Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Book Awards, Part 2

More awards which should speak for themselves. (Links go to reviews.)

  • Jane Austen
  • C.S. Lewis
  • Japanese Catholics
This one I'll explain. The Japanese Catholics and Jane Austen served to make me regularly mindful that I must be mindful of how I treat others. 

Meanwhile, I not only read C.S. Lewis's space trilogy, but began working my way through audiobooks of his theological writing. I'd read Mere Christianity recently but never his other nonfiction. These not only served as practical devotionals but also overlapped with Jane Austen and the Japanese Catholics in how I lived and, interestingly, how I understood the other books in my ken.

It's not a combination I'd have known to choose but one that I am sincerely grateful I fell into. I guess God not only looks out for fools but for those grabbing books at random off of shelves.

Worth a Thousand Words: Pralinen

by Edward B. Gordon
Here's a look at delicious indulgence before we embark on the New Year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 Book Awards, Part 1

Rather than take my usual "defined in 10 words" route, these book awards should be self-explanatory. (Links go to my reviews.)

More tomorrow!

Worth a Thousand Words: Snow in Germany

Snow in Germany
taken by my brother
This is one of those times when a picture really is worth a thousand words. It conveys a sense of cold, beauty, and winter more tangible than any translation into language.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Blogging Around: The "It's Still Christmas" Edition

We had a really wonderful Christmas, beginning the Saturday before when Rose came home from L.A. to make our joy complete. We entered into a whirlwind of family parties, food, games, and nonstop talking.

Rose has returned to California but in the Catholic liturgical year the Christmas season continues. Here are a few interesting stories to keep us all in the mood.

Nine Reasons Analog Games Are Awesome

The Art of Manliness blog reminds us that board games, card games and the like aren't just for Christmas. It's too easy to fall into playing computer games and watching movies together for entertainment without realizing that we lose a lot of human interaction ... and fun ... by not playing regular games together.

The Good Lord Needs Drama In His Life Too

I swing by The Rhino Times every Thursday to read Orson Scott Card's column, Uncle Orson Reviews Everything. This week I saw Scott D. Yost's piece about Christmas and spiritual warfare. It's a good 'un so be sure you read it all.
... spiritual war is like any other war: We’re all in it together, and we all have to be on high alert, not just for ourselves, but also for those around us. And, especially when it comes to your close friends and family, you really have to always watch out for each other and keep an eye out for when they’re under attack. And sometimes that means you have to give cover fire, or tackle them into a foxhole, or drag them out of harm’s way, and it means that sometimes they have to do that for you.

That’s exactly why God gave us all this almost magical ability to detect, to feel, to know, when our friends or family members are in trouble, even if we’re not around them or talking to them. That’s why, when you have a weak moment, and you need help, the doorbell rings, and it’s your best friend stopping by unexpectedly with a six-pack of beer, just to talk. Or why, at that very moment, your phone rings and it’s someone close to you you haven’t seen in a long time who suddenly got the urge to call you. We have that ability so that we can help protect each other.

Pittsburgh Hospital Sends Christmas Babies Home in Stockings

The Deacon's Bench has the story and the adorable photo.

Celebrating Our First Christmas with Alzheimer’s Disease: Laughter Allowed

A touching story rooted in deep Catholic faith. Via Sticking the Corners.
I cannot count the things that have been moved to the strangest places. ... She has hair curlers that keep vanishing. I have found them in the garage, in the refrigerator, and under the kitchen sink. We had been searching for them and when I found them in the refrigerator I said loudly, “Here they are.”

She was standing nearby and turned to see me lifting the bag from next to the milk. I quickly asked, “Can I use these for curly fries?” I began to laugh and she shook her head and smiled. I gave her a hug, opened the freezer door and tossed the curlers in. “They are not frozen enough,” I said. She began to laugh and so did I and, although shrouded in a dark moment, we laughed our way into the brightness of a new moment.

Favorite Movies of 2014

My favorite movies seen in 2014 with descriptions in 10 words or less. In the approximate order in which I saw them. Links are to reviews.

  • Much Ado About Nothing (Joss Whedon, director)
    If all Shakespeare movies were like this, I'd love Shakespeare.

  • Gravity
    Gravity. Not mentioned once in the movie. But integral.

  • Captain Phillips
    Intense. Just remember to breathe.

  • I Confess
    We should all have a priest as good as this.

  • Mud
    Where I learned to not hate Matthew McConaughey.

  • The Guard
    Directed by a McDonagh. Which means clever, humorous, and nuanced.

  • Calvary
    Not for the faint-of-heart. But simply astounding.

  • Spinning Plates
    It's not what you cook. It's why.

  • That Guy ... Who Was in That Thing
    16 faces you recognize but can't name. 16 fascinating stories of Hollywood.

  • Halloween
    It defined a genre. And deservedly so.

  • Mama
    A supernatural thriller I didn't want to love, but couldn't resist.

Worth a Thousand Words: Magi

Carving of the Magi from the Romanesque Cathedral of Saint Lazare/Autun

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Schumann's Tagesbar

Schumann's Tagesbar in Munich
by Edward B. Gordon
I've said many a time that I love paintings which include modern jobs. Photographs tell one sort of story but it will be lovely for future generations to have paintings which portray our modern age. No one does that better than Edward G. Gordon.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Blogging Around: The Christmas Edition

Via Arts Everyday Living where there is interesting
 information about Dickens and his most famous story

Heather Ordover is sharing a book from her premium feed which she calls "audiobooks with benefits." You get her interesting and insightful commentary before and after the chapters (staves) are read aloud. It really enriches the understanding of the story. The CraftLit iTunes feed has these or you can pick them up here:

... Santa doesn't prepare you for disillusionment—he prepares you for belief. He's a kind of training-wheel Jesus, presenting aspects of faith in a manner that kids can handle.

"If the Santa story is a type of the Jesus story, [it] persists because the Jesus story is true," Dr. Edie wrote."It is true because it reveals that all life ultimately comes to us as a gift. It is true in proclaiming that the receiving of this gift occurs in the sharing of it. It is true in its testimony to the powers benevolent, close at hand, and definitely not us."

In other words, Santa is like a stage set. At a certain point, it is rolled away, revealing a story still more impossible to believe, where the sun shines, the trees glisten, and the presents patiently wait beneath theJohnston's tree.
Rich Cohen, WSJ essay Learning That There's No Santa Taught Me to Believe
I never understood the idea that finding out there was no Santa taught you to distrust grown ups or religion or anything. Perhaps that was because my parents steadfastly denied any claims that they were Santa until we were old enough to let it go ourselves. I was fairly old as such things go before that happened. And then being let in on the secret and allowed to participate in giving that joy to my younger siblings made it a sacred trust. That's why I like this piece which I found a bit meandering in the middle but which brought it home in style.

I came across this story after having a big success reading The Gift of the Magi to my mother-in-law whose on-again, off-again dementia made it difficult to connect with during visits. She stopped gazing into the air, met my eyes intently for the duration of the tale, and asked me to read to her again when it was done.

Buoyed by my success I went looking for other such simple tales to read. It didn't take long to find Papa Panov's Special Christmas which intrigued me because of the famous author. It quickly became one of our favorite stories and was the last one I read to her before she died.

So it touched me when I saw that The Christmas Stocking podcast is featuring a reading. You don't have to listen. You can read it at Google Books.

Joseph Susanka offers us a holiday special: the Oscar-nominated, BAFTA-winning version of Raymond Briggs’ “The Snowman.”

Worth a Thousand Words: Fellas of the Baltic Seas

Fellas of the Baltic Seas
taken by Remo Savisaar
How does Remo Savisaar get these shots? He is a genius at nature photography.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Movie Review: Unbroken

Unbroken (2014)

A chronicle of the life of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who was taken prisoner by Japanese forces during World War II.
This remarkable story takes us through Louis Zamperini's life as a juvenile delinquent, championship runner, and after his plane is shot down in the Pacific during WWII. We learn the source and inspiration of the determination that helps him survive harrowing experiences.

The result is a powerful film which left me pondering the effects of war on both captors and captives, not just in WWII but in every conflict. The situations and lessons are as old as time.

Faith is shown and discussed briefly in the first half of the film but never with a heavy hand. Indeed, much of the last half depended on subtle imagery for us to see the Christ-like parallels being drawn. I applaud director Angelina Jolie for including an element that many would have chosen to eliminate, but which was so important to Zamperini's life.

It is beautifully photographed and directed with great restraint. I saw a review disdainfully mentioning that Jolie was determined to keep the rating PG13. I applaud her decision as working within those guidelines kept the majority of violence offscreen in the creative style of some of our most classic movies. That restraint also was evident in a brief but beautifully effective scene that reminded us of the cost of war to the civilian population.

Jack O'Connell as Louis Zamperini and Miyavi as "The Bird" give masterful performances in their adversarial relationship in the POW camp. Once again, this is where Jolie's restraint pays off. Again and again I expected, even longed for, the movie to take a "Hollywood" plot turn. Just as repeatedly I was answered with the unvarnished truth of how the events really happened.

My one complaint is that it is difficult to follow Zamperini's internal journey in the last third of the film. He has no buddy to chat with, no unguarded utterances to clue us in. Jolie does draw our attention to his gaze, with his fixed attention often giving clues. But we could have done with more help in that regard.

There was a teenage boy next to me at the screening. Early on he leaned forward in his seat, cross-legged, tensely alert. He watched the entire movie that way, leaning back only when it was finished and saying, "Awesome!"


Worth a Thousand Words: Young Girl with a Bouquet of Tulips

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Young Girl with a Bouquet of Tulips, c. 1878
via Arts Everyday Living
Isn't it interesting that everything in this painting is fairly ethereal except the hat which is much more realistically drawn? And it is the hat that made me love this painting.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Decorated Alley

Decorated Alley
by Remo Savisaar
Be sure to click through the link and look at this in full size. Simply superb.

Well Said: It was great fun writing a book...

It was great fun writing a book. One lived with it. It became a companion. It built an impalpable crystal sphere around one of interests and ideas. In a sense one felt like a goldfish in a bowl; but in this case the goldfish made his own bowl. This came along everywhere with me. It never got knocked about in travelling, and there was never a moment when agreeable occupation was lacking. Either the glass had to be polished, or the structure extended or contracted, or the walls required strengthening. I have noticed in my life deep resemblances between many different kinds of things. Writing a book is not unlike building a house or planning a battle or painting a picture. The technique is different, the materials are different, but the principle is the same. The foundations have to be laid, the data assembled, and the premises must bear the weight of their conclusions. Ornaments or refinements may then be added. The whole when finished is only the successful presentation of a theme.
Winston Churchill, via The Art of Manliness
I love his description of writing the book. And also that he is using the skills which he uses for every thing else ... just differently. That is how life works but we don't often pull back from the details often enough to notice.

Father James Martin - Finding God in All Thing at On Being

Look who Kara Tippett's latest On Being guest is — Father James Martin. I've enjoyed many of his books although I don't always agree with him about points in current Catholic events. Regardless I was very interested to see him turn up on this podcast.
Before Pope Francis, James Martin was perhaps the best-loved Jesuit in American life. He’s followed the calling of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, to “find God in all things” — and in 21st-century forms. To delve into Fr. Martin's way of being in the world is to discover the "spiritual exercises" St. Ignatius designed to be accessible to everyone more than six centuries ago. Also his thoughts on the "un-taming" Christmas.
Listen here or pick it up on iTunes. Thanks to Scott Danielson for the heads up on this!

"He thought he was being called. I thought he was being brainwashed"

A fascinating snippet of a sister's insight over what priesthood can do for the right man at Humans of New York.

Julie and Scott learn what the world would be like if their podcast never existed.

We decided to keep doing it, anyway. Our discussion of It's a Wonderful Life is at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast. Pour yourself a cup of eggnog and join us!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Santa and The Print Collector

Santa and The Print Collector
by Santa Classics
We all remember Santa Classics don't we? Ed Wheeler, an artist and photographer, shows Santa entering into great artistic masterpieces. Somehow he pulls this off both with humor and reverence for the originals.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

In which we race for silver skates, play with trolls, and put our finger in the dike.

Chapter 2 of Heidi's Alp by Christina Hardyment is up at Forgotten Classics.

Worth a Thousand Words: Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates

Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates. Mary Mapes Dodge. Illustrated by George Wharton Edwards.
via Books and Art
I've been reading the second chapter of Heidi's Alp for Forgotten Classics. They're in Holland and following Hans Brinker's trail. Having read so much about that story, I just couldn't resist this when I saw it pop up.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The War on Christmas is over. Jesus won.

I couldn't resist stealing that from The Washington Post. Talk about grabbing your attention.

It's a perfect way to sum up the new Pew Research Center survey about Americans and Christmas.
That's the implication of a new Pew Research Center survey that finds nearly three-quarters of Americans -- 73 percent -- believe that Jesus was literally born to a virgin. This is especially surprising when you consider that only one third of Americans say that the Bible is the word of God and should be understood literally.


Another sign that the War on Christmas is over: 72 percent of Americans say nativity scenes should be allowed on government property. 44 percent say nativity scenes should be allowed even if symbols from other religious faiths are prohibited. Only one in five Americans say nativity scenes shouldn't be allowed on government property at all.
In other words, the squeaky wheel was getting all the media coverage while the rest of us were quietly celebrating Christmas because we believe in it.

Read the whole story and find links to the survey results here.

Worth a Thousand Words: Lady in Yellow Dress

Max Kurzwell, Lady in Yellow Dress, 1899
via Arts Everyday Living
The look on this lady's face is interesting. Is she disgusted? Tired? Sad? Bored? Self satisfied?

I liked this for that gorgeous yellow dress. But the look on her face is what I keep pondering.

Monday, December 15, 2014

An Advent Reflection: Confessionals

Those confessionals scattered about the world where men declare their sins don't speak of the severity of God. Rather do they speak of his mercy. And all those who approach the confessional, sometimes after many years weighed down with mortal sins, in the moment of getting rid of this intolerable burden, find at last a longed-for relief. they find joy and tranquility of conscience which, outside Confession, they will never be able to find anywhere.
John Paul II, Homily, 16 March 1980
Quoted in In Conversation with God by Francis Fernandez
Daily Meditations Vol. 1: Advent and Christmastide
My parish has confession scheduled every day this week. I need it.

And yet, looking over the extensive schedule I don't see anything that doesn't inconvenience me somehow, that doesn't seem to be too much trouble.

That's gratitude for you. I'll be absolved, find tranquility, and it just isn't convenient enough for me.

Hey, I told you I need it. That's just proof positive.

Worth a Thousand Words: A Cotton Office in New Orleans

A Cotton Office in New Orleans, Edgar Degas, 1873
via Wikipedia
Delayed during a trip to New Orleans, Degas decided to paint to pass the time. Circumstances led to this being one of his first sales to a museum. I've featured this painting before but I love it, and the story, every time I come across it.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Friday, December 12, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Staplehurst Rail Crash

Staplehurst rail crash, 1865, Engraving in Illustrated London News
via Wikipedia
Naturally, I found this picture captivating after reading more about Charles Dickens' experience. The poor man lost his voice for two weeks and his son said he never really recovered from the shock. He died five years to the day after the accident.

Here's an interesting account of Dickens and the accident. A bit to whet your appetite:
The scene was covered with corpses and injured bodies. One young passenger, Mr. Dickenson, later recalled how it was the urging and assistance of Charles Dickens that ultimately helped to free him from a pile of twisted wreckage. Another passenger would later recall how Dickens, with his hat full of water, was "running about with it and doing his best to revive and comfort every poor creature he met who had sustained serious injury."

Lagniappe: Charles Dickens' and the Boffins' Railway Accident

On Friday the Ninth of June in the present year, Mr. and Mrs. Boffin (in their manuscript dress of receiving Mr. and Mrs. Lammle at breakfast) were on the South-Eastern Railway with me, in a terribly destructive accident. When I had done what I could to help others, I climbed back into my carriage—nearly turned over a viaduct, and caught aslant upon the turn—to extricate the worthy couple. They were much soiled, but otherwise unhurt. [...] I remember with devout thankfulness that I can never be much nearer parting company with my readers for ever than I was then, until there shall be written against my life, the two words with which I have this day closed this book:—THE END.
Charles Dickens, postscript Our Mutual Friend
Of course, I just came across this on the internet because I'm still in the early chapters of Our Mutual Friend.

However, thanks to my interest in weird fiction I have heard the story many times of Dickens' close brush with death in that railway accident. It is often told when reading or referring to Dicken's short story The Signalman, which was a favorite of H.P. Lovecraft and makes it into many weird fiction and ghost story collections. It directly shows the effects of that accident upon Dickens' writing.

Many people on the train were killed or injured so we are not only lucky the manuscript was unhurt but that Dickens was able to finish the book. Perhaps that is why he sent every chapter of Edwin Drood directly to the publisher as soon as he finished it. It didn't stop the book from being only half finished upon Dickens' death, but I can imagine the relief it was to him that someone was keeping it safe as he progressed.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Bill Elliot Swing Orchestra

By the brilliant Belinda Del Pesco who has more to say about this if you click through to her post.

Well Said: Looking at books

... and he glanced at the backs of the books, with an awakened curiosity that went below the binding. No one who can read, ever looks at a book, even unopened on the shelf, like one who cannot.
Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend
As I mentioned last week, I was really surprised to see the emphasis on reading and books in the early chapters of Our Mutual Friend. They may continue through the whole thing, which would be welcome, but I haven't read enough to know yet.

The way some people yearn after reading, like Mr. Boffin and Lizzie, it makes me realize afresh what a blessing it is to have such a literate population. Even if much of it rarely cracks a book, they don't have to have someone else read them signs.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Early Reaction - Unbroken

Unbroken (2014)


I was unaware of this movie until receiving the preview invitation. Which may make the film's marketers weep, but there you have it.

However, I was interested in the fact that the book was written by Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit. I enjoyed the movie made from that book. Was this story as good?

I was interested in seeing Domhnall Gleeson, who I first noticed simply because he was Brendon Gleeson's son but whose talent I admired a lot in Calvary.

I was interested in seeing how Angelina Jolie did as a director. We've got those who've done it well like Clint Eastwood and those who can't really pull it off like George Clooney. I had no sense of where she would fall on this scale.

Let's just say this. Angelina Jolie is no George Clooney. And I mean that in the best possible way. World class is what I'd say.

The movie is fantastic and shouldn't be missed.

(I'll do a more complete review when the film opens or when I get the green light from the promoters.)

Worth a Thousand Words: Nibbler

taken by Valerie, ucumari photography
Some rights reserved

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Haystacks at Giverny

Haystacks at Giverny, Claude Monet, 1884
via Wikipedia
I remember seeing a row of Monet's haystacks at the Chicago Art Institute. Standing far back gave the best vantage point. I was fascinated by the schoolchildren sitting before the paintings, sketching their own copies of the art. And by a parent who was painstakingly taking each child in turn, having them move to the back of the room. He pointed out how the painting was better far away, while listing a few things the artist had to keep in mind when being so close to the canvas and painting the scene. Lucky kids! (Whether they realized it or not at the time.)

Review: Father Robert Barron's Priest, Prophet, King

It took a while for my review copy of Priest, Prophet, King to come. And then it took a while for me to watch it. However, once we began we binge-watched all six episodes.

Partly it was because we enjoy Father Barron's style. And this was like a really good Bible study taking us through Biblical history so we really understood how Jesus's fulfilled his titles of "priest, prophet, and king."

Partly it was because we couldn't figure out how he was going to get from "here" to "there." "Here" being Old Testament priests, etc., and "there" being the new evangelization.

Of course, he pulled it off. By the time we finished the sixth episode we had plenty of food for thought. We talked about it the rest of the evening and the next morning.

What's the format? Father Barron gives a series of six connected talks to an audience. Each is around 20 minutes long. This isn't as dull as it sounds because they intercut shots of masterpieces for illustration. This could have been released also in an audio format and I think I'd have gotten just as much from it. However, the video undoubtedly encourages group participation and discussion (there's a study workbook and leadership guide, though I haven't seen those). It did for us.

Was it worthwhile? Yes. Many of the concepts and information presented may be new to viewers and will be eye opening in how they understand Christ. Although we were familiar with a fair amount of it already, Father Barron connected everything in a way that engaged us, made us think, and even had us stopping the dvd mid-episode sometimes to discuss things.

Did it change our lives? Yes and no.

Why no?
Because, as my husband said while we were watching, "The new evangelization is really the old evangelization. It's just that everyone forgot to do it lately."

I myself am always wondering why I can't stick to a resolution to not bring up my Catholic faith. You wouldn't think you'd have to make such resolutions but time and again God's in the conversation. At the grocery store, at my movie group, on my nonreligious podcast. With believers and nonbelievers. All the time. He just ... comes up. I can't help it. And we help with various ministries at our parish as well as a few independent projects. So, as I say, we're already evangelizing just by the way we live our lives.

Why yes?
Father Barron gave us new ways to think about our own culture and where we fit in it as Catholics. Especially valuable and thought provoking were his discussions of:
  • The rose window imagery of ordering life
  • The devil as scattering, as dis-integration
  • Sin as wrongly oriented worship with focus on pleasure, wealth, power, and honor
  • Living in a society of accusers
  • Rene Girard's ideas about scapegoats and society
These are points resonated so strongly that they've been the focus through which we've discussed local news, politics, and personal relationships in our own lives. It has been very clarifying in a lot of cases.

Do I recommend it? Yes. Definitely yes. 

This is something that will benefit every American Catholic, no matter how involved they are, no matter how well they understand the Bible, no matter how well they feel they have a handle on living their faith.

I'm passing my copy on to our pastor. Hopefully it will be studied in our parish soon.

He was just a humble student in Hobbit Studies at the University of Chicago ...

No one who gets a postgraduate degree in Hobbit Studies ever imagines they’ll be sued by the Estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. I certainly didn’t expect to wind up in court against Christopher Tolkien and his lawyers, like Frodo Baggins facing down the Nazgûl on Weathertop. Little did I know I was heading into a legal and scholarly Midgewater when I wrote and published The Lord of the Rings: A New English Translation.

As anyone who’s read the appendices to The Lord of the Rings knows, both it and The Hobbit are Tolkien’s translations from the so-called “Red Book of Westmarch,” an ancient manuscript written in Late Vulgar Adûni. How Tolkien came to possess the Red Book is a mystery, and the Tolkien Estate has never allowed other scholars access to it.


I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and put my research skills to work on my defense. Unfortunately, the case law was sparse. The only similar case I found was The Estate of S. Morgenstern v. William Goldman over the latter’s abridged version of The Princess Bride. It was settled out of court. There was also Lemony Snicket’s lawsuit against Daniel Handler over Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography, though the court ruled that a pseudonym may not sue his own author, no matter how delightfully wicked and meta that would be.
How I Defeated the Tolkien Estate. So funny I read it twice. Enjoy!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Dewy Spider Web

Dewy Spider Web
via Wikipedia
Considering today's quote, this image seemed du rigueur. I'm just pleased that such a gorgeous photo was so easy to find!

Well Said: Through a Spider's Eyes

For years we were taught that a spider spins a new web every day and that certain threads are covered with a sticky substance to catch its lunch. The spider only puts the substance on certain strands so it can move easily and quickly across the web and not get stuck.

That was our vision of the spider and the web until a few years ago when Catherine Craig, an evolutionary ecologist at Yale, wondered if we had been operating under the wrong point of view. We looked at the web as people, but we never looked at the web as if we were insects—the spider’s prey. Insects have a different system of vision than us, and different from spiders. Insects see a different spectrum of light. Scientists decided for the first time to study the web using the insect’s ocular system.
What they found was amazing.

Insects could not see the web at all. The strands vanished, except for the parts of the web that were coated with the sticky stuff. They caught and reflected the sunlight. The scientists were taken aback when they saw that the spiders were not leaving some strands uncoated so they could navigate their webs.
They left them uncoated because they were painting—with sunlight!

The strands that had sticky stuff, when hit by the sun, when viewed through the ocular system and light spectrum visible to an insect, took on the outline of flower petals with the body of the spider in the center of the web becoming the pistil of the flower. It was not science. It was art. And perhaps something more.

A spider has different eyes than an insect. It sees a different world. It is painting something it doesn’t know, that it can’t see, and can only comprehend for itself as a potential dinner. It recreates this painting over and over again. If the spider succeeds and creates the illusion of a flower, she’ll catch a moth and will live. If not—she dies. So the finer artist survives.
What a continual mystery and wonderment creation is. It is discoveries like this that stretch my mind, delight my soul, and make me connect with God in a whole new way.

Still Swingin' at Christmas with Duke Ellington's Nutcracker Suite

Like every family, we've got our standard Christmas albums that begin rotation around this time of year. Admittedly I put it off at least until the middle of  December but if I don't get Christmas music going by then I wind up in a distinctly Grinchy mood by the time the big day rolls around.

As I pointed out a few years ago, our rotation leans heavily on Ella Fitzgerald, the Rat Pack, New Orleans, and Bing Crosby. Never discounting our possible all time favorite, Ringo Starr.

Every year we pick up a new Christmas cd and this weekend we picked a winner that is already livening our house. Last year I had discovered Gordon Vernick's Jazz Insights on iTunes. Poking through past episodes I was intrigued to hear his two-part special on Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's take on the Nutcracker Suite. Swingin' ain't the word for it.

The Nutcracker Suite is some of Tom's favorite Christmas music and he also loves the Duke so I don't know why it took me this long to remember to look for it.

It is simply terrific. I don't know how they did it but this solid jazz take keeps the original classic front and center while still managing to be unique in its own right.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Weekend Joke: Han Solo in the Confessional

Han: “Forgive me, father, I have sinned. My last confession was before I did the Kessel run in under 12 parsecs.”

Priest: “But parsecs are a measure of distance, not time.”

Han: “What?”

Priest: “Never mind. What do you need to confess?”

Han: “I shot first.”
There are more Star Wars confessions at Acts of the Apostasy and they are all hilarious.

For those who want more, The Curt Jester provides.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Scott and Julie realize they're not cut out for the cloistered life ...

... after reading In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden. Catch our discussion at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast!

Chastity is for Lovers by Arleen Spenceley

Chastity Is for Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a VirginChastity Is for Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin by Arleen Spenceley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For some people, the chaste life can raise a daunting question — a question a friend and fellow blogger brought up once in an interview: “Do you ever worry that one day you’ll wake up and discover you are forty-five, still single, and past your sexual prime?”

I don’t. In order to worry about that, I would need to believe the purpose of sex is pleasure and that we all better get some while the gettin’ is good. I don’t believe either of those things. I believe that whether a person ever has sex isn’t that important. What’s more important is why a person has sex, and in what context. But because I don’t worry about passing my sexual prime doesn’t mean I don’t worry at all. I do worry sometimes, but what I worry about is whether I write about this stuff with enough clarity. If I don’t, and a couple of decades from now I’m still a virgin, I’d guess many people who’ve read what I’ve written will call my single life “proof” that the chaste lifestyle doesn’t work. But the goal of saving sex isn’t marriage. The goal of saving sex is saving sex (not putting it off, but redeeming it). Some people who save sex get married and some don’t.
I'm not the target market for this book but I know lots of young women who are. That's what made me flip through the book. I kept coming across sections that caught my attention and made me want to know the rest of the story. I finally realized that I was going to have to read this book even if it wasn't aimed at me. Which says a lot about how personable this author is. And, let's face it, if I knew people in the target market then I needed to know what this author's saying because it could come up in conversation. Such are the times in which we live.

This point was underlined just a week later when I was at a big party. A friend and I began talking about our daughters, which led naturally to discussing their dating and marriage prospects. A Catholic mother, she confided that one of her daughter's biggest struggles was that she was a 29-year-old who continually was being embarrassed or annoyed by having to defend her decision to remain a virgin until marriage.

"Say no more," I told her. "I will bring you a book that she's going to love."

That made me move from flipping through to reading with interest before I passed the book on. It was just as good as I'd thought. It was funny, interesting, sensible, and written with clarity and grace. I'd also say that you don't have to be Catholic to like it. Most of it is going to be something that any Christian interested in chastity is going to relate to.

Definitely recommended.

Read Sarah Reinhard's interview with Arleen Spenceley at the National Catholic Register.

This was a free review book. I read it in spite of that. Liked it (a lot) anyway.

Worth a Thousand Words: Poster for Victorien Sardou`s Gismonda

Poster for Victorien Sardou`s Gismonda
starring Sarah Bernhardt at the
Théâtre de la Renaissance in Paris
Alphonse Mucha, 1894
Via WikiArt
There's just something about Mucha.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Dickens-Mania: The Pickwick Papers and more

The Pickwick PapersThe Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As I continue my discovery of Charles Dickens I thought it would be interesting to go to the book that brought him original acclaim. This was combined with a desire for light reading, which every commenter agrees is what one gets from The Pickwick Papers. I also read G.K. Chesterton's commentary on the novel which points out that, for a comic novel, it has a great deal of truth about people especially after Sam Weller's character is introduced. This goes hand-in-hand with the fact that monthly publication sales really picked up after that point in the story as well.

I traded off between the print and audio versions, as needs dictated. I listened to David Timson's narration which was simply outstanding. I used the Wordsworth print edition because, not only is it inexpensive, it includes the original illustrations, has a good type size, and the book stays open when I leave it on the counter. My needs are few but important.

I was simply astounded at how many seeds of future novels and themes were contained in the Pickwickian adventures. Since I've only read a few of Dickens' novels, I can only imagine how many of these will continue to "echo forward" as I read more of his books.

I was also surprised at how steadily the story line picked up as he went along and at how compelling I found it. I was simply unable to put it down, to the point of reading 3/4 of the book in a week (admittedly I'm a fast reader and it was Thanksgiving weekend so there was a lot of spare time for obsessive reading).

I wouldn't recommend it as the first Dickens book to try but I can definitely say it is worth reading for those times when a lighter book is desired.


Our Mutual FriendOur Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

Having finished The Pickwick Papers with great enjoyment, I now turn to the opposite end of the spectrum with Dickens' last finished novel. I enjoyed David Timson's reading of Pickwick so much that I am going to be accompanying the print edition with his audio. It is exorbitantly expensive but I waited until my monthly Audible credit came up and so, in a sense, it was free.

I'm ready for something more complex and have been eagerly anticipating this book.

First Surprise: I didn't realize this was going to have such an emphasis on reading and books. I'm in the very early chapters but already it is too blatant to miss, from the girl who wishes she could read, to the brother who loves it, to the Boffins who celebrate having extra income by hiring someone to read books to them every night. How interesting ...

Worth a Thousand Words: Forty-Four Hands. Twelve Hundred Udders.

Photo from Eating Asia.
Creative Commons 2.0 license
This photo accompanies a fascinating piece about milking during cheese season in Anatolia. Don't miss it.

Well Said: Distraction and prayer

Sometimes I think I should just try to set aside some time to be distracted and then prayer will intrude.
Jeff Miller (The Curt Jester)
Jeff was being funny but there is a lot of wisdom in what he says. My spiritual director is always making me return to finding a time to simply contemplate without any reading material or other "props." This is completely frustrating.

However, when I am in the backyard, cup of coffee in hand, watching nature and allowing my thoughts to roam, God can intrude in the most surprising ways. Mind you, I always begin with a verse or idea of prayer in mind. It is just that distraction seizes hold and, in a way, that allows God more room to work than when I have my own rigid ideas of how the prayer time should go.

Not always and not often. But He is there amid the distractions, just as Jeff says.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Podcast Highlight: Lectio Divina with Cardinal Thomas Collins

Yesterday, I brought up the ancient practice of lectio divina which combines reading and prayer. I tend to practice some form of this throughout the year but must admit that I get very sloppy with it and then have to rein myself in to remember to include prayer with the reading.

Therefore, it was with great interest that I sampled Lectio Divina with Cardinal Thomas Collins (iTunes link here) when it was recommended by my friend Meg.

I really liked what I found. It is like a class in lectio divina for one thing as well as a chance to take a closer look at the Gospel of Mark.

Cardinal Collins focuses only on a small part of Mark during each hour-long session. He reads the section aloud and then goes back over it line by line. After each line he gives some background and thoughts. He also asks some questions which may well echo in listeners' hearts. Then there is a brief pause so it can all sink in and listeners can see what strikes them.

You can listen to an entire hour at once or use the pauses to stop the podcast and continue your own pondering and prayer. It is that format which makes these lectures particularly well suited to podcast listening while learning or practicing lectio divina.

I found myself inspired to open my Bible and begin going through Mark line by line. It may take months or even years but what better way to spend my time?

Worth a Thousand Words: Model Making Mischief

Model Making Mischief, ca. 1885, Raimundo de Madrazo y Garreta
Image source
This is via Lines and Colors where you may find other links and see close ups of various pieces of the painting. I especially enjoy looking at the dress details. I love that dress. What I love most though is the artist's sense of humor in drawing his model being so sassy.

Well Said: Organized Religion

Yes, organized religion is a crutch. You mean you didn't know that you are a cripple?
Peter Kreeft, Practical Theology
Well that is to the point.

And what is most to the point, I never thought to look at it that way. Yes. Yes, I am a cripple. Every time I put my crutch down, thinking I can hobble along well on my own, I find I am soon limping and then crawling.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Well Said - Advent: Letting Go and Going Deeper

Winter preserves and strengthens a tree. Rather than expending its strength on the exterior surface, its sap is forced deeper and deeper into its interior depth. In winter a tougher, more resilient life is firmly established. Winter is necessary for the tree to survive and flourish.

Instantly you see the application. So often we hide our true condition with the surface virtues of pious activity, but, once the leaves of our frantic pace drop away, the power of a wintry spirituality can have effect.

To the outward eye everything looks barren and unsightly. Our many defects, flaws, weaknesses, and imperfections stand out in bold relief. But only the outward virtues have collapsed; the principle of virtue is actually being strengthened. The soul is venturing forth into the interior. Real, solid, enduring virtues begin to develop deep within. Pure love is being birthed.
Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home
This quote seems like one more gentle reminder of a truth I've come face to face with in the last few weeks. I have been reading Father Dysinger's introduction to lectio divina again. I have found over the years that I practice my own unique form of lectio but anchoring myself occasionally in traditional instruction is always good. I find the above theme is echoed by Father Dysinger.
THE ART of lectio divina begins with cultivating the ability to listen deeply, to hear “with the ear of our hearts” as St. Benedict encourages us in the Prologue to the Rule. When we read the Scriptures we should try to imitate the prophet Elijah. We should allow ourselves to become women and men who are able to listen for the still, small voice of God (I Kings 19:12); the “faint murmuring sound” which is God's word for us, God's voice touching our hearts. This gentle listening is an “atunement” to the presence of God in that special part of God's creation which is the Scriptures.

THE CRY of the prophets to ancient Israel was the joy-filled command to “Listen!” “Sh'ma Israel: Hear, O Israel!” In lectio divina we, too, heed that command and turn to the Scriptures, knowing that we must “hear” - listen - to the voice of God, which often speaks very softly. In order to hear someone speaking softly we must learn to be silent. We must learn to love silence. If we are constantly speaking or if we are surrounded with noise, we cannot hear gentle sounds. The practice of lectio divina, therefore, requires that we first quiet down in order to hear God's word to us...
Perhaps it is simply appropriate to the season, to that looking forward in Advent to the One who comes to complete us, to fill that empty "God-shaped" hole in our hearts.

All I know is that in the letting go, the taking up again of lectio, I am finding a quiet peace that is the perfect antidote to the rushing of Christmas preparation. Indeed, it makes the Christmas preparation simpler and calmer, despite the fact that I am doing nothing different than usual ... on the outside, that is. On the inside, I am listening ...

Monday, December 1, 2014

In which we prepare to live the dream ...

... caravaning around Europe searching for fairy tale origins. Beginning a new book at Forgotten Classics, Heidi's Alp: One Family's Search for Storybook Europe by Christina Hardyment, read with special permission by the author.

Well Said: We are all divorced from life

We are all divorced from life ... Why, we have come almost to looking upon real life as an effort, almost as hard labor, and we are all privately agreed that it is better in books.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky
This is even truer today than it was when it was written.

Worth a Thousand Words: The Virgin in Prayer

Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato (1609–1685), The Virgin in Prayer
via Lines and Colors