worrying his healing leg, one of the vet techs had said, "Tank, I'm sorry you have to wear a lampshade on your head but at least you already had your nails done."

His owner laughed and said, "I forgot about that. That's nothing. They day they painted his nails, he was also wearing a tutu."

What a good dog.

A good, good dog.

Snapshot: East of Eden

East of EdenEast of Eden by John Steinbeck

I'm reading this for A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast ... we'll discuss it in a couple of weeks.

How ironic.

After years of steadfastly avoiding Steinbeck (after an unfortunate encounter with The Red Pony in school), I now read it because Scott loves it. No truer love hath a friend than to read a 600 page Steinbeck book, I always say.

Although it is about the book of Genesis, so there is that as well.

I am not going to feel one bit guilty when I make him read Jane Eyre. And it will happen, my friends. It will happen. (evil laugh, fade out)

We recommend that you listen to this episode over and over and over and over...

Yes, Scott and I discuss Groundhog Day at A Good Story is Hard to Find. And we find more to talk about than you'd think ... directing plays, John Steinbeck, Tim Powers, and October books are just the tip of the iceberg.

So get on over there!

What Do You Think of Georgette Heyer?

That is the question posed by Hope in Brazil at Worthwhile Books.

Now that I have recovered from being knocked out of my chair in being included with Michael Dirda as one of her two influences in trying a Heyer book ... I must report sadly that Hope didn't think much of the book she chose, The Talisman Ring.

She's asking whether Heyer is just not for her or whether she read the wrong book.

I, myself, like the Talisman Ring just fine but it is not my favorite. That honor goes to The Grand Sophy. I also would recommend Cotillion, Sprig Muslin, and something else that I can't remember now.

Honestly, I could have named ten others.

If you have an opinion about Georgette Heyer, click through and let Hope know. And possibly by then my comment will be approved and we can see which of my other favorites made the cut for my comment!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Snapshot: An Old-Style Way to Spend the Time

I have a friend coming over this afternoon.

We were going to have coffee but it is so blinking hot outside that we will be having iced tea. (And maybe some of those lighter-than-air, handmade crackers from The Central Market that our family enjoys during weekend happy hours ... but that is beside the point.)

She's coming over just so we can chat.

Now, when is the last time you did anything like that? Not as part of a book club, or kids playing, or whatever excuse we come up with?

I, myself, was feeling slightly guilty about not using that time "wisely."

Then it came to me.

What better use of time is there, if one has it available, than spending time talking with a dear friend?

None, really.

My Review of Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman

A short review for a short but very enjoyable book. The review is up at SFFaudio ... check it out.

A Conversation at the Gates ... or evidence that it is possible to have heart and soul in Hollywood

Sherwood Schwartz, famed 1970's television show producer of Gilligan's Island and The Brady Bunch, wanted The Hollywood Reporter to publish his farewell letter after he died.

It is an account of what he expects to find when he reaches heaven.

I'm still wiping the tears from my eyes. Gratitude is a rare gift. No wonder I loved his television shows so much.

Go and read.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord
And let perpetual light shune upon him

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I wondered what Hannah looked like in her aerial silks class

Thanks to JC at Pound by Pound, I need wonder no longer.

Hannah's been rock climbing so long that she's got the upper body strength necessary to soar at this silks class ... though it looks as if she's a natural on pointing her feet. I don't think that's needed in rock climbing.

For more on both rock climbing and aerial silks, check out Pound by Pound.

Brief Review: Truth & Life New Testament audio Bible

I was fascinated by the fact that the Truth & Life New Testament has an imprimatur from the Vatican and wanted a way to listen to the Bible on the way to work in snippets, a chapter at a time.

This was the perfect answer, as I discovered, and money well spent. I listened to Mark and then went on to some of Paul's letters. I just finished Thessalonians and am beginning Timothy. It gives me the perfect bit for meditation later.

I found the music beds under the readings to be good at amplifying meaning without being overwrought. Also, I appreciate the fact that the producers foresaw that people would be using this a chapter at a time. Each is segued with a bit of background noise like a cough, a door opening, a fire crackling, water being poured, etc., so that the listener doesn't feel as if they have been plopped down in the middle of an ongoing speech. Very well done indeed.

The readers are uniformly excellent, thus far. Except, I am sorry to say, for Jesus. This is strictly my opinion, of course, but he has the problem that I found in Jesus of Nazareth (movie) where every single sentence is pronounced with equal emphasis, almost demanding awe. Never does he just have a sentence where he is curiously asking a question, etc. This isn't huge, but when listening to long speeches, it did wear on me after a while.

Highly recommended for anyone who wants an audio version of the New Testament. I'm hoping they will also put out an Old Testament production.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Snapshot: True Grit

I rented the most recent version of True Grit this weekend (Jeff Bridges, Mat Damon) and was most impressed by it.

I didn't expect it to be so funny in addition to the grittiness.

Check today's quote in the sidebar for what I mean.

Anyway, I was intrigued enough to now want to watch the first version to compare John Wayne to Jeff Bridges. And also read the book to see how well the movie stacks up to it. For me to be interested enough to even consider doing all that, it means I was well and truly riveted.

I also liked the way that any long shots (for the guns) were equaled by long shots from the camera, showing just how very difficult it was to see anything at the ranges being spoken of.

Recommended, though there are a couple of spots where the violence was truly horrific, albeit brief.

Aperol, St. Germaine, and Mrs. 404

What does that mean?

It means we've been enjoying our new hobby ... again.

Check it out at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

"Faith isn't leaping from Point A to Point B. It's leaping from Point A."

What was holding me back was knowing that getting sober meant that everything would change, and I had absolutely no idea what that meant. I could imagine what an alcohol-free life would look like. I saw no friends. I saw loneliness. Mostly, I saw a huge emptiness and felt the fear.
DL at Step Zero has begun a blog to try to offer "a little help for those trying to take that first step away from addiction."

He begins by telling a bit of his own story.

I have known DL via email for sometime and have been privileged to know about some of his struggles. Honest, sincere, and a dedicated Catholic, I believe that DL is going to offer a good resource.

I have always been very thankful that my own addictions are to much less harmful substances than alcohol or drugs. That said, I think we all struggle with our disordered desires and I think that this site will have something to say to everyone. Certainly the first post speaks to me about something I've been wrestling with lately.

Go by, check it out, and welcome DL to the blogosphere!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Weekend Joke

I love this ... thanks to Tom K. for sending it!
Sister Mary Grace and Sister Judith were shopping in the neighborhood market one hot July day. Walking by the cooler case, Sister Mary Grace said, "Goodness, a cold beer would really hit the spot today, but what would the owner say?"

"Leave it to me," Sister Judith said.

She took a six-pack to the counter and, when the owner looked up, said, "We use the beer to shampoo our hair." Without missing a beat, the owner grabbed a bag of pretzel sticks and put them on the counter next to the beer.

"Sister," he said, "the curlers are on me!"

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Words Aren't the Only Things Changing in the New Liturgy

I have been meaning to mention this since the classes our parish has been giving on the new liturgy have brought it up more than once ... the music is getting a do-over also.
I’m happy to report that the legislative ground has just shifted, and dramatically so. The new translation of the General Instruction removes the discretion from the music team to sing pretty much whatever it wants. The new text, which pertains to the new translation of the Missal that comes into effect on Advent this year, makes it clear beyond any doubt: the music of the Mass is the chanted propers of the Mass. There are options but these options all exist within the universe of the primary normative chant. There can be no more making up some random text, setting it to music, and singing it as the entrance, offertory, or communion.
Jeffrey Tucker, The Chant Cafe
This isn't a big deal for our parish, or at least for most of the Masses at our parish. Heck, the Saturday vigil has a men's choir already doing chant. Although I could foresee a weaning process for our 9 a.m. Sunday family mass. It is all very tastefully done, but it has the most "modern" music.

Read more at The Chant Cafe where they have a comparison of the old and new as well as some commentary. (Via New Advent.)

B-Movie Catechism: Answering The Age Old Question, “Could an omnipotent God create a stone so heavy that He couldn’t lift it?”

This isn't it.
But again, it’s Lansing as Scott who makes the movie. Like any good monster, he’s both sympathetic and frightening. You feel both his awkwardness and frustration in scenes like the one in which he comes upon his fiancé and brother sunbathing by a lake, and the pair immediately jump up and hurriedly begin putting clothes on over their bathing suits, almost as if Scott had stumbled upon them doing something else (which I’m pretty darn sure is just the association the movie wants you to make). But you also equally feel Scott’s creepy pent up lust and desire for control in scenes like the one in which he passes through the walls of Linda’s bedroom, gets mere inches from her face, and alternates between angry utterances and threats of a fatal kiss. Just the way he looks at Linda tells you he’s having major flashbacks to that experiment of thrusting a long wooden pencil into an iron block.
But it is from the post that leads to it and gives you a sample of his writing. Which I love.

B-Movie Catechism is one of my favorite blogs and I get pretty excited when I see that EegahInc has had the time to work on a longer piece (or perhaps it is that he is discussing a movie worthy of more discussion).

Anyway, he's clever, witty, and perceptive. Plus, I've gotta love someone whose tagline is: One man's desperate attempt to reconcile his love of his Catholic faith with his passion for cult cinema and really, really bad movies.

That's my kind of people.

In addition to discussing movies, he always sees a connection between these B-movies and the faith, usually through Sunday Mass readings.

Again, my kind of people.

So when he goes from a discussion of two brothers and a girl in a science fiction movie into this I was ready.
But ultimately, the only variation of the question to be of any real consequence is the one that’s come to be known as the omnipotence paradox, which basically asks, “Could an omnipotent God create a stone so heavy that He couldn’t lift it?” A number of atheists love this question because it would seem that either way you answer it, yes or no, you inevitably deny some aspect of God’s omnipotence. It’s a good enough question to have vexed a lot of people over the centuries, from Thomas Aquinas and Augustine, who both argued for certain understandings of omnipotence that differ from the one addressed by the question, to modern philosophers who speculate that there are different levels of omnipotence, to C. S. Lewis, who dismissed the asking of the question as utter nonsense to begin with. It’s all interesting, if sometimes convoluted, reading. And it may be a case of some people being too smart for their own good. Because, really, the simplest answer to the question might just be, “Yes, an omnipotent God could create a stone so heavy that He couldn’t lift it, because He already has.”
But then ... he tells how it works. I wasn't ready for that.

In a way that even I could grasp. Brilliantly.

Go read it for yourself at B-Movie Catechism.

(I've been meaning to tell y'all about this for a while ... enjoy yourself looking at some of his newer pieces while you're there ... I especially enjoyed The Crawling Hand just for the discussion of  how very bad that movie seems.

A Tight-Knit Community: Why Facebook can't match Ravelry, the social network for knitters.

The best social network you've (probably) never heard of is one-five-hundredth the size of Facebook. It has no video chat feature, it doesn't let you check in to your favorite restaurant, and there are no games. The company that runs it has just four employees, one of whom is responsible for programming the entire operation. It has never taken any venture capital money and has no plans to go public. Despite these apparent shortcomings, the site's members absolutely adore it. They consider it a key part of their social lives, and they use it to forge deeper connections with strangers—and share more about themselves—than you're likely to see elsewhere online. There's a good chance this site isn't for you, but after you see how much fun people have there, you'll wish you had a similar online haunt. The social network is called Ravelry. It's for knitters (and crocheters).

Ravelry's success is evidence in favor of an argument that you often hear from Facebook's critics: A single giant social network is no fun. Social sites work better when they're smaller and bespoke, created to cater to a specific group. What makes Ravelry work so well is that, in addition to being a place to catch up with friends, it is also a boon to its users' favorite hobby—it helps people catalog their yarn, their favorite patterns, and the stuff they've made or plan on making. In other words, there is something to do there. And having something to do turns out to make an enormous difference in the way people interact with one another on the Web.
A great article on Slate that Ravelry users will love. I am on Ravelry but only use the forums, my knitting being of the on-again, off-again, strictly-amateur sort ... which means that I not only finish projects slowly but I forget to update my info most of the time. Thinking it over, I believe that is actually the only place where I read the forums. Which, in and of itself, is something amazing.

Via Kindle Review, where there are not only frequent listings of free and discounted Kindle books, but thoughtful commentary on the eBook medium, Kindle, and Amazon.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

In which Melvin and Sam pursue Earth's enemy, discover astounding new forms of life, and make a new acquaintance.

Yes, we're returning to the world of pulp science fiction goodness, perfect for summer reading ... or listening! Get it at Forgotten Classics where I also share which four TED Talks changed my life (sometimes in a small way, but change is change, right?)

Hard-Wired: Faith, Fiction, and Physics in the Stories of Ted Chiang

My latest A Free Mind is up at Patheos. Find out why Ted Chiang's excellent stories can provoke good questions for atheists and believers alike ... and begin fruitful conversations.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

5 Free L. Ron Hubbard audiobooks

Or ebooks, but let's face it, I'll be getting the audio.

Get them at Galaxy Audio.

Via SFFaudio (of course).

Catholic Throwdown: Jack White (White Stripes) and Stephen Colbert

It's for reals, people. You'll laugh but also learn because these guys aren't kidding around.

Well, they are kidding around but they are quizzing each other Catholic culture mercilessly to see who can't answer.

If swearing bothers you, then skip this, but it actually made me laugh. These guys were into it.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Exclusive - 2011: A Rock Odyssey Featuring Jack White - Catholic Throwdown
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive

Via Margaret at Ten Thousand Places.

Want New Sacred Music That Uses the Official Antiphons and Propers of the Church? Try Charles Thatcher.

We are really blessed in our church to have a premium put on excellent music. There are seven Sunday Masses (including the Saturday vigil) unless I have miscounted and they all have unique music.

To be truthful, I think one has no music and a couple have only a cantor with the organ.

However we also have a men's choir doing chant, an almost acapella choir singing charming arrangements of the "new" church music (I usually abhor the new church music but this is so well arranged by our music director that it goes down a treat), and a full choir singing at the 11:00 Mass, which is the one we attend.

Toward the end of Lent or maybe it was during the Easter season Masses, I began noticing a new quality to some of the music, especially that sung during communion. We don't have a sing-along during communion. There is music from the choir and then plain organ music when the choir darts down to the communion rail. (Yes, we still have a communion rail and also kneel for communion, but that's a different post.) We are left free to kneel (or sit) and pray.

It is nothing new to have astounding music at our church as we saw during the Easter season when every Mass seemed to bring a new Mozart or Bach composition of the Gloria ... and more. The fact that our choirs are entirely volunteer just makes their skill even more amazing. That music fed my contemplations of the words I knew by heart in a new way.

However, this new music was something different. For one thing, to get me to notice it during communion was surprising in itself, as I tend not to really be a "music person."

What I noticed was music that progressed from calm, "normal" (if you will) Alleluia's into almost wild, powerful music and singing that came later ... it put me powerfully in mind of the power and grace which is flowing under the surface at Mass but which we are too much in ordinary life to notice most of the time. Watching the congregation file by for communion, juxtaposed against this wild, barely contained strength contained in the music, I felt as if I were almost grasping a truth about God and us that was both moving and illuminating.

So much so, in fact, I tried to find a recording and could not. So I appreciate my exposure to this fine music all the more. Looking at the music handout I saw that every time I was so moved, the music had been written by Charles Thatcher. Writing to the music director to express appreciation, I received this reply, which I share in case any music directors out there are reading this who have questions about how the music fits into the Catholic liturgy.
I also enjoy those Thatcher antiphons. It's rare to find new sacred music being published which is of such high quality and uses the official antiphons and propers of our church, so to have discovered these wonderful antiphons by Mr. Thatcher was a blessing indeed.
As I say, I'm not a music person but if you are or know one who would appreciate something out of the ordinary but that adheres to the Catholic liturgy, then here's a link I found.

The Moral Outrage of Missing Girls - Updated Link

Maria Hvistendahl struck a nerve recently when she released her new book, "Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men." New York Times columnist Ross Douthat then struck Ms. Hvistendahl's nerve, when he gently chided her for the contortions she must make to sustain her unequivocal commitment to "choice" while asking us to share her indignation at what those choices have wrought.

"The anti-abortion side has it easier," he wrote. "We can say outright what's implied on every page of 'Unnatural Selection,' even if the author can't quite bring herself around. The tragedy of the world's 160 million missing girls isn't that they're 'missing.' The tragedy is that they're dead."

Since those words appeared, the author and the Times columnist have had at each other, respectively, on Salon and the Times blog. At bottom they disagree on the nature of the crime. Ms. Hvistendahl's reserves her outrage for the sexism of sex-selective abortion and the consequences for women already here. She excoriates Mr. Douthat for thinking the tragedy might also have something to do with the millions of girls whose lives were snuffed out.
William McGurn's brilliant editorial about what happens when a feminist author inadvertently makes a powerful case against abortion. Read it all.

I have heard (and indeed experienced when I was preparing this post) that if one goes to the Wall Street Journal via Google then the entire piece may be read. In hopes that this holds true, here is the Google search link ... then click on the first or second entry (the headers are obvious) and see if you can read it all.

Look for the Little Ones

Stop and consider that the real saints are hidden. They follow the little way. If you were to tell them they were a saint they would laugh and tell you to keep searching. If you even had the sense and discernment to see the saint next to you--the ordinary person who perseveres--the little person who serves others--the plain Jane who takes life easily and simply loves people, then you would learn again what true holiness really is. If we only had eyes to see the simplicity of the saints, the extraordinary ordinariness of holiness, the practical good humor and humility of the truly grace filled ones.
Words to live by and to try to match ourselves. Like my grandfather did. Read the whole thing at Standing on My Head.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Recommendations for Book about St. Monica?

Stephanie Z. writes:
I wondered if you have any recommendations for a good book on Saint Monica. Given all the book reviewing you do, I am hoping you might have one to recommend.
I don't, but there are so many readers dropping by here that maybe someone will put a good idea in the comments box.

Ideas, anyone?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Weekend Joke

It seems like a good time to repeat this joke.
God was missing for six days.

Eventually, Michael, the archangel, found him, resting on the seventh day. He inquired, "Where have you been?"

God smiled deeply and proudly pointed downwards through the clouds, "Look, Michael. Look what I've made."

Archangel Michael looked puzzled, and said, "What is it?"

"It's a planet," replied God, and I've put life on it.. I'm going to call it Earth and it's going to be a place to test Balance."

"Balance?" inquired Michael, "I'm still confused."

God explained, pointing to different parts of earth. "For example, northern Europe will be a place of great opportunity and wealth, while southern Europe is going to be poor. Over here I've placed a continent of white people, and over there is a continent of black people. Balance in all things."

God continued pointing to different countries. "This one will be extremely hot, while this one will be very cold and covered in ice."

The Archangel, impressed by God's work, then pointed to a land area and said, "What's that one?"

"That's the State of Texas, the most glorious place on earth. There are beautiful mountains, rivers and streams, lakes, forests, hills, and plains. The people from the State of Texas are going to be handsome, modest, intelligent, and humorous, and they are going to travel the world. They will be extremely sociable, hardworking, high achieving, carriers of peace, and producers of good things."

Michael gasped in wonder and admiration, but then asked, "But what about balance, God? You said there would be balance.."

God smiled, "There's Washington DC. Wait till you see the idiots I put there."