Friday, November 29, 2013

Advent Litany

I was looking over my old Advent posts. You know, in 9 years you can come up with a lot of Advent series that you want to rerun every year. It's kind of like seeing your grandparents' Christmas tree. So chock a block full of ornaments from over the years that you can hardly see the green of the tree itself.

My apologies in advance, therefore, as this blog will be loaded up with Advent from here to there and back again. This is your warning ... or the promise of good things to come ... depending on your mindset.

To launch us off, here's a goodie I found from way back in 2007. How have I forgotten it for that long? No matter. Let's dust it off and see ... hey! ... it's just as good, if not better, than when it was put in the attic.

It is the advent of Advent. Very soon we will begin that waiting period of reflection and pause before being plunged into Christmas. In that spirit I thought that this was a nice litany to have on hand. As well as just a good set of meditations for prayer.
Advent Litany

Lord Jesus, you are the light of the world.
Come, Lord Jesus.

You are light in our darkness.
Come, Lord Jesus.

Son of God, save us from our sins.
Come, Lord Jesus.

Son of Mary, deepen our love.
Come, Lord Jesus.

Bring hope into the lives of all people.
Come, Lord Jesus.

Give your peace to all nations.
Come, Lord Jesus.

Be the joy of all who love you.
Come, Lord Jesus.

Bring unity among all who believe in you.
Come, Lord Jesus.

Bless us as we gather here in your name.
Come, Lord Jesus.

Lord Jesus, stay with us always.
Come, Lord Jesus.

Let us pray:

May Christ give us his peace and joy,
and let us share them with others.
All peace and glory are his for ever.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Worth a Thousand Words: Aerial Arts at the Margarita Ball

Hannah performing on silks at the Margarita Ball
You wouldn't think this was her hobby, would you? She looks like a professional aerialist ... a dangerous, spike-haired professional.

I understand the Moxie Mischief gang was a big hit and we are very happy for them and very proud of Hannah.

The Twits, The Minpins & The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl

The Twits, The Minpins & The Magic FingerThe Twits, The Minpins & The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although I have enjoyed many of the movies made from Roald Dahl's books (most notably James and the Giant Peach) I cannot recall reading any of his books except Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which was ... fine but not world changing for me. That's kind of odd too, when I think about it, because I was the right age to be the prime audience when a lot of his books were coming out but I was largely oblivious to them. (Yep. Dated myself. Don't care.)

However, as I have learned in the past, audio often breaks open a book or author who I didn't find congenial in print. It was that way with Coraline by Neil Gaiman. It was that way with the last half of The Lord of the Rings (yes, I am ashamed but I will not lie). And, now, it is that way with Roald Dahl.

The Twits are the most horrible couple in the world and quite hateful to each other, until they are under attack from a common enemy. Even then they are horrible which makes it quite gratifying to see them get their comeuppance from the Muggle-Wump monkey family and the Roly Poly bird. This story had the most disgusting description of a beard I have ever encountered. Even while I was grimacing, I was also laughing because Dahl had such a clever way with words. Narrator Richard Ayoade had a lovely, calm British narration style that didn't preclude hilarious, low-class voices for the Twits. First class stuff.

The Minpins has the most perfect monster name I've ever heard -- The Gruncher, a fire-breathing, boy eating creature in Sin Forest. It sends Billy right up a tree where he meets the Minpins and they form an ingenious alliance to deal with their common foe. Bill Bailey narrated this with a great deal of gusto which didn't detract in the least from the story.

The Magic Finger was my favorite story, partially because Kate Winslet's narration won me over from the very beginning. I also just couldn't resist the little girl who "puts my Magic Finger" on those who displease her. The Greggs are worthy of a magic finger punishment because they are such keen hunters. What the Magic Finger does is typical Dahl ingenuity at its best.

These are little stories but each is a gem which children would love. Heck, I liked them quite a bit myself and, as I have revealed, I am far past the age of tender youth. I am now going to look for more Roald Dahl in audio, possibly even revisiting Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

I got this Roald Dahl sampler courtesy of SFFaudio where this review aired first.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Well Said: The Land That Is Us

From my quote journal, via The Spirit of Food. It seems appropriate since Thanksgiving is coming and that's largely about the feast. And about thankfulness, of course, which is about a proper sense of perspective.
When asked what we do for a living I always hesitate; there's no grand title and I can read their eyes. Farming requires no specialized degree, no impressive wages for menial labor, the primitive work of any civilization. We're farmers. We just grow food. We just raise pigs. It doesn't get more rudimentary.

The children read it aloud once from their history text, how the most denigrated class of people in ancient Egypt was the swine herders. They'd looked at each other, at their dad and me, we pig farmers.

I had held the book in my hand, smoothed the page out flat, and the words had come slowly, like bent backs rising, but they had come and we all stood taller because of them. How can growing nourishment for temples where Christ dwells be dirty base work? If it isn't fish at the end of a fork, it ultimately came from dirt, from the bowed back of a farmer. And this dirt tilling, isn't it engaging in Genesis work, stewarding and cultivating his creation? Some say there are only two kinds of people who brush very God. The priest in the sacraments. The farmer in the soil. We've known it, standing at the end of a field, the wagons filling with yield: working earth touches God. Working humus feeds humanity. We are dust farming dust, preparing food for men planting food, living this circular dance: from dirt, through dirt, until the return to the dirt; for from him and through him and to him, all things. Need we be ashamed?

The children had all nodded.
Ann Voskamp, The Land That Is Us

These Beautiful Bones review

I laid the book out, read it partially while doing so, and have been pushing it on people. Have I read it through myself? Not yet ... I will, I will but this is my busy time of year.

BUT Sarah Reinhard read it ... here's her review of These Beautiful Bones, a book that opens up Theology of the Body to everyone.

To think I complained because Pope Francis never wrote anything.

And I know I'm not the only one.

His 288-page exhortation feels like an "Oh yeah? Take that!" ... in a good way! Looking forward to reading this!

(UPDATE: ok, I swear I saw a huge page number on this thing, but the pdf is 83 pages ... thank goodness. Which is still pretty good "in your face" numbers for the non-writing complaints. I stand corrected, Your Holiness.)

Monday, November 25, 2013

Talking About Frankenstein ...

... the book by Mary Shelly, not the movies. Although I will say that Young Frankenstein got its fair share of mentions throughout the conversation. The conversation is at SFFaudio where Jesse, Scott, Bryan Alexander. and I discussed the book.

Well Said: Preaching Purity Instead of Abstinence

From my quote journal.
We err when we preach abstinence to lads and lasses, rather than purity, the full-blooded virtue that honors the beauty of the body by preserving its cleanliness, its youth, for the marriage and the children to which its sexuality is ordained, if God so wills. No one can sing an anthem to a negative: it is like the glory of a flower. It radiates youth and health and a wise innocence; while impurity is old and enfeebled and "knowing" and ignorant.
Anthony Esolen in Magnificat magazine

Sweet Potato Casserole With Pecan Crumble

My latest favorite in the sweet potato category for Thanksgiving. Get it at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

Advent Reading

Last week I was getting blog posts ready for Advent in a few spare moments. It made me remember to download onto my Kindle an Advent book that I've found really helpful for the last few years.

25 Days, 26 Ways to Make This Your Best Christmas Ever25 Days, 26 Ways to Make This Your Best Christmas Ever by Ace Collins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I came across this, offered free at Amazon, when crusing for Christmas holiday books back in 2010. It proved to be a very good series of reflections and suggestions for how to make December more meaningful leading up to Christmas. In short, it is a Protestant-style Advent book.

What makes this different is that the author focuses on linking the spiritual meditations and activities to the familiar holiday songs and things all around us. It was amazingly effective thanks to that and a nice complement to the Catholic Advent reflections that I normally use.

One caveat: the author is not as careful with some of his research as he could be. Just from my general knowledge I spotted two places where he subscribed to popular Christian wishful thinking in the origins of items, namely the candy cane and the Twelve Days of Christmas. We've all come across these in those emails that get sent around every year and then been discredited via Snopes or some other myth-buster site. He uses them effectively nonetheless as there is no harm in reflecting on those items using those faith-focuses. It is just that it would be nice if the author had fact checked better. This also made me a bit wary in trusting some of his other seemingly convenient stories such as that of the Christian origin of the evergreen tree for Christmas. It may be true but if he got the other things wrong, how can I know unless I check all these other facts too?

Regardless, this does not detract too much from the value that these reflections have for the regular Christian who is trying to keep his head in the midst of the regular bombardment of advertising and flurry of activities.


Looking for a bit more substantial reading for the Advent season, I poked around Amazon for ideas and so ...
  • I have also requested from the library Reed of God by Caryll Houselander which focuses on Mary as an empty reed waiting for God's music to be played through her. I read it many years ago and recall liking it a lot.
  • As well, I suddenly realized that the library probably had Jesus of Nazareth: the Infancy Narratives by Benedict XVI. Lo and behold, they had my choice of print or audio. Love this library. It is winging its way to me through the request system. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Notes on Mark: True Ambition

MARK 9:32-35
I never stopped to analyze why the disciples fell silent when Jesus asked what they had been arguing about ... I didn't have to. I always knew it was because they were ashamed without thinking about it. As any of us would feel when caught in such a moment. It takes looking at things through Jesus' eyes sometimes to see things clearly.
When he asked them what they had been arguing about they had nothing to say. It was the silence of shame. They had no defense. It is strange how a thing takes its proper place and acquires its true character when it is set in the eyes of Jesus. So long as they thought that Jesus was not listening and that Jesus had not seen, the argument about who should be greatest seemed fair enough, but when that argument had to be stated in the presence of Jesus it was seen in all its unworthiness...

Jesus took this very seriously. It says that he sat down and called the Twelve to him. When a Rabbi was teaching as a Rabbi, as a master teaches his scholars and disciples, when he was really making a pronouncement, he sat to teach. Jesus deliberately took up the position of a Rabbi teaching his pupils before he spoke. And then he told them that if they sought for greatness in his Kingdom they must find it, not by being first but by being last, not by being masters but by being servants of all. It was not that Jesus abolished ambition. Rather he recreated and sublimated ambition. For the ambition to rule, he substituted the ambition to serve. For the ambition to have things done for us he substituted the ambition to do things for others.
The Gospel of Mark
(The Daily Bible Series, rev. ed.)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

No Forwarding Address

The latest offering in our tall tales told in taverns series at Forgotten Classics podcast. Come hear it!

Notes on Mark: Foreshadowing the Resurrection

MARK 9:14-29
Do I see this foreshadowing when I'm reading the Gospels? No. Good thing there is this sort of commentary to point it out to me.
Mark's account also included an echo of the resurrection. The boy, after Jesus delivered him, appeared "like a corpse" (Mark 9:26). Jesus "took him by the hand and lifted him up" (Mark 9:27). In the original Greek language, Mark's terminology foreshadowed Jesus' resurrection and hinted at another aspect of discipleship: Christians may sometimes feel powerless and lifeless, but beginning even now, Jesus delivers us and raises us to new life.
Mark: A Devotional Commentary
(The Word Among Us)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Worth a Thousand Words: Greylag Goose

Greylag Goose
taken by the incomparable Remo Savisaar
It almost looks like a motion study, doesn't it? Or an anatomy lesson? All conveyed in the simple beauty of these birds flying. Simply fantastic.

For the New Liturgical Year: Reading God's Word - Year A

The new liturgical year is coming up. When I realized that, I made a purchase for my Kindle that has become routine in the last couple of years ... Reading God's Word: Daily Mass Readings. In this case it will be for Year A.

It's inexpensive - $10.

It's incredibly useful. I wouldn't have believed how much I'd refer to it, whether simply in my own daily reading or for various other projects.

It's one of the books that "lives" on my Kindle. And I don't have a lot of those, usually preferring a book in the hand to one in the Kindle. (ha! yes, feel free to use that if you want). The formatting is well done and it's easy to navigate.

It's offered in print, Kindle, Nook, and iBookstore formats at the publisher's website. I just pick it up from Amazon myself.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Hiroshige, 100 Famous Views of Edo by Melanie Trede

Hiroshige, 100 Views of EdoHiroshige, 100 Views of Edo by Melanie Trede

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have been leisurely perusing this book on Sunday mornings when we get up and sit on the back porch with our coffee and the dogs running crazily after squirrels and mockingbirds. (Those of you with little ones, this time will come again for you, do not despair.)

This was a Christmas gift from my husband who knows of my fondness for looking at art on those Sunday mornings. Obviously, I haven't been always examining it on the back porch or even on every Sunday. Do not judge it by my leisurely pace. I'd find it hard to believe that you could find a better book about Hiroshige's famous series of woodblock prints.

The way the shadows are elongated and distorted
gives the impression we are really seeing
moonlit playgoers in the puppet district

Author Melanie Trede first puts Hiroshige in context by explaining that these types of series were common as travel guides. You'd get the latest series and admire the artistry while planning your next trip. Her explanations of the influences traded between Western and Japanese art, the constraints of the woodblock printing process, the Japanese government's censorship and other such information put me not only in the mood to better appreciate each piece, but put me mentally in that time and place. I especially loved little details such as the fact that a crane's feathers would be colorless but have a 3-D texture applied by the printer using his elbow to push the paper into hollowed out areas.

Think how this crane would have seemed to soar
into your room with those feathers lifting from the paper

All of this combines to make one appreciate what an artist's eye Hiroshige had, and his printer too for that matter. Impossible points of view, interesting framing, an insistence on showing the lowly facts of life as well as the noble things ... these keep the prints continually fresh and interesting.

Horse dung. A fact of life but very controversial
for a piece of art. I myself loved seeing the straw horseshoes

The book itself is also lovely, bound like a Japanese book, in a case with bamboo-like clasps. This setting prepares one for the treasury of art contained within. Just as Hiroshige would have wanted, one suspects.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Thorny Grace of It by Brian Doyle

I think about the motley chaotic confusing house that is Catholicism. I think about the mad wondrous prayer of the Mass. I thing about how htere are such stunning and wonderful and confusing people in the clan of Catholic. I think about how we are all several kinds of people at once and hardly know ourselves let alone anybody else. I think about how possible the Church is, and how possible we are. I think about how really the Church is lots and lots of us mulish miracles gathered for little holy meals and story-swaps. I think about how religions are like people, capable of both extraordinary evil and unimaginable grace. I think about how the Church is sort of like the windows above me which catch these timbers of sun and focus them on the human comedy. I think about how I'd be a lot less of a man if I didn't have ways ot wake up to what I can be if I harness mercy and humor and grace and wisdom and attention and prayer and humility and courage and grace.

Which is what all true stories are about. Which is what we are, really, at our best--true stories. And true stories, stories with love and power in them, can save your life and save your soul and bring you, if even for only a flickering instant, face-to-face with the unimaginable creative force that once, a very long time ago, explained itself to Moses as, simply and confusingly, I Am. That force is in you, in every moment, in every story; which you know and I know, and which we hardly ever admit, which we should, so I do, amen.
(the clan of catholic)
Read it once. 

This is the essence and theme and a large portion of the style of The Thorny Grace of It by Brian Doyle.

In face, it is so truly the essence of it that I can't describe it better.

Read it a second time, perhaps aloud.

So I will just say that I liked this book very much. Some of the essays are written in a more standard form.
The third person to bless my rosary was a small girl in sage country. She is six years old. Whatever it is that we call the creative force that made us all and can be seen most unadorned in children beams out of this kid with the force of a thousand suns. She put my rosary on top of her head and held it there with her right hand as she put her left hand on my face and said I hope these beads will always have holy in them for when Mister Brian needs it, which is a very good blessing it seems to me.
(ten blessings)

Some are stream of consciousness.
At least look her in the eye and be gentle. Christ liveth in her, remember? ... Also in the grumpy imam, and in the surly teenager, and in the raving man under the clock at Flinders Street Station, and in the foulmouthed man at the footy, and in the cousin you detest with a deep and abiding detestation and have detested since you were tiny mammals fresh from the wombs of your mothers. When he calls to ask you airily to help him lug that awful vulgar elephantine couch to yet another of his shabby flats, do not roar and use vulgar and vituperative language, even though you have excellent cause to do so and who could blame you? But Christ liveth in him. Speak hard words into your closet and cast them thus into oblivion. Help him with the couch, for the ninth blessed time ...
(how to be good)

Some, like the example we began with way back at the top of this piece, are in-between.

In a way, they were like reading Ray Bradbury who reveled in words, flicked words against each other to talk to us in a new way, drowned in the poetry of them. If Bradbury had written about faith he'd have made me smile, nod, see myself. These hit me that way.

I will say that Doyle is from Portland, Oregon, which tends to imbue its inhabitants with a somewhat different viewpoint than those from my part of the country (Texas by way of the Midwest). The things that divide us are those that he lets roll off his tongue as matter-of-fact. However, those pointers tend to be lightly passed over to get to more important, personal ground. That makes it easy to ignore comments which would usually make me roll my eyes if they were emphasized more. And there are not very many of them. I appreciated that because the overall effect of the essays was to make me think more like the excerpt that started us off on the review.

This book is by a Catholic for imperfect Catholics. Doyle's light hand with divisive elements makes me think wonder if it wouldn't be a good one for Christians of any stripe. These essays make me think of how Pope Francis has so many enthusiastic supporters from outside Catholicism, spreading even into atheist ranks. They draw on the common things we all know about being human from the very good, to the striving, to the times that we fall and must haul ourselves up for another try.

Read it a third time.

Get the book. Keep it by your bed. Pick it up. Read it. Let the words roll over you. And be glad.

The review copy was provided by the Patheos Book Club. Publishers pay for Patheos to feature their books.My review is my own based solely on the book's merits.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Basics ... in Prayer Together

I am swamped. It is my usual catalog season. And I have to be out of the office some for various other reasons. We're also short a person who is at the hospital with his family right now ... and that is what prompted me to stop and post these prayer requests.

Prayer Request #1
Our coworker's father had a bit of neck pain for a few weeks. When he went to the doctor they found that slow-growing kidney cancer had somehow lodged a tumor in his neck that had actually consumed one of the vertebrae.

Naturally this is devastating to the family and the poor father is undergoing numerous procedures and partial surgeries just to properly evaluate the situation.

The family is gratefully accepting offers of prayer. Please lift them up in your prayers that they will come through this dark time closer to God and with healing for body and soul.

Prayer Request #2
I can't say this better than Deacon Greg (and who can really ever say things better than Deacon Greg?).
Today stand up for someone who can't. 
That would be Thomas Peters.
As you probably know, he’s facing a long road back from the debilitating accident that crippled him this summer.
He’s written about it himself with pathos and poignancy—and a beautiful clarity. 
Now, his friends are rallying to help.
Pray. Donate. Spread the word. Visit this website to learn how.  
But if you do nothing else, please just whisper a prayer of trust and hope.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Worth a Thousand Words: Long-Tailed Tit

Long-Tailed Tit
taken by the brilliant Remo Savisaar
I simply cannot emphasize enough how talented Remo Savisaar is at nature photography. Please click through to see the photo in larger detail and to peruse his other outstanding photos.

A Land Without Sin by Paula Huston

A Land Without SinA Land Without Sin by Paula Huston

My rating: 4-1/2 of 5 stars

"Jan," I asked casually, "is this one of the glyphs that has been translated?"

He paused over the tripod, as though considering whether or not this information might ruin me as an accomplice, then said, "It has."

"What does it mean?"

He paused again, this time looking at Rikki, who was clearly dying for me to know, then gave an exasperated sigh. "It has several meanings. It is a very common glyph--you find it almost everywhere, including in some month names, some god names, and in a lot of the iconography. Nothing mysterious."

I waited.

"The most common meaning seems to be k'in, which refers to the sun," he added reluctantly. "Also, time in general. And k'in is the name for day. So you can see this is a very mundane sort of glyph, really."

Which is why, I thought, we just army-crawled thirty yards to get to this chamber. Which is why we are hiking around in the middle of the jungle at night and poor Rikki is probably going to die of pneumonia.
It's 1993 in Central America. Eva is a top war photographer who has taken an unusual assignment, aiding a taciturn Dutch Mayanist in his research in the great pyramids of Tikal. That's because her brother, an idealistic priest, has disappeared and no one seems interested in finding him. Undaunted and feeling qualified to explore rough areas because of her war-time experience, Eva uses this job as cover to search for her brother.

She is unwillingly sucked into her employer's family life as she works with his likable son and meets his wife. This just adds to the list of mysteries she can't solve as their relationships seem too complex for a normal family. Meanwhile, as Eva reads an old stack of her brother's letters, we learn of her own mysterious background, much of which she is only coming to terms with as her journey continues.

A lot of this book is infused with questions and conversation about faith. As Eva encounters revolutionaries and ordinary folk, the information she has picked up from her brother's own spiritual growth suddenly begins to be applicable to a lot of different situations in very interesting ways. All this is done without hitting the reader over the head with a religious hammer, which I appreciated.

I myself really enjoyed this book and finished it several months ago but I have not reviewed it until now because I wasn't sure how to describe it. The fascinating blend of treasure hunt and South American revolution made me read the story quickly, but I never felt worried about Eva's safety. In fact the book left me feeling almost detached from any emotional reaction to the storyline.

Perhaps the best comparison I can come up is to Silence by Shūsaku Endō. That is a book about danger, adventure, faith, and religion which is written in what an English teacher pal of mine described as "classical" ... meaning that they keep you detached from visceral reactions to physical events. I appreciated that very much when reading Silence.

There are some wonderful moments in the book that resonated with my own Catholic journey closer to God. Most of them were contained in Eva's brother's letters. Here's a sample:
It was Fr. Anthony, back in Chicago, who wrote to me that I should read the nouvelle theologians ... for the first time, things began to light up for me. I don't mean intellectually, though that too, but spiritually. If the entire cosmos is an outward and visible sign of God's love, then evil, no matter how destructive, does not win out in the end. It can't.

For the first time, I started to feel genuine joy in being alive. How could you not when everything around you, every rock and tree and human being, is in some way participating in a heavenly reality? Everything thrumming with the echoes of its own original name the name by which God spoke it into existence? The mystery of the world had always frightened me, but now I began to see this mystery as marvelously beautiful, even more beautiful than the loveliness of the created realm. I understood that the mystery of the world was connected to the invisible reality of which it was a sign ...
Huston's book is very much her own creation and I would be interested to see what she does fiction-wise in the future. I want to read A Land Without Sin again sometime now that I have the storyline in mind so that I can take in the spiritual elements enfolded throughout. I highly recommend it for an interesting story with lots of food for thought.

A note on the book itself: I loved the texture of the cover and highly approved of both the silver foil stamping on the cloth cover and the high quality of the paper inside. (Those who know me, know I do not give these accolades lightly.) I think this is a new publisher or imprint and they did a great job on the book itself.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Must-See For Music Lovers: Muscle Shoals - the Movie

You may not have heard of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. I hadn't.

But you probably know the Muscle Shoals sound by heart. I do.
  • Brown Sugar - The Rolling Stones
  • When a Man Loves a Woman - Percy Sledge
  • I Never Loved A Man the Way That I Loved You - Aretha Franklin
  • Mustang Sally - Wilson Pickett
  • Tell Mama - Etta James
  • Kodachrome - Paul Simon
  • Freebird - Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • Main Street - Bob Seger
  • Sitting in Limbo - Jimmy Cliff
As wildly varying as those songs may seem, they all are permeated by one indefinable element, known to musicians as Muscle Shoals sound. This is nothing as easily identifiable as the Motown sound, although "funky" is the commonest descriptor. It joyously infuses this documentary, making you want to sing along or, at the very least, dance in your seat. By the end of this film, you'll know what they mean by it.

On the surface, this is the story of how record producer Rick Hall's tiny recording studio produced some of the biggest songs of our times. Star-studded interviews tell both the recording studio's history and that of the musicians themselves who often were sent to Muscle Shoals to find their true artistic voices. However, this film is much deeper than that, with several strands of story that weave through the music to make this a surprisingly layered, deep tale.

It is the story of a man whose life mirrors the blues, of unlikely studio musicians who helped make stars and earned The Swampers as a name, of shattered stereotypes for both black and white performers, of rejection, and of redemption. It is a mirror of America during some of our most soul-wrenching times. This is always done without ever letting us forget the importance of place, of what it meant to grow up and live in that little country town in Alabama.

Beautifully photographed and touchingly told, Muscle Shoals is one of the richest and most satisfying documentaries I've ever seen. The final revelation was finding that the director had never made a film before and was inspired to begin during a vacation to Muscle Shoals. Truly, this little town just turns out one wonderful surprise after another.

And now I finally understand both the words and the significance of these lines from Sweet Home Alabama.
Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers
And they've been known to pick a song or two
Lord they get me off so much
They pick me up when I'm feeling blue
Now how about you?
Muscle Shoals will do the same for you. See the movie.

The movie is available at a few theaters around the country but can be streamed in a lot of ways (iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, etc.). Check their site for more: Muscle Shoals: The Movie.


Note: there is an official soundtrack for sale but it is a small percentage of the songs that flow through this movie. We're going to figure out the song list and add on to compile our own complete soundtrack.


Prayers and Help for the Philippines

We are all praying for the survivors of the devastation left by Typhoon Haiyan in the Phllippines.

They also need all the help we can give them in a more tangible way.

There are a lot of relief services out there. I tend to bounce between The Salvation Army and Catholic Relief Services. Two excellent choices, whichever you may favor.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson

Raising DemonsRaising Demons by Shirley Jackson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I needed something light (and also light weight) for bedtime since I'm at Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings and not only is the journey stressful, but the book might crush me if I fell asleep reading it.

I was perusing my shelves and came across this old favorite which was just what I needed. Written with all of Jackson's usual skill, it is a complete opposite to her better known horror works (The Lottery, The Haunting of Hill House). This book about life with her family may call to mind something like Please Don't Eat the Daisies or Erma Bombeck, but please believe me when I say it is something out of the ordinary. (You may hear some samples at Forgotten Classics if you are interested.)

Only she can combine a seemingly mundane occurrences in ways that continually make me laugh out loud, though I've read the books many times before. In fact, she can do more with what is unsaid ... or half-said ... than any author I can think of.
By the Saturday before Labor Day a decided atmosphere of cool restraint had taken over our house, because on Thursday my husband had received a letter from an old school friend of his named Sylvia, saying that she and another girl were driving through New England on a vacation and would just adore stopping by for the weekend to renew old friendships. My husband gave me the letter to read, and I held it very carefully by the edges and said that it was positively touching, the way he kept up with his old friends, and did Sylvia always use pale lavender paper with this kind of rosy ink and what was that I smelled - perfume? My husband said Sylvia was a grand girl. I said I was sure of it. My husband said Sylvia had always been one of the nicest people he knew. I said I hadn't a doubt. My husband said that he was positive that I was going to love Sylvia on sight. I opened my mouth to speak but stopped myself in time.

My husband laughed self-consciously. "I remember," he said, and then his voice trailed off and he laughed again.

"Yes?" I asked politely.

"Nothing," he said.
Any description I give really doesn't do the book justice so please just give it a try.

Her previous book about her family, Life Among the Savages, is just as good. In fact, the book titles alone give you an idea of the humor contained therein.

Worth a Thousand Words: Great Battle in Heaven

Great Battle in Heaven
by Daniel Mitsui
Check Daniel's website for more wonderful art, all of which is available for purchase, and for more information about this fine piece which I simply love.

Just a bit of the insight he gives:
The composition of this drawing I based on an occidental work of art: the 11th picture in Albrecht Dürer's famous series of 15 woodcuts illustrating the Apocalypse, first published in 1498.

The arrangement of the angels closely matches that in Dürer's print, but the figures have been reinterpreted as Japanese warriors. Their appearance is based on prints by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, especially a series showing heroes in battle with monstrous animals.
Also, on a personal note, Daniel asks for prayers for the health of his tiny daughter, Alma Hildegard, who was born more than three months prematurely. (Read more here.)

Notes on Mark: Transfiguration and Jesus

MARK 9:2-8
The transfiguration's significance for Jesus has always seemed to be that he was getting the go ahead for his decision. But there also is significance for us in that Jesus still checked with God every step of the way to make sure he was doing God's will. If Jesus was doing that, then how much more should we?
It [the transfiguration] did something very precious for Jesus. Jesus had to take his own decisions. He had taken the decision to go to Jerusalem and that was the decision to face and accept the Cross. Obviously he had to be absolutely sure that was right before he could go on. On the mountain top he received a double approval of his decision.

(a) Moses and Elijah met with him. Now Moses was the supreme law-giver of Israel. To him the nation owed the laws of God. Elijah was the first and greatest of the prophets. Always men looked back to him as the prophet who brought to men the very voice of God. When these two great figures met with Jesus it meant that the greatest of the law-givers and the greatest of the prophets said to him, "Go on!" ...

(b) God spoke with Jesus. As always, Jesus did not consult his own wishes. He went to God and said, "What wilt thou have me to do?" He put all his plans and intentions before God. And God said to him, "You are acting as my own beloved Son should act and must act. Go on!"
The Gospel of Mark
(The Daily Bible Series, rev. ed.)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Mr. McFadden's Hallowe'en by Rumer Godden

Mr. Mc Fadden's Hallowe'enMr. Mc Fadden's Hallowe'en by Rumer Godden

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Mr. McFadden, would you give us each a turnip?"

"What on airth would ye be da'en wi' a neep?"

"I think you know," said Selina. "You know it's Hallowe'en."

"Hallowe'en," echoed Tim. His eyes were bright as he thought of it.

"Never heard of it," said Mr. McFadden.

"You have," Selina was unperturbed. "There's no one in Scotland who hasn't and you know what we do with the turnips." Tim could not be expected to know. "Because he hasn't been here," said Selina. "We hollow them out," she told Tim. "Hollow and scoop them out--that's hard work; then we cut holes for eyes and a mouth, little ones for nostrils if we can. Some people give them paper teeth and red rag tongue. On Hallowe'en night we put a lit candle in them or a night light and carry them as a lantern or put them on gateposts. They look horrible," said Selina with a shudder of pleasure, and she told Mr. McFadden. "I'm sure you did that when you were a boy."

"Certainly not. Neeps were for eating not nonsense."

"It isn't nonsense; they frighten witches and ghosts away."

"And spunkies," said Tim. "Didn't you dress up like Selina says," he asked Mr. McFadden, "dress up as a witch or a ghost or a cat, something frightening? Selina says when it's dark we'll go round to people's houses and they have to let you in--even me," said Tim. "Then we sing a song or ask a riddle. Selina's going to teach me one day and I'll get nuts and tablet," Tim said that reverently.
Tablet is homemade fudge.

I have to thank Melanie Bettinelli at The Wine Dark Sea for bringing this book to my attention. Hers is one of the very few "mom blogs" I read because she consistently brings books and literature into her posts, always with intelligent and interesting commentary. Her commentary on this story is mingled with observations of her oldest daughter's reactions and reflections on children's literature. Be sure you check it out.

Like Melanie, I also love Rumer Godden's children's books just as much as her novels for adults. Godden has a knack for incorporating local culture, awkward and unappreciated people, and interesting plot with a lovely prose style. She is unafraid to have her characters behave naturally which means that a story's crisis points will often leave readers feeling very uncomfortable because they recognize the behavior so well and dread the consequences thereof. Godden also is good at avoiding the "nice" sentimentality which can pervade children's books. Her world is always very real.

The plot, briefly, is that Selina lives in a small Scottish village where Hallowe'en is celebrated the old way, which leads to some fascinating details. She is awkward and so is her pony, Haggis, who she chose precisely because she recognized their similarities. It is Haggis who always drags her during daily rides to stand in the middle of local curmudgeon Mr. McFadden's turnip field. The story takes off from there.

Adults won't be as surprised by a lot of the plot turns in this books because they have seen it before, naturally, but I admit to surprise and worry over the Hallowe'en trick that is played on Selina.

The animals in this book become characters we also care about. Lady the dog, Wully the fierce gander and his wives, and Haggis the pony all have their own contributions to the plot as we learn their ways and understand what their reactions mean when they occur. Just as in real life.

I haven't made this story sound nearly as fascinating as it is so please just believe me and give it a try. I picked it up from the library last night, intending to give it a brief look over. I wound up getting sucked in and reading the whole thing.

I'm going to have to add this to my used store book list so that I can have a copy to go on the shelf next to The Diddakoi and The Kitchen Madonna. As it is, my local library branch is going to wonder what's going on when they receive the big stack of children's books by Rumer Godden that I requested last night. Who knew she wrote so many? And I want to read them all.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Worth a Thousand Words: Rembrandt's Elephants

I picked this up via lines and colors, one of my very favorite art blogs. It caught my eye because (a) I love elephants, (b) I love Rembrandt, (c) Sam in Lord of the Rings - which I'm rereading now - loves oliphants, and (d) I really, really loved seeing an elephant in Eden. Check out the next drawing.

Be sure to go to lines and colors to see why Rembrandt's elephants were featured and for more of his olliphant drawings.

It's All Downhill from Here: Sponsorship

From one of my favorite cartoonists, Doug Savage.

I always like any advertising oriented humor and if it has aliens, so much the better!

Well Said: Deep enough for a lamb to wade in ...

From my quote journal.
Scripture is like a river again, broad and deep, shallow enough here for the lamb to go wading, but deep enough there for the elephant to swim.
St. Gregory the Great, Commentary on the Book of Blessed Job

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Need Good Podcast Listening Ideas?

Here's your answer ... SFFaudio's podcast about podcasts.

Jesse, Tamahome, Seth, and Jimmy Rogers and I talk about podcasts. So many good listening ideas that I actually listened to the podcast, even though I was there when it was recorded!

Also, be sure to check out Jimmy's link because his blog isn't just a place to host his podcast. He has a lot of interesting posts pointing to good speculative fiction.

It was great fun and I was relieved that my listening showed I didn't interrupt people nearly as often as I thought I did.



Some day, it's gonna be no interrupting. We've all gotta reach for that star, right?

Most Frightening Thing About Listening to Welcome to Nightvale #34 ...

... is listening to the "beautiful dream" and answering the phone at work, only to hear an automated computer talking to you on the phone.

*silent scream*

Of course, this only makes sense to other Nightvale listeners. And that's ok.

Worth a Thousand Words: Autumnal Sunlight

Sunlight filters through yellow leaves on a wooded hillside in Mount Lebanon.
taken by Father Pitt
It doesn't look like this around here ... yet. But I wish it did.

Notes on Mark: Transfiguration and the Disciples

MARK 9:2-8
Barclay* tells us two reasons Jesus would have had the disciples accompany him. I always got the "witness" concept but hadn't thought about the other reason he advances. It makes perfect sense.
(a) They had been shattered by Jesus' statement that he was going to Jerusalem to die. That seemed to them the complete negation of all that they understood of the Messiah. They were still bewildered and uncomprehending. Things were happening which not only baffled their minds but were also breaking their hearts. What they saw on the mountain of the transfiguration would give them something to hold on to, even when they could not understand. Cross or no Cross, they had heard God's voice acknowledge Jesus as his Son.

(b) It made them in a special sense witnesses of the glory of Christ. A witness has been defined as a man who first sees and then shows. This time on the mountain had shown them the glory of Christ, and now they had the story of this glory to hid in their hearts and to tell to men, not at the moment, but when the time came.
The Gospel of Mark
(The Daily Bible Series, rev. ed.)
* (Do keep in mind that I like Barclay's insight into language and bygone customs, but his theology can be a bit wacky. That's not to say that I often don't find him inspiring. He can be. But just know that he should be read with caution.)

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Commemoration of All Souls

Reposted from last year with a few updates to my list.

The Day of the Dead, William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905)
Today we dedicate our prayers in suffrage for the souls in purgatory, still being purified of the remains of sin. Our ties with deceased relatives and friends do not end with their death. Priests can celebrate Mass three times on this day for their benefit, and all the faithful can gain special indulgences to expedite their entrance into heaven.

I think today of my beloved dead. I love them and I miss them. Certainly, I pray for them to be happy and joyful in Heaven.
  • GG
  • Raymond
  • Thelma
  • Grandmama
  • Deedah
  • Tom's father
  • Tom's mother
  • Ivar
  • Dorsey
  • Dorsey's mother
  • Carole
  • Heath
  • Phyllis
  • Jeanmarie, Sydney, Matthew
Here is a litany for the souls in Purgatory.

You can read more about All Souls' Day here. For those with any questions about Purgatory I posted this extremely basic explanation a while back.

Catholic Culture explains indulgences and practices that Catholics can do during the month of November for the Poor Souls in Purgatory. Also be sure to swing by Recta Ratio, who's really got soul ... check out his place. In the past he has examined such fascinating topics as Catholic death customs, especially medieval ones. I hope he reruns it for us this year as well.