Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Happy Birthday to Tom!

Via Wikipedia
It's Tom's special day today.

As we know, I take birthdays very seriously, especially when it is that of the love of my life.

We'll have been married thirty years next month and I have been realizing the happiness that comes from spending so much time with one person. I should say, with that one person who is practically perfect for me in every way.

We will fete him with Chinese food from a favorite restaurant in Richardson's Chinatown. He has asked for Tirimisu which the Central Market makes superbly ... and so I have no need to cook. Just to wrap, wrap, wrap his gifts.

Which I hope he enjoys very much though they are truly a token of the joy he brings to us and to everyone who knows him.

Happy Birthday, dear Tom!

What We've Been Watching


This director's best documentary remains Helvetica, perhaps because the topic was fairly focused. In Urbanized he gathers a lot of different opinions from around the world about different urban areas and problems and solutions. It was interesting, but in the end it all seemed to come down to the fact that urban areas that work are those where the concerns of residents are met effectively. And I think we knew that already, didn't we?


I'd heard this was Matthew McConaughey's return to showing his potential as an actor so I was somewhat interested in seeing it. My husband saw it was streaming free on Amazon Prime so we watched it and it was a rewarding story indeed. The acting was top notch and the story was like a cross between Mark Twain and To Kill a Mockingbird, set on the Arkansas River.

It is a coming of age story defined by a 14-year-old boy's knowledge of what constitutes true love in the best sense. As the adults around him fail to live up to that understanding, he and a friend encounter the mysterious Mud living on an island. And things both fall into place and get more confusing, as is the way of both movies and of life. Excellent performances, especially from the local Arkansas boy who plays the best friend of the protagonist.

Although this is good, it seems like a standard coming of age story in many ways until the final scene of the movie, which redefines and broadens the entire story. It is that scene which suddenly makes one realize the masterpiece which is Mud.


I'm not crazy about Shakespeare but when I got done watching this I wanted to own the DVD. If only Joss Whedon would do more Shakespeare to follow this project ... then I might learn to love Shakespeare.

Worth a Thousand Words: Durham Cathedral

Durham's massive patterned columns hold aloft the finest cathedral in northern Europe, built (between 1093 and 1128) to symbolise the power of the conquering Normans, and embodying revolutionary technology.
Description from Paul Johnson, photo via Wikipedia.
Absolutely gorgeous isn't it? A bit about cathedrals in general from Paul Johnson's Art: A New History.
The liturgical demands of the cathedral, which were complicated and exacting and continually becoming more so, meant that it had to be designed from the inside outwards. The dynamic force pushing the designer against the frontiers of his technology was the insistence of bishop and chapter, backed by the public, that he provide an ever-larger enclosed space in the middle of the church. This was reinforced by a religious and aesthetic urge to let in more light by building the walls higher and higher. To the early medieval man, the church was an epitome of his cosmology. The stone with which it was built symbolised eternity. The walls upheld the firmament above. There God dwelt to receive his voice and prayers ascending upwards. Worship was a rising motion and the higher the ceiling the closer man's prayer and song, which filled it with sound, would come to God. And the higher the roof, the more detached it was from the clayey prison of the earth beneath. Height was therefore an escape from earth to Heaven and that was why the cathedral had to provide it.
He goes on to talk about why Durham is so revolutionary and the constraints the artist was working with in order to built a fitting tribute to God.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Dance and Life Lessons 2

Our second month of dance lessons finished last week. I actually now know what that couple in the picture is doing during their Tango because that's one of the dances we learned. We practice it in rudimentary style, but it's a beginning.

We learned the Tango, the Cha Cha, and the Waltz. My favorite: the Cha Cha. Love the crossover variation with the turn at the end. So much fun!

The other dances did not come so easily to me, especially since both required more of the follower. At several points I had to simply waltz with my eyes closed so I was following the movements of the leader instead of where I thought he was going to go. Randomly mixing the box waltz step with the regular waltz will show a girl just where she's not paying attention, believe me.

As with the previous dance lessons, we realized there was a life lesson to be learned here. This is one we know but have not had to practice for some time.

Practice makes perfect.

If at first you don't succeed then try, try again.

Somehow we'd gotten it into our heads that abject failure to really grasp a dance and perform it with ease after one, two, or even three lessons meant that perhaps we were doomed. We would never pick it up. Certainly we would never do it well so perhaps we needed private lessons.

What we found, of course, is that by doggedly keeping on trying suddenly resulted in a break through. On the fourth set of lessons.

And the next month, all the new dances were just a bit easier to pick up.

I used to know that lesson. Somewhere along the way I got so comfortable with everything I was doing ... and not trying enough completely new things ... that I'd forgotten. It is something I've been applying to my life in general and it's actually a bit relaxing. Eventually. I'll get better at all those things I'm not naturally drawn to, eventually. Prayer, virtues, following in Christ's steps. Eventually.

I just have to keep trying.


On a related note, I want to point you to Jennifer Fulwiler's book, Something Other Than God. I was really, really impressed to see that Dean Koontz is included among the usual suspects in the blurbs.

I was impressed most of all, though, that Jennifer shared the discouragement she had to overcome during the drafts which took several years to reach fruition. I am acquainted with Jennifer and she's obviously intelligent, accomplished, and ambitious (which is not a bad thing, I'll just mention right here).

So it would have been easy for her to gloss over her struggles. But I'm glad she didn't. Because it is a reminder of the life lesson we picked up at dance class. No one is perfect at anything the first time and it when we pick ourselves up and try again that we get a little closer to our true potential.

I've heard only good things about the book and I bet that's because it is imbued with the honesty we have grown to expect from Jennifer in her blogging. Check it out ...

Monday, April 28, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Book of Durrow

The Book of Durrow (seventh century) is a masterpiece of calligraphy, drawn from late Roman models, and merged into Celtic passion for abstract decorative forms.
The above caption comes from Art: A New History by Paul Johnson. This book is a simply marvelous way to read about history, as focused through the lens of artistic development.

As I've been leisurely reading it I have been marking bits to share. This week we're going to see some wonderful art accompanied by Johnson's commentary. The commentary will be severely excerpted, of course, because in most cases there is no way I can include all his enlightening information.

I've always loved illuminated manuscripts and I wish that there was a version of them produced in modern times. I would snap up a Bible thusly illustrated. Think how it would enrich one's meditation to have art and words working together to raise our communication with God to a higher level.

My wishes aside, our modern age does allow us to enjoy illustrated manuscripts from ages past. I particularly love the page above with the dragon-ish capital N.
These artistic instincts and skills were in due course Christianised, and put to work in the monastic scriptoria which were springing up all over western Europe. The result was a kind of art which, in its intricacy of line and colour, has never been excelled. ...

These monasteries began, from the early seventh century, to produce illuminated manuscripts of great beauty and elaboration. It is not always possible to discover which house produced which book, and scholarly argument, reflecting modern nationalism, rages round the provenance. ... Then follow the three "luxury" manuscripts, prepared by great artists as a feast for the eyes of Dark Age kings: the Book of Durrow, from about 670 (Dublin, Trinity), the Lindisfarne Gospels, c. 700 (British Library) and the Book of Kells, c. 800 (Dublin, Trinity). These three masterpieces have never been excelled in the history of book production: the concentrated skill they display astonishes, mystifies, overwhelms and even alarms modern eyes. It is hard for us to get inside the mind of the scribe-artist who spent months, perhaps years, decorating a single page with a combination of abstract motifs, zoomorphic or terrestrial stylised figures, major initials and elaborate script, all integrated in designs which are self-perpetuating patterns of dynamic movement.

The workmanship is so close to perfection that it is almost impossible to detect signs of fatigue or flagging invention. ...

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Remembering John Paul II on the occasion of his beatification

I really couldn't think of what to write for the occasion of seeing public acknowledgment of something I already know, that Pope John Paul II is a saint. Of course, I'm not the only one. Public acclamation of him as "the Great" began at his funeral. I was interested to read in one of Mike Aquilina's books recently that the people proclaim someone as "the Great." The Church later makes it official.

I couldn't think of anything better than this tribute which originated with my thoughts upon John Paul's death and which I have updated very slightly below. Nothing I can say can cover the scope of such a personality and many others in the news and online will doubtless do it better. But this is how I feel and that's often why you come by. So let's look back at the beloved Papa we all were so privileged to know.

At 9:37 p.m. on the evening of April 2, 2005, (a Saturday) Pope John Paul II died.

I will never forget it, not only because I loved him more than I realized until heard that news, but also for the company I was keeping at that moment. Mama T, Smock Mama, Steven Riddle and I were sitting in the Rockfish Grill dawdling over a long, enjoyable lunch. As I wrote the next day...
We were in a restaurant but it was as if we were in a soundproof bubble. Nothing else existed except the four of us and our shared, mingled sadness and joy. Tears flowed and we clasped hands and shared prayer together for our pope and our church. What an odd "coincidence" for us to be together to share that moment ... as if I believed in coincidence. In fact, my husband has said three times that he still can't believe how odd it was that I was with those St. Blog's parishioners at that time (and he doesn't repeat himself like that).
Of course, as much as I loved John Paul II, it must be admitted that no one is perfect. For instance, I can't believe he didn't use a Mac. But we will overlook these little flaws.

Today we are living in an age of instant communications. But do you realize what a unique form of communication prayer is? Prayer enables us to meet God at the most profound level of our being. It connects us directly to God, the living God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in a constant exchange of love.
Pope John Paul II
Celebration with Youth, St. Louis, 1999
The above photo and quote is one of a series that I did during those days of mourning afterward. I like looking through them. They remind me of what a treasure he was for the Church ... and for me.
This was written much later but is my review of Peggy Noonan's book, John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father. I highly recommend it and there are several good links in that review as well.

Only For Today: the daily decalogue of Pope John XXIII

I have been rereading my quote journals lately and came across this which was very timely considering that Pope John XXIII is now Saint John XXIII. I love the practicality of these ten resolutions and when I've remembered them, my life has been easier and happier.

In looking around, I was interested to see that this comes from a homily by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone who helped John XXIII organize and run the second Vatican council. He must have known the pope well and so this means all the more.
The daily decalogue of Pope John XXIII

1) Only for today, I will seek to live the livelong day positively without wishing to solve the problems of my life all at once.

2) Only for today, I will take the greatest care of my appearance: I will dress modestly; I will not raise my voice; I will be courteous in my behaviour; I will not criticize anyone; I will not claim to improve or to discipline anyone except myself.

3) Only for today, I will be happy in the certainty that I was created to be happy, not only in the other world but also in this one.

4) Only for today, I will adapt to circumstances, without requiring all circumstances to be adapted to my own wishes.

5) Only for today, I will devote 10 minutes of my time to some good reading, remembering that just as food is necessary to the life of the body, so good reading is necessary to the life of the soul.

6) Only for today, I will do one good deed and not tell anyone about it.

7) Only for today, I will do at least one thing I do not like doing; and if my feelings are hurt, I will make sure that no one notices.

8) Only for today, I will make a plan for myself: I may not follow it to the letter, but I will make it. And I will be on guard against two evils: hastiness and indecision.

9) Only for today, I will firmly believe, despite appearances, that the good Providence of God cares for me as no one else who exists in this world.

10) Only for today, I will have no fears. In particular, I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and to believe in goodness. Indeed, for 12 hours I can certainly do what might cause me consternation were I to believe I had to do it all my life.

Friday, April 25, 2014

In which we encounter Mavoom and discover the secrets of several longing hearts.

Yes, more of The People of the Mist to satisfy your desire for adventure in deepest, darkest Africa.  Get it at Forgotten Classics podcast.

Well Said: The Crashing Together of The Visible and Invisible

As I went to Mass and slowly began to understand the liturgy, every word and gesture resonated more and more. I stared at the Host as the priest took it in both hands and raised it to heaven. That little wafer now seemed like a diamond chip, a point of intersection, a cross between the visible and invisible universe, and as he raised it in consecration and the little bell rang, it seemed that two supertankers were crashing together in a single, glorious moment. I was dazzled — and grateful that I was dazzled.
Richard Cole, Catholic By Choice
He's speaking my language. I already had this sense of the moment but love having these words to use for it.

Worth a Thousand Words: Alphonse Mucha

Alphonse Mucha, Self Portrait
via WikiPaintings
I love the expression on Mucha's face.

I also love the fact that we know him for work that is very different than the portrait style above. If we hear Alphonse Mucha, it is likely that a style doesn't come to mind for most people like me. One look though, and we know his style very well.

Why Science Does Not Disprove God by Amir D. Aczel

Why Science Does Not Disprove GodWhy Science Does Not Disprove God by Amir D. Aczel

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Short version: I want to believe Aczel's arguments. However, some of the inaccuracies in nonscientific areas made me wonder if he was trustworthy in the science.

Full Review

The purpose of this book is to defend the integrity of science.
Amir d. Aczel, mathematician and science journalist, was on stage listening to prominent biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins when he decided he'd had enough of hearing atheists misuse mathematics and science for their own agenda. The result is this book which examines the New Atheists' claims that scientific progress has proven God does not exist.

Aczel devotes chapters to quantum theory, string theory, probability, chaos theory, and much more. Each time, he examines the New Atheists' claim, explains the scientific theory involved, and then shows where the logic of atheists' claims falls short. In so doing, Aczel quotes other scientists, some believers and some what we might call "friendly" atheists, to show that the loud claims of the New Atheists are far from being universally acclaimed by the scientific community.

In each case, he logically shows that a zealously pursued agenda is sullying the beauty of pure scientific truth.

I especially liked the way that Aczel didn't strive to "recruit" scientists to his cause. He simply would point out when a fair minded scientist was leaving open the possibility that science didn't have every fact locked down and God locked out. This was often really helpful in showing the methods of New Atheist scientists who were determinedly tweaking interpretations to support their own agenda.

"But wait," I can hear you thinking. "Anyone who punches holes in the reasoning of so many atheists in order to stand up for the idea of God must have a vested interest. Right? Surely he's Christian."

Good news, everyone!

Aczel is so far from being a Christian or even a theist, as far as I can tell, that he just tosses out shallow sound-bytes of pop-history "everyone knows" about religion and, indeed, European history. A lot of the time it's unspecific, inaccurate, and pounds the church whenever possible for being closed minded. So no need to worry that he's on our side and just sticking it to the (science) man for the sake of his faith.

I'm not gonna lie. If you know about religion and history, you are going to do some serious eye rolling. And possibly have to struggle to not get insulted over some of Aczel's unthinking simplifications.

In many ways I enjoyed Aczel's early chapters about the development of science and religion. His comments about the rise of nature cults as people noticed more cause and effect prompted me to think of God using that way to speak to the earliest people through his creation, nature. I liked that image. However, I often struggled to give Aczel the benefit of the doubt, such as when he linked the Virgin Mary to fertility goddess worship. Perhaps, I thought, he was completely leaning on anthropological thinking in these instances.

My assumption was ruined by the next paragraph when he said that Catholic saints "resemble the Greek and Roman pantheons—each saint with powers and a specialty similar to a god." A good anthropologist would know that is not how Catholic saints were viewed in the past or present. (I can't help that we all seem to know some random Catholic lady who treats St. Francis just the way Aczel mentions. That lady? She's in the same state as Richard Dawkins. Uninformed. I expect more from a book like this.)

I also expect more than this unthinking historical gloss from a book like this.
When this great culture [Greek civilization] declined and the Western world sank into the Dark Ages, Scripture assumed the role of the explanation of truth, and freethinking was shunned. This mode of thought continued through the late Middle Ages, when except for the development of crude notions about medicine ... there were few attempts to pursue science. Deviations from established belief were not tolerated in a culture dominated by the church and Catholic Monarchs. Simply put, the "order of things" was not up for debate.
Right. Albert the Great who helped develop experimental science, Roger Bacon (a friar) who helped develop the empirical scientific method, all those Catholic universities and scholars and scientists. Pfft. Forget about them!

Historians like Paul Johnson, Regine Pernoud, and others have pointed out lately that what "everybody knows" about the Renaissance, the Dark Ages and the Middle ages is often quite wrong. When only the Renaissance guys are left to define how things fall out, guess who's going to come out smelling like roses? In fact, this is well enough known that pop culture sites like Cracked have been telling us about it (Renaissance, Middle Ages).

And that brings us to the bad news. With such unthinking inaccuracies, can we trust the science?

That is a question only other unbiased scientists can answer. And I'd love to hear from some because, I admit, I wanna believe.

Aczel makes a great case for shallow, inaccurate, and tweaked science being used by the New Atheists. I didn't get the feeling that Aczel is out to get religion. I just felt that he didn't care enough about the religious side of the story to look any deeper. I really wish that someone, anyone, who cared about religion and history had taken a look at this book before it went to press.

I am trusting that Aczel's stated goal of restoring scientific integrity is one that he cares passionately enough about to treat these subjects with integrity about details. After all, his peers are going to be zinging him about this book if they don't agree.

On that basis, I am recommending it as a way to understand the false claims that are being made by people with atheist agendas. As a course in logic, it is superb and that is also a good reason to read it.

NOTE: This was a free review book. I think we can all agree I didn't let that fact influence my review.

Blogging Around: Grab Bag

Here are a few things that caught my eye last week.

As always, I'm counting on you to click through for the whole story and not just depend on these little tidbits to truly inform you. 

The Atlantic slips — somehow — inside mind of Benedict XVI
Not being an Atlantic reader I completely missed a piece they did, “The Pope in the Attic: Benedict in the Time of Francis” but luckily I was able to read about it at GetReligion. They point out it isn't journalism but an essay. And not just any essay but, as GetReligion puts it: "This piece is a love song to all of the Catholics who suffered so much during the terrifying reign of St. John Paul II and his bookworm bully, the future Pope Benedict XVI."

Now you can see why I say you need to read it. I hadn't seen this quote by Peggy Noonan before but it is so wonderfully expressive that it is going into my quote journal.
Do you remember that famous Peggy Noonan quote about Aaron Sorkin’s “The West Wing,” a show for which she served as a consultant?
A reporter once asked me if I thought, as John Podhoretz had written, that “The West Wing” is, essentially, left-wing pornography. I said no, that’s completely wrong. “The West Wing” is a left-wing nocturnal emission — undriven by facts, based on dreams, its impulses as passionate as they are involuntary and as unreflective as they are genuine.
That’s kind of what we are dealing with here, especially in the passages in which essayist Paul Elie all but claims to have read the mind of Benedict, perhaps while driving past his abode (I am not making that part up, honest).
 Fire of the Spirit for Catholic Teens 

This hit my in-box and it looks interesting.
"Fire of the Spirit" is a Catholic teen group devoted to the evangelization and awakening of Catholic teenagers everywhere to the reality of their faith, and the world we live in. Currently, our mission encompasses a bi-monthly e-magazine, and a group Catholic teen blog; all of which is produced "for teens by teens."
An Atheist's Case for Religious Liberty
The oldest rule of free speech is: I may disagree with every word you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it. Because if I don’t stand up for you, then by my silence I am accepting a system in which might makes right. I am helping to establish the rule of the jungle in the realm of ideas.

In sum, I’m for religious liberty because there really is no such thing as religious liberty. There is just freedom of thought and freedom of conscience, period. For all of us. And if we let the left knock it down, they are coming for all of us in the end.
Robert Tracinski at The Federalist
As always, it is about conscience and allowing each other the "right to be wrong." Really that book just keeps applying to everything. Via Jen Fitz at Sticking the Corners.

A Public School Bible Curriculum
A fascinating and well balanced story from Religion News Service about a proposed public school Bible curriculum. I'd say one needs this sort of thing just to be literate in timeless, classic literature which has influenced the great authors of Western civilization. And on that mixing religion and government issue? We're covered.
Contrary to popular assumptions, there is nothing unconstitutional about teaching about the Bible in public schools. The same Supreme Court ruling that outlawed school-sanctioned prayer in 1963 qualified that “Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible … when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment.”

The key words, of course, are “objectively” and “secular.” Haynes suggested that, constitutionally, “the bar is actually low — I think it’s hard for judges to get beyond the surface to questions of what a sound academic course looks like — but much more difficult to develop materials that actually both reflect constitutional principles and are academically solid.”
It can be done. I'd like to think my reading at Forgotten Classics of Robert Alter's translation of Genesis, requested by an atheist listener, looking at a book of the Bible as literature.

Via GetReligion whose own article about this piece you'll want to read also so you can appreciate just how good the original is at fair and balanced reporting of a touchy issue.

A Better Way to Say Sorry
It's instructional but also inspirational. A must read from cuppacocoa for parents, spouses, employers and employees, for everyone who ever made a mistake and needed to apologize ... so that's all of us! Even if you don't need feel you need work in this area, read it for the inspirational bit toward the end. Via Melanie Bettinelli on Facebook.

Evangelical Poverty, Fasting, and The Foods We Eat
Again from Jen Fitz at Sticking the Corners. A look at uncluttered living, Christian poverty, and the places we choose to spend our money. Like Jen, we're into real food which costs money. Read it all and check out the linked story which started her thinking about the topic. As for me, I'm going to try to lay my hands on a copy of Thomas Dubay's book which she mentions. I'm a fan and this is a topic about which we all need more inspiration.

Speaking of Food ... Our Wacky Dietary Prejudices 
Our attitude to food reflects just how privileged our society is and, in my opinion, just how little of substance many of us have to occupy our days.

This WSJ article about how many people are picking "Elimination Diets" hit a real chord for me. You wouldn't believe how these sorts of food preferences make life harder when doing food prep for retreats. We ask people to tell us if they have allergies. Many wind up telling us their "elimination" preferences as if they were allergies.

In a related piece (again from Melanie on Facebook) from TNation looks at our food fads from the 1980s until now. When you see how the older fads have been disproved, it makes one take a more jaundiced look at the current trends.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Suspect by Robert Crais

SuspectSuspect by Robert Crais

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book any dog lover will enjoy. That is if they also enjoy thriller/mystery books.

A traumatized police officer and a traumatized war dog (German Shepherd Maggie) help each other get back to full life while working on the case that killed the officer's partner.

This sounds sappy but is not. It occasionally shows the dog's point of view and it is as canine as one could wish. This is nothing like the Rita Mae Brown series where the animals sound like little people talking to each other. Having had to learn something about how dogs think in order to manage a boisterous pack at our house, this book felt really "true."

The mystery is, as many reviewers have noted, telegraphed early on and, frankly, for me that was the least interesting part of the book. However, I appreciated the way that Crais added touches of humanity to characters who usually are handled in a stock fashion. A small time criminal's grief over his brother's death especially comes to mind.

The real story though is that of Scott and Maggie, each equally tough and vulnerable and needing a new pack in order to survive.

I was going to give this three stars but it has stuck with me to the point where I was recommending it to a gentleman who brought his Chihuhua to the grocery store today. I can do no less than give it a star for memorability.

Worth a Thousand Words: A Little Twig

Ein kleiner Zweig (A Little Twig)
painted by Edward B. Gordon
I don't know about such things, but this is practically perfect. Right? I just can't stop looking at it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Thai Good Stories ...

... these are the ripples we are here to make in the world.

Via my sis on Facebook.

A Movie You Might Have Missed: 40

Can a dashing pirate defeat the Spanish, serve Queen Elizabeth, and find true love? You know he can!

40. The Sea Hawk

Errol Flynn is a swashbuckling pirate in the service of Good Queen Bess. His mission: to overtake Spanish ships, steal their booty, and sink them.

Until the day he meets a lovely senorita on board ... you think you know the rest and to some extent that is true. Except that this has a more complicated plot and the actress playing Queen Elizabeth invested her with a sense of intelligence and awareness that raised the movie to a new level.

I haven't seen every Errol Flynn movie, to be sure, but this is definitely my favorite of all those I have seen. Robin Hood? Don't make me laugh. The Seahawk's the movie you need to see.

2014 Campbellian Anthology - Free

This has been around since February evidently but I'm just catching on. The good news is that this file is free (and DRM-free) until the Hugo voting closes. So get your copy now at StarShipSofa.

Worth a Thousand Words: Brown Bear

Brown Bear
taken by that photography genius we love, Remo Savisaar

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Cognitive Anchoring

Namely, that doodling helped her research subjects remember up to 29% more than non-doodlers. And while doodling and knitting or crocheting are quite different activities, they share one trait: they can easily be done with some level of automaticity.
Take that, everyone who has been in meetings with me, wondering why I was knitting.

Oh, also, since it isn't just about me, just discovered my pal Heather Hutchinson Ordover is writing a book about this.

Read about it at Newsday.

Sign up for advance notice when the book is ready here. I did.

She's been blogging the book as she goes. Not my style. I'll wait until the whole thing is done.

Easter Reading

So we all chatter about what we're reading for Lent. What about Easter? Is there anything joyful, inspirational, informative that seems as if it would be good for the Easter season?

Naturally I wouldn't bring it up if I didn't have at least a couple of ideas. (Links go to my reviews.)
  • Conversing With God In The Easter Season by Stephen Binz. Binz brings his wonderful lectio divina guidance to the Easter readings for each Sunday of the season.

  • Jesus: A Pilgrimage by James Martin. Martin considers Christ's question to his disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" as we journey with him through the Holy Land.

  • In Conversation With God by Francis Fernandez. I've praised this series of daily devotionals before but the Lenten/Easter one may be the best of the group. I find it good for keeping Easter top of mind in daily life.

  • The Ultimate Self-Help Book: Dante's Divine Comedy by Rod Dreher. This is an article from the Wall Street Journal but it reminded me that I'd been interested in rereading Dante's masterpiece. I recall finding Purgatorio extremely uplifting. I like John Ciardi's translation, but this time through will be using another so I can compare them.
What else? Leave comments with Easter reading ideas. And please include fiction. None occurred to me, but that just means I'm missing something.

Melanie Bettinelli's comment made me recall this book:

Worth a Thousand Words: Couple with guidebook reading map.

Couple with guidebook reading map. Al Lago Maggiore travel poster.
Via Books and Art, where there is more information about their location.

Well Said: I ask forgiveness ...

I ask forgiveness of anyone I have offended, but especially from those I have not influenced for good.
Blessed John XXIII
That's something good for each of us to keep in mind. It's not enough to be inoffensive. Our vocation is to influence for good, simply through our lives if in no other way.

The Hound of the Baskervilles ...

... at SFFaudio ... a simply superb mystery. And I had tons of fun talking about it with that simply superb gang of story lovers.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: The Resurrection

Matthias Grünewald, detail from Isenheim Altarpiece, c. 1515
I borrowed this from Lines and Colors where various images of the altarpiece and this resurrection image are featured. I agree that it is one of the most striking resurrection depictions ever. Simply fantastic.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Well Said: A day may come when the courage of men fails ...

Sons of Gondor, of Rohan. My brothers. I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me! A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day! An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! by all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you, stand, men of the West!
Aaragorn, The Return of the King movie
For our brothers in the Ukraine, I fear that day has come.

Just as when Hitler took the Sudetenland and all that was heard were a few bleats of protest from weak leaders, so I see news coverage of Ukraine standing alone against a wolf while weak bleats come from all around ... and my heart breaks for them.

I mentioned this to a friend when the Crimean situation arose and he said, "Tough words."

But here we are with phase two, as I think of it. I can't keep this quote from my mind.

Then this weekend I was looking at the Kindle sample for Churchill's "The Gathering Storm" about the period between the two world wars and was struck by this.

And now here we are again.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Blogging Around: The Something Old, Something New Edition

Please note that none of these are complete in and of themselves. I'm counting on you to click through and read the whole story if you're interested.


... which means that I run the lab, and I’m continually shocked by all the unnecessary lab work that comes my way."
There's more. get it at Humans of New York.


A life lesson we all need reminding of, from Humans of New York.

If you ever needed an excellent overview to give someone or wondered yourself why anyone would want to read The Lord of the Rings, go to Joseph's piece at Zombie Parent's Guide.

A gaggle of stories worth reading. Notice how many of these are from The Deacon's Bench? It's my go-to for Catholic Church news and I can't recommend it highly enough.
Copy the work of others says this article from The Art of Manliness, a blog which I find has many articles that are just as good for ladies as gentlemen. They are talking about copying someone else's work by hand.
Copywork, as it’s called, used to be the standard method by which students learned to write, and it is the “secret” to how many of history’s greatest writers mastered the craft. While it may sound unsexy and unoriginal, it really works, and today we’ll show you how to get started.
One reason I like is that they tell us history like it really was, rather than simply repeating what "everyone knows" which so often turns out to be wrong. If you like this one, check out the links at the end of the article for similar myth-busting about other historical periods. Language warning.

A high school theology quiz that makes you laugh and makes you think. This is just a sampling and the answer key is in the comments at DarwinCatholic.
1. Tom Hanks is stranded alone on a desert island with only a volleyball to keep him company. He knows that as a member of the Church, missing Sunday mass counts as "grave matter" for a mortal sin. He wants to go to mass, but when Sunday comes around, he doesn't go. Has he committed a mortal sin? Briefly defend your answer. (3 points)

2. Several months later, Tom Hanks is still stuck on the island. A storm comes and washes away his beloved volleyball, Wilson. After weeping over the loss of his best friend, Tom Hanks raises his eyes to heaven and curses God. Despite all appearances to the contrary, he is in full possession of his mental faculties, and knows what he is doing. What kind of sin has he committed? Briefly defend your answer. (3 points)
I had actually been wondering that very thing when I read this excerpt at (where else?) The Deacon's Bench. The heartfelt piece is from a reporter who used to think Gibson was public enemy number one, which also serves to make it an even more interesting meditation on the power of personal connection.

A good piece about the dark assumptions that underlie new developments in pre-natal testing for Down syndrome. The heart of it is at DarwinCatholic who sends you to read the whole thing.

A beautiful story of prayer and the way God surprises us with His answers from Jen Fulwiler at Conversion Diary.

Well Said: I tend to read everything as SF.

Samuel R. Delaney has talked about the importance of reading protocols, and reading SF as SF. I tend to read everything as SF. ...

People talk about SF as a literature of ideas, as if you can't find ideas in Middlemarch or The Hunt for Red October. I don't think it's so much the literature of ideas as the literature of worldbuilding.

In a science fiction novel, the world is a character, and often the most important character.

In a mainstream novel, the world is implicitly our world, and the characters are the world.

In a mainstream novel trying to be SF, this gets peculiar and can make the reading experience uneven.
Jo Walton, What Makes This Book So Great
What Walton means by saying she reads everything as SF is that she is always aware of contextual clues that give her hints as to what the world in the book is like.

I, too, read everything as SF in that same way. Which makes Dickens and Eliot and all sorts of other authors much easier to dive into, let me tell you.

And Walton puts her finger on why I have never really cottoned to mainstream authors' "science fiction" books. I'm expecting science fiction and they're just donning the costume in order to deliver a different sort of book altogether.

Worth a Thousand Words: Luncheon of the Boating Party

Add caption
via Wikipedia
This is a favorite of practically everyone, with good reason.

I completely agree with the sentiments of actor Edward G. Robinson who said, "For over thirty years I made periodic visits to Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party in a Washington museum, and stood before that magnificent masterpiece hour after hour, day after day, plotting ways to steal it."

For a wonderful look at who all these people are, check both the Wikipedia link above and this piece at  Through An Artist's Eyes.

Something Funny for Friday

From Catholic Memes
I can't help it. This just cracks me up.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Code Zero by Jonathan Maberry

Code Zero (Joe Ledger, #6)Code Zero by Jonathan Maberry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is the worthy sequel to Patient Zero.

At one point, Rudy Sanchez says that "this has done something fundamental to the American people."

I'll tell you this. It did something fundamental to me.

It was exciting, suspenseful, terrifying, and haunted me in my dreams and at random moments in my day.

And it was satisfying. Very satisfying.

I'm not sure Maberry can top this. Though I'm already looking forward to his next attempt to try.

It's been six years since Joe Ledger was secretly recruited by the government to lead a combat team for the DMS,  a taskforce created to deal with problems that Homeland Security can't handle. That story was told in Patient Zero. This was where we met a group of terrorists who had developed a bio-weapon that turned people into zombies.

Every year since then, like clockwork, Joe and Echo Team have returned to battle a variety of seemingly supernatural foes, all developed by villains who are somehow going to make boatloads of cash off of the terror.

The action-packed stories are full of evil super-villains, noble heroes, smart mouthed quips, a smattering of philosophy about "good guys and bad guys" and heart. Lots of heart. All this is told at a roller coaster pace that barely allows you to breathe until you get to the end.

I love them.

In many ways, this book is similar to the rest of the series. Mother Night, a villain you love to hate, is a super-genius anarchist who's strewing chaos throughout the country over Labor Day weekend. She's got the DMS's computer tied up in knots and old evils that were defeated in previous books are now popping their heads up all over the country. Losses are high and the odds are very much against Ledger and his team. We know Joe will win. It's watching it happen that makes it fun.

It is superior to the other books, I think, because the pacing is more measured and there is more character development. I also enjoyed the flashbacks into the DMS's years before Joe joined them.

But in one very important way Code Zero was very different for me.

I felt a level of anxiety that was all out of proportion. Maberry is an expert at ratcheting up the stakes until you just can't see how anyone decent is going to survive the maelstrom. I was used to that. But somehow this felt different. I got a bit jumpy. I couldn't quit thinking about the horrific chaos during the day when I had to put the book down. It stuck with me in a way the other books didn't.

In fact, after I finished Code Zero I had to go find a nice, gentle book to read. I just couldn't face anything hard-edged. (Hello, No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.)

Then I woke up this morning to news on my clock radio about multiple stabbings at a high school. And I figured it out.

Maberry has his finger on the pulse of the evil that Americans today know all too well ... that lurks below the conscious level of our lives ... violent chaos that can strike without a moment's notice. Shootings at Fort Hood, restaurants, schools, and more have changed the mood of our country and made Mother Night's chaos resonate more deeply than usual.

Along the way, he looks at why people choose good or evil. This has been mentioned in other books, but never with so many examples as in this one. Maberry doesn't spell it out much but this conversation between a DMS scientist and Joe Ledger gave the larger context, as well as defining everyone's actions in the book.
"I've watched the tapes of Rudy interviewing some of the people you and Col. Riggs and the others have arrested. Some of them seem so ordinary. How can they commit those atrocities if they have a conscience? Is it their nature? Or is it a nurture thing? Are they from an environment that makes it ok for them?"

Joe grunted. "I asked Rudy that same exact question once."

"What did he say?"

"He said that the nature versus nurture question is fundamentally flawed because it assumes that there are only two possible forces at work on a person. Sure, a person's nature is a factor and that could be a produce of their brain chemistry or whatever makes a person a sociopath or a psychotic or a hero. Just as the forces in a person's life have to be taken into some account. Some abused children grow up to abuse. There's math for that. But neither viewpoint covers all the possible bases."

"So what's missing?"

"Choice," said Ledger. "Rudy thinks that choice is often more important than either nature or nurture. Some people grow up in hell and choose to let others share in that hell. Some people grow up in hell and they make damn sure they don't let those in their care ever glimpse those fires. It's a choice."

"Not everyone can make that choice."

"No, of course not. But a lot more people can than you might think." ...

"Choice," she said.

"Choice," he agreed. "It's what defines us. And it's probably the most underrated power in the world."
Code Zero is full of people choosing to save the world or burn it down. In most of the cases, the motivation comes down to something that Maberry does not name, but which I will make bold to label: love. We want to know we matter, that we make a difference, that someone "knows" us. Not for our accomplishments but simply because our "selves" matter.

Mother Night gives it a different name, and she may not tidily fall into this definition but, let's face it, she's super-villain crazy. I believe that her ultimate fate bears me out. It shows most in Maberry's final scenario at the end of the book as the answer to Rudy's statement that the chaos "has done something fundamental to the American people.

Truly this is a great book, especially for the shoot-em-up genre. It is also probably one that can be read as a stand alone without reading the others that came before.

I listened to the audiobook read by Ray Porter who was superb, as usual, at portraying Joe and every other character along the way. In this book Porter dialed his urgent, driving, delivery down some and thank goodness for that. The action was intense enough without being shoved over the edge of the cliff by a continually urgent tone. Porter also was more nuanced and thoughtful in his reading than I recall in previous Joe Ledger books. If this sounds odd when considering our heroes are fighting off zombies, it actually worked to make me consider the full horror being faced. Once again, kudos to Ray Porter. He's the reason I always choose audio for the Joe Ledger books.

Worth a Thousand Words: Fishermen at Sea

Fishermen at Sea, William Turner, 1796
via Wikipaintings
When I came across this I couldn't tear my eyes away from the waves. They look so very real. Click through and take a look at this close up. I can almost feel the spray hit my face.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Self-Portrait with a Beret

Self-Portrait with a Beret, Claude Monet, 1886
via Wikipaintings
And here I thought I liked his nature paintings best. I like the rather startled gaze. Or perhaps it's a gaze of fierce intensity. Odd how I can't decide which it is. I'd never have thought of them being interchangeable until this moment.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Satyr Riding on Top of Dolphin

Satyr Riding Dolphin
via Barcelona Photoblog
It occurred to me that I hadn't gone digging around in Barcelona Photoblog's archives for some time. Look at the treasure I found in the first month I chose (April 2007). It was hard to make a final choice, believe me. But this photo most of all made me say, "I want to go to there." And I do.

Movie Review: American Hustle

My rating ★★★½

A con man, Irving Rosenfeld, along with his seductive partner Sydney Prosser, is forced to work for a wild FBI agent, Richie DiMaso, who pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia.
Loosely based on the FBI ABSCAM operation of the late 1970s and early 1980s, American Hustle deals with elaborate con schemes while showing us the sprawling mess that was the conmen's lives behind the scenes.

I was interested in finding out about Abscam which I recall vaguely noticing at the time it happened as headlines would fly by. I was interested in seeing Christian Bale be someone besides Batman. And, most of all, my husband was interested in seeing this. So we watched it.

As with director David O. Russell's "Silver Linings Playbook," this movie was surprising because it had a layer I did not expect. As it says in the beginning, "some of these things actually happened." Those are the details about Abscam, which are mostly in line with actual events. The insight into the characters in the movie are the screenwriters' contribution.

I enjoyed watching the con build and build and build to a ridiculous level. I enjoyed seeing the characters flail around in reaction to their own desires, while giving little thought to true consequences. And I enjoyed watching it all come tumbling down.

It isn't a "must see" but it was entertaining and informative. The acting was great, especially that of Bradley Cooper. And it added a new truism to our household, "the more you tell people they can't have something, the more they want it."

Book Giveway! A Guide to the Passion of the Christ

UP Network (Uplifting Entertainment) is airing 21 movies as Easter approaches in their Easter Lives Here series. Check out the link for all the movies they will be airing.

This Sunday, April 13, UP will air The Passion of the Christ in its network TV debut.

As those of us who have seen the movie know, the dramatic events portrayed depend upon a deep understanding of Christianity, and in fact of Catholicism, for fullest appreciation. So it isn't surprising that perplexing questions may arise after seeing the movie.

A Guide to the Passion of the Christ helps you delve a little deeper into some of the movie's profound riches. It’s a NYT bestseller that’s a resource book and scene-by-scene analysis of the film.

And we're giving it away!

Sign up in the comments box for your chance to win. If you don't want to go through the rigamarole of the Blogger comments sign up, you can leave a comment as Anonymous. Just be sure to include an email address so I can contact you if you win.

I'll draw the winner Friday, April 11, at 9 a.m. (central time) and announce it that day.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Hibiscus and Sparrow

Katsushika Hokusai, Hibiscus and Sparrow, 1830
via Wikipaintings
What can I say? I love Asian art. This combines a sense of movement and calm that I like. And I love the balance of the coral and green.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Book Bingo 5: A Book That is More Than 10 Years Old

Rumpole on Trial Rumpole on Trial by John Mortimer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The bingo challenge gave me another that is familiar ground.

However, I let the decision wait for a few day. Then rearranging and cleaning out books I came across my collection of Rumpole books. I hadn't picked them up for some time, being familiar with the solutions to most of the mysteries.

When dipping into them I remembered the other reason for reading these delightful short stories. John Mortimer's style and Rumpole's personality are so engaging that it really doesn't matter if one knows the solution. These stories transport you to a different time with a rumpled knight in shining armor who just wants to get on with doing the one thing he may be able to control ... his job in getting various villains (and sometimes an innocent person) off of their legal charges.

What a joy it was to pick up this book at bedtime and dip into it before dropping off to sleep.

Julie sees a little silhouetto of a man. Scott's just a poor boy, nobody loves him.

Thunderbolts and lightning! Very, very frightening! We listened to Tchaikovsky's Bohemian Rhapsody while driving to this discussion of Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Episode 80!

We also managed to work in Noah, Dan Brown, and Philip Pullman. Join us at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Well Said: The aim of art

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.
This spoke to me after recording the next episode of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast, which I just finished previewing this morning.

Essentially, we talk about Aristotle's premise. What inward significance, as Catholics, do we see in books and movies? Now, I have to agree with Freud that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. But oftentimes, there is more to art than meets our first glance. N'est ce pas?

Firefly References on Castle

I was just thinking yesterday that I needed to rewatch Firefly. It's been a long time since I had a marathon. And then I came across this.

Yeah, it's been too long. I enjoy Castle, but I need the real thing.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: A Maid Milking a Cow in a Barn

A Maid Milking a Cow in a Barn, oil on panel painting by Gerard ter Borch, c. 1652-54, Getty Center
via The Wine-Dark Sea, who got it from Wikimedia
This seems like a nice dose of reality for some reason. I love the details. You feel as if you could hear the straw crunching under your feet.