Saturday, December 31, 2011

More Book Lists

Sherry at Semicolon is opening up her comments as usual on a Saturday, except that today she's inviting people to link to their 2011 Best Book Lists. Which I did, natch!

AND she's adding recommendations for the readers in the comments. Now that's a blogger who understands community ... and reading! Check it out at Semicolon.

Also, while you're there, check out her other posts. She's run a series of links to other bloggers' best book lists and future reading lists. Great stuff!

Weekend Joke

An oldie but a goodie.
One bright, beautiful Sunday morning, everyone in tiny Anytown got up early and went to the local church. Before the service started, the townspeople were sitting in their pews and talking about their lives, their families, and so on.

Suddenly, Satan appeared at the front of the church.

Everyone started screaming and running for the front entrance, trampling each other in a frantic effort to get away from evil incarnate. Soon everyone had left the church except for an elderly gentleman who sat calmly in his pew, not moving, seemingly oblivious to the fact that God's ultimate enemy was in his presence.

Now, this confused Satan a bit, so he walked up to the man and said, "Hey! Don't you know who I am?"

The man replied, "Yep, sure do."

Satan asked, "Aren't you afraid of me?"

"Nope, sure ain't," said the man.

Satan was a little perturbed at this and queried, "Why aren't you afraid of me?"

The man calmly replied, "I've been married to your sister for 25 years."

Friday, December 30, 2011

Fathers and Sons and Rembrandt


The Return of the Prodigal Son
c. 1669
Oil on canvas, 262 x 206 cm
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

This is a very long but moving passage from The Father's Tale by Michael O'Brien. I quite liked it and think it gives a good representation of what I liked in the book. To set the scene, Alex Graham has pursued his son from Great Britain to Scandinavia to Russia, trying to rescue him from the cult that has him in its clutches. He's not sure whether his son is with them willingly or not. Therefore, sons and fathers are much on his mind at present. The review will come next week, but for now, enjoy this.
When his head cleared a little, he looked up. Before him was Rembrandt's Return of the Prodigal Son.

At first glance, the painting seemed to be immense, because he was standing only a few feet from it, and he was forced to crane his neck as he looked up from the battered feet of the son, through the tender hands that embraced him, to the face of the father.

Alex stepped back a few paces.

Red, umber, and sepia bathed the image in warmth. The son knelt before the father with his head on the old man's chest, as if seeking refuge in the folds of his garments. The father bent over him, both hands on his son's back, the fingers splayed slightly, palm to the flesh that had come from him, that had fled from him, and that was now returning to him. The hands protected and comforted. The tilt of the aged head and the half-lidded eyes conveyed infinite compassion, a wisdom that was in no way naive about the sins of the son but that submerged all wrongs in mercy. The dignity of the father embraced the degraded son in a communion that would restore him to his lost dignity.

To the right, robed in a different kind of dignity—that of the righteous, the good, the responsible—was the elder brother, who regarded the scene dubiously, and with resentment. His upright body was unbending, his hands clasped tightly around the staff of his authority.

Alex could hear the words of protest muttered by the elder son: "This son of yours..."

And the words of the father's answer: "This brother of yours..."

Was lost and is found.

Alex closed his eyes for a few moments. When he opened them again, he noticed that the youth who had been going slowly from picture to picture at the far ends of the gallery now stood a pace to his left. Oblivious to Alex's presence, he gazed solemnly at the image, his arms hanging by his sides.

Alex regretted the interruption but stepped aside to allow the other a central place before the painting. He expected the interloper to move on quickly, but minutes passed. How long they remained like this was impossible. to tell. The boy's stillness and rapt attention to the painting were inexplicable. He was in his late teens or early twenties, and Alex wondered how one so young would be capable of such concentration, if concentration it was Why was he not at school? Why was he not tinkering in the innards of a car engine, or pounding around an athletic field?

His face in no way displayed typical Slavic features. It was quintessentially primitive, the forehead slanted, brow ridges heavy, eyes small and inexpressive, cheeks hollow. His thin lips were parted slightly, and his chin was unevenly shaved. Brown hair was cropped close to the skull. His hands were large and his fingernails dirty. His blunt and muscular body was a peasant's torso with slightly bowed legs hinting at malnutrition. He wore a dingy green coat full of holes, and baggy workman's pants with cuffs suspended inches above wet, down-at-heel shoes.

Heaving a sigh as old and as freighted as humanity, the youth caught himself, perhaps becoming fully aware that there was another person beside him. He shot a swift glance at Alex and shifted his body away. His face, which had been open and defenseless while absorbed in the painting, now closed in on itself, guarded and anonymous.

Alex too retreated into himself, wishing the other would depart.

Eventually the youth turned a few degrees in Alex's direction and murmured, "Zto horosho." It is good.

"Yes," Alex replied in the same tone, "it is good."

Now it was possible to attempt more.

"The father..." said the youth.

"Yes, and the son..." Alex replied.

"And...you see...the hands..."

Each sentence was left unfinished with spaces of many seconds between the responses. It was neither interruption nor inarticulation; it seemed to Alex that it was a necessary reduction, so that speech would not ruin what was now flowing back and forth between them.

"The boy...he came home," said the youth.

"And the father ran out to meet him," Alex replied.

A sudden tension crossed the youth's face. "If the father had not, what then?"

"But the son trusted."

"He risked..."

"The father also risks."

The youth turned to face Alex. He crossed his arms as if holding himself, as if he were cold.

"I...my..." He looked down at the floor, his eyes haunted.

For a moment or two, Alex could find nothing to say, and when he spoke he did not know where the thought had come from:

"The son should return to the father," he said.

"But what if the father does not want the son?" replied the youth.

"If he does not, then the son must remember." Alex pointed at the old man in the image. "Remember this face. It is a window. Through it you see the hidden face."

"The hidden face?"

"Yes. He is looking at you."

The youth glanced up at the painting again. Then back at Alex.

"How...this speaking...you and me speaking?"

"I seek..."

"You seek your son?"

"Yes. He is lost."

"I think maybe you will find him. A father such as you will find him."

"Will he want me?"

"I do not know. But I think it will be so."

"And your father?"

Once again a spasm of pain crossed the boy's face. He did not answer.

"Have you lost him?" Alex asked.

"I have run from him."

"You must return to him."

"Will he want me?"

"I hope it will be so. He should want a son such as you."

"But..."

"It may be he does not yet know you."

"Who are you?" the youth asked.

"You know me."

"Do I know you, sir?"

"Yes. And I know you."

Strangely, this did not disturb the other, though he spent a minute pondering it.

"Surely we have met before?"

"No."

"But tell me, who are you?"

"I am you."

the boy uncrossed his arms. He opened his mouth but said nothing.

"As you will be, in time," Alex said.

"I..." The eyes blinked rapidly, withholding tears.

"The child is father of the man," Alex said, looking up at the father in the painting. "Remember his face, for he too is your father. Remember my face also, and the words we have spoken to each other."

The boy looked into the man's eyes and nodded. Unable to speak, he walked from the room.

Alex left the Hermitage soon after, overcome by this inexplicable exchange. It was by now late afternoon and growing cold. The rush hour traffic had begun in earnest along Nevsky, but despite the roar he decided to walk the entire length of it to the Moskva. It took more than an hour, but it seemed to him that time had continued to alter its nature. he looked into many hundreds of faces on the way, and in all of them he saw what he had seen in the face of the peasant youth.

All men are my son, and all women are my daughter.

He arrived at his hotel room after six o'clock. There no messages. He lay down on the bed and covered his eyes with a hand.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Best Movies of 2011

There's not much point in having only a year end list only of books, to my way of thinking. We've got to include movies too. Not that I watched that many movies, but in looking back over my journal, there were some that definitely stood out above the crowd.

This list is based on what was new to me this year, not solely on what was a new release.

  • Midnight in Paris - the Golden Age in the City of Lights from Woody Allen (my review here)
  • Exit Through the Gift Shop - documentary about an eccentric French shop keeper and amateur film maker who attempted to befriend famed graffiti artist Banksy, only to have the artist turn the camera back on him. Brilliant.
  • True Grit (2010) - gritty, funny, and (I'm told) truer to the book than the original movie (my snapshot comments are here)
  • The King's Speech - before King George VI of Britain was forced to ascend to the throne by his brother's Edward abdication, he struggled mightily with stuttering with the help of an unconventional speech therapist. The story is sensitively told and brilliantly portrayed by all.
  • To Be or Not to Be (1942) - Jack Benny and Carole Lombard, directed by the great Ernst Lubitsch. During the Nazi occupation of Poland, an acting troupes helps track down a German spy. Really funny while making a definite statement about the tragedy of the Polish occupation. Watching this made me appreciate Lombard's acting skill.
  • Up in the Air - corporate downsizer corporate downsizer Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) lives an isolated existence traveling the country firing people and giving seminars on success. Even he balks, however, at the changes proposed by a young woman and when he is called up on to show her the ropes, both their lives change (my snapshot comments are here)
  • Gone Baby Gone - This tale a a young couple detecting a little girl's kidnapping was as wonderful as critics said. The story was morally grounded and made me want to look for Dennis Lehane's books, as this was based on one of his. All round a wonderful movie.
  • Waking Sleeping Beauty - how Walt Disney Studios went in a mere ten-year period from the depths of The Black Cauldron to the heights of animation in Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King is the subject of this behind-the-scenes documentary from the point of view of the animators (my review is here)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

You Know What I Love?

That I saw on Facebook that my mother is playing Words with Friends.

My mom. On Facebook. Words with Friends.

She also has had a Kindle for a while.

This lady is the most happening person at her assisted living place.

Let's not even get into how she and her friends have the "party table" at dinner every night. You know. The one with the bottles of wine and the laughing and joking.

Yep.

I love it.

Best Books of 2011

Best to me, of course, not definitively "best," which is impossible to say.

This was the year I was not going to do a "best of" list.

Not. going. to.

Done and done.

And then The Anchoress challenged me and put her own book list up. Plus she put Brandon Vogt's 2011 book list link ... which further challenged me.

Darn it.

In general I tend to be puzzled by many Catholic's book lists. So many religious books, so few zombie books. Although, I note with approval that Brandon read the Harry Potter series last year. There is hope.

So here we go, top 10 books with descriptions in 10 words or less. Plus a few bonus items at the end.
  1. Mystery of Grace by Charles DeLint
    Urban fantasy about Grace (the person) and grace (of God). (discussion/review at A Good Story is Hard to Find)

  2. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
    Genesis, Cain, and Abel ... in California. (review at A Free Mind; discussion/review at A Good Story is Hard to Find)

  3. Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux
    Little things can make you a saint. (review at A Free Mind)

  4. Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry
    Red, white, blue, and zombies. (review at SFFaudio)

  5. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
    Concentration camps and God from an unlikely storyteller. (review at A Free Mind)

  6. White Cat / Red Glove (The Curse Workers series) by Holly Black
    When a touch can curse, gloves alone can't protect you (SFFaudio reviews: White Cat / Red Glove)

  7. Declare by Tim Powers
    WWII, Cold War spies, and the supernatural with Catholic details. (discussion/review at A Good Story is Hard to Find)

  8. The Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Brant Pitre
    What the title says. (review at Happy Catholic)

  9. Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones
    Rattling good adventure in ancient Arabia with djinn and improbable heroes (review at Happy Catholic)
BONUS

AUTHOR DISCOVERIES
  • Diana Wynne Jones - I never knew how fabulous her books were or how inventive or how different they were from each other. Thank heavens my pal D.J. took it upon herself to lend me carefully selected stories each month. YA fantasy that is a treat for any age to read.

  • Norbert Davis - who wrote the short but memorable series featuring Doan and Carstairs. Doan is a short, chubby man in rumpled clothes who, despite appearances, is "the most dangerous little devil I've ever seen, and he's all the worse because of that half-witted manner of his. You never suspect what he's up to until it's too late." At least that what his boss says. Carstairs is his Great Dane who is one of the most intelligent characters ever included in mysteries. Together they are a duo to reckon with. And the stories are not only interesting but are tinged with humor throughout.

  • Louis L'Amour - I grew up scorning Western stories, even though I did occasionally dip into Zane Grey along the way. I'm not sure what made me sample a few of Louis L'Amour's short story collections on my Kindle. I was surprised to find his stories compelling and so picked up this collection via Paperback Swap. He has a talent for making you speed to the end of the story even when you're fairly sure you know what will happen ... because you're only fairly sure and often he flips the story just a bit on you.
SERIES REREADING
Two words.

Harry Potter.

When the last movie came out, it made me suddenly realize that the Potter books probably were available in audiobook format. Sure enough they were and Jim Dale's narration was nothing short of inspired. I began at book one and "reread" them all. Surprisingly, I remembered only a few key elements of the last three books and so was able to experience them once again with breathless anticipation.

A truly wonderful experience.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What a Great Christmas!

I have to say that one of my favorite things about Christmas is going to Mass. I never want to go before-hand, but when I am there I am always so glad that the Church requires it. Nothing reminds me more of why Christmas matters and puts the rest of the day into proper perspective. I am more grateful and happy afterward for that very reason.

That aside,  we ate a lot (the roasted pork shoulder came out a treat ... I resorted to my old Doubleday cookbook and roasted it at 325 for 40 minutes a pound), played games, laughed, listened to music, had many a Christmas cookie, and much merriment ensued from all the above. We also received a good many wonderful gifts, among them a streaming box so that Tom doesn't have to hook his computer up to the TV in order for us to watch Hulu (or other similar things). He has been playing with that and having a very good time learning the ropes and seeing what is out there for free.

A couple of standouts for me ...

FAMILY GAME
A standout at this point is the family game for the year, Pandemic. The goal of Pandemic is for the players, in their randomly-selected roles, to work cooperatively to stop the spread of four diseases and cure them before a pandemic occurs. I was fascinated to think of a game requiring cooperation from all players, rather than rivalry. All the reviews I read on Amazon spoke glowingly of how much fun it was and many appreciatively mentioned the "cooperation" element. I had to try it.

It turns out that this game is addictive. It is the nearest thing I can imagine to a role playing, computer game, but in board game form. You just have to keep trying to cure those darned diseases before the game beats you and that keeps you coming back time after time as you think of new strategies.

In the "introductory" game playing mode, we had to play four or five times before we finally beat it by curing all four diseases. We are now curious to try it in "regular" mode.

Highly recommended.

TILTING TEAPOT
Tom really surprised me by giving me a Tilting Teapot. I saw this so long ago that I'd forgotten all about it. And, the poor guy had to buy it from Canada because they only have one distributer on this continent. Nonetheless, it was a sheer delight because of those things and more.

The idea is that you lie it down to put in the tea (in a little compartment) and water in the larger chamber. After brewing, it tilts up to keep the leaves out of the water. And when it is standing, that is when the hotel staff brings you more. Not having a hotel staff, I am having to learn a new skill set in order to keep the tea leaves from floating out of their compartment into the pot, but it is great fun. And makes a good cuppa, too!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Gone for now ... back on Tuesday

I'll stick this at the top of the blog.

I have a few things ready to come up over the holidays, so just scroll down ... but in the meantime let me wish you a very Merry Christmas.

I hope your Advent has been a fruitful one. Mine certainly has and I am longing to welcome the Christ Child ... and also to reap the benefits of all the Christmas baking, planning, and decorating that have been going on at our house.

Have a wonderful time and I'll see you soon!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Playlist

I picked up three new Christmas CDs this year and two went on our permanent household favorites list.

The one that didn't was Christmas Party With Eddie G. which was so much like Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour that it conclusively proved who the genius was behind that concept (for which we are forever grateful). However, it isn't something you like to have pop up constantly in your play list.
  1. What a Wonderful Christmas - Louis Armstrong & Others (a new one, purchased after I heard Jazz Record Requests ... a BBC show ... play "Zat You, Santa Claus?"
  2. A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector - when I was looking for the Louis Armstrong cd, I kept coming across this. Many described it as a "wall of sound" which can be good or bad. In this case, it works ... as long as you like The Ronettes. Which we do. 
We added this to our usual playlist, which you may read all about here, but for the short version I'll tell you that it includes:
  • Let It Snow Baby, Let It Reindeer - Reliant K
  • Ella Wishes You a Swingin' Christmas - Ella Fitzgerald
  • I Wanna Be Santa Claus - Ringo Starr
  • Christmas With the Rat Pack

    Thursday, December 22, 2011

    Romeo and Juliet in Limerick Form

    My friend DJ wrote this delightful piece. It is too good to keep to myself so, with her permission, I am sharing it. For best effect, read aloud (with dramatic gestures). It's what I did.

    Romeo and Juliet
    (with apologies to Wm. Shakespeare)


    In Verona, a city so fair,
    Two families were oft feuding there.
    In this mess we do find
    Star-crossed lovers entwined
    And I fear that they haven’t a prayer.

    Young Romeo and family most rash,
    A Capulet part did crash.
    ‘twas there that he met
    The sweet Juliet
    And fell deep in love, in a flash.

    Poor Juliet felt rather blue.
    Her beau was a dread Montague.
    Yet she loved just the same
    Asking “What’s in a name”
    Still she didn’t know what she should do.

    Then Romeo that lover so keen
    Climbed to her on vines, strong and green.
    Together these two
    Vowed they’d always be true
    In what’s known as the balcony scene.

    But trouble in Verona did grow
    When Tybalt stabbed Mercutio.
    Cried he “You’re all louses,
    A plague on your houses!
    I’m dead from a murderous blow.”

    Wedded bliss just was not meant to be
    For Romeo slew Tybalt you see.
    As the Princes’ law writ
    Romeo’s live was forfeit
    So our hero had to pack up and flee.

    A plan to fake death went awry
    When Romeo thought Juliet did die –
    So he offed himself then
    She did herself in.
    Thus together entombed they both lie.

    Then the Prince scolded both families
    Take a look at these two, if you please.
    Because of your hate
    Juliet and her mate
    Are now one of the Bard’s tragedies.

    Solid Common Sense from a Non-Believer on the "War on Christmas"

    John Scalzi, popular science fiction author, says what we all know as he answers the email question: Any thoughts on the current state of the War on Christmas™?
    Here’s the thing: If you’re using the holiday season to go out of your way to be an asshole to someone, believer or non-believer, you’re doing it wrong, and I wish you would stop. That’s not a war, it’s a slap fight and it’s embarrassing. As a non-believer, when someone says “Merry Christmas” to me, I say “Merry Christmas” back, because generally speaking I understand that what “Merry Christmas” means in this context is “I am offering you good will in a way I know how,” and I appreciate that sentiment. Left to my own devices, I use “Happy holidays” because I know a lot of people who aren’t Christians (or at least Christmas-centered) and that seems the best way to express my own good will; the vast majority of people get what I’m doing and appreciate that sentiment too.
    Here's a bit but do go read it all (note: occasional off-color language).

    Wednesday, December 21, 2011

    North Korea's Information Isolation

    Jen at Ambrose-a-rama has great links about what life is like inside North Korea, including one to a piece with this stunning statement:
    When I visited North Korea on a tightly managed trip in 2005, I was well into an hour of chatting with a local mountain guide, a former military man, when he paused and asked sincerely about a detail of American nuclear policy: “I don’t understand why you had to use nuclear weapons in Iraq.” He was a handpicked interlocutor for foreigners, with a warm coat and privileged access to information, and he was, by all evidence, convinced that America had nuked Iraq (or was willing to maintain the charade that it had). I had a hard time coming up with another closed society in which the words from the top had been so efficiently delivered to the bottom. If that’s what he thinks about the occasional use of nuclear weapons, I wondered, what else does he believe?
    I have a sudden vision of a sci-fi type movie where the dome is lifted off of an entire society who never realized how the world really works around them. Mind boggling and so very sad.

    Monday, December 19, 2011

    The Golden Age in the City of Lights: Quick Look at Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris


    We went to the dollar movie yesterday and for $1.25 (inflation has hit even the dollar movies) saw Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris.

    Owen Wilson plays a dreamer who has made a fortune writing screenplays but longs to find a sympathetic soul to read his first novel. His fiancee and her family seem wrong for him in every way but he doesn't notice because he's so busy longing for the Golden Age of 1920's Paris when the American writers and artists mingled. One evening, lost in a dark side street, sitting forlornly on the steps, he hears midnight chime and a very old yellow taxi pulls up. The merry group inside beckon him in and he joins them only to find himself literally swept away to meet his idols.

    Midnight in Paris has a surprisingly straight-forward story and moral, albeit one told with a romantic eye to the artists in 1920s Paris and those who yearn nostalgically for the past. This is a love letter to Paris, a nod to comedy, a commentary on modern Americans in Paris, and above all a reminder that now is all the time we have and we may be living in a golden age in the present. Sweet, charming, and funny. A winner all 'round.

    I give it four stars out of five because there were a few details which didn't work with the logic of the story quite right, and which we all noticed. They don't make that much of a difference but catching them would have gotten a bit closer to perfection.

    UPDATE
    My favorite people were Hemingway and Dali but I must also add that I've never understood people who say that Marion Cotillard is beautiful. Until now. She is luminous in this film. Kathy Bates was also perfectly cast as Gertrude Stein. All were just a joy to behold in this film.

    Made Me Laugh - Out Loud: Savage Chickens

    Doug Savage does it again ...

    I think you might have to be American to really get this one. An American who grew up watching the Rankin and Bass version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

    Saturday, December 17, 2011

    Weekend Joke: 'Tis the Season

    There is a dearth of Advent jokes, so we're going to mentally hop ahead a week and go for the Christmas cheer. Enjoy!
    Good King Wenceslas phoned Domino's for a pizza.

    The salesgirl asked him, "Do you want your usual? Deep pan, crisp and even?"

    Friday, December 16, 2011

    Alien First Contact with a Catholic Twist: Reviewing "The Deacon's Tale" by Arinn Dembo

    "This enemy seems to arrive in small numbers, but their attacks result in mass disappearances: once a system's defenses are overwhelmed or circumvented, the rippers are able to kidnap thousands at a time. And regardless of the defenses available on the ground, they seem to meet with little resistance once they land..."

    "They take our people," he said quietly. "They snatch up their victims whenever and wherever our backs are turned, anywhere that they find our defenses weak. By the time we can react, they've vanished again without a trace. The ones we lose are never seen again."
    Cai Rui is Task Force Commander of the infamous "Black Section" of the Sol Force Intelligence Corps. He's also a loyal Archdeacon of the Roman Catholic Church. There are four intelligent species in the known universe, including humans or "apes" as they call themselves. Cai Rui must work with each group if he is going to track down and foil the brutal, new species that is preying on them all. Even more disturbing than the slave trade is that the evil aliens are led by one who calls himself Black Deacon and seems to be able to read souls.

    The subtitle is "a Sword of the Stars novel." I've never heard of the "Sword of the Stars" before but I see from checking the Amazon reviews that it is a video game. If they had a Mac version, I'd try it because it looks interesting. However, you don't have to know the game to read the book. Also the game developer is the author of this book which is an interesting twist.

    I wound up enjoying this book which was a fast-paced military sf book. Catholics will enjoy the fact that Cai Rui is absolutely a "good" and loyal Catholic who can best practically everyone in combat and smarts. Catholic elements are treated with respect although not everyone who is Catholic is a good person which, sadly, is quite true to life. We are happy to despise a certain Cardinal who seems to be meddling with nefarious purpose.

    I also enjoyed the alien races who the author portrays vividly. They do not fit our expectations of the "classic" alien race types which is a nice surprise. The Hivers are insectoid but don't have a hive mind. The Tarkas are reptilian but artistic and sensitive. The Liir are an air-breathing aquatic species (which made me think of dolphins although they have tentacles) who are powerful telepaths.

    The Deacon's Tale was a bit too fast-paced in some places as I finally had to read the appendix on the alien enemy to even get a decent idea of what they looked like. In fact, until I checked the appendix on Liir I didn't have a good grasp on their appearance either. This isn't the case for the other species but, again, the book often eschews description for action. A few other details were also glossed over in an unsatisfactory way. I wanted to know more about why the traitor betrayed his race in favor of the enemy, for one thing.

    Overall, however, The Deacon's Tale was a fun read that kept me up late to see what would happen. I'd definitely be interested in reading the sequel.

    "You have been weighed, you have been measured, and you have been found wanting.*" St. Therese, intercede for us.

    Lately I've been thrown into contact with a person who knows everything.

    Seriously. Everything.

    Anyone around them can say something and this person's opinion is delivered like the word of God: quick, definitive and absolute.

    With no conversation. And no take backs.

    Now, there is nothing wrong with having an opinion and Heaven knows I have plenty of my own.

    However, what makes this interesting is that each opinion is delivered also as a judgment of anyone who is not of a similar mind. There is no give and take, no "oh, why do you think that?" This may be about important matters of faith and family or it may be about something as inconsequential as what sort of cell phone to buy.

    Either way, judgement is rendered.

    Needless to say, any variation is not looked upon with favor. This is daunting, tiring, and can be quite infuriating. Not to mention being a conversation stopper. Especially to someone like me who is used to exchanging ideas rather than receiving verdicts upon my person based on very little evidence.

    However, it is also valuable.

    It reminds me that my own reactions reveal more about me than about this person. For example, Tom just lets it roll off his back, saying that he knows what this person is like and most of it is due to extreme youth and lack of life experience.

    True enough.  I feel that if this person knew how they appeared to others when in this mode, they would be taken aback. So I'm also a bit sorry for them. Because I've been there. I was the hard edged, sarcastic, opinionated person that God has been working on for a long time to soften. Tom says that I wasn't as similar as I think, but I recognize that quality and am somewhat mortified to think how I appeared to others long ago. And, shamefully, occasionally may still appear these days.

    I'm also thankful that God's been so faithful in continually softening those blunt edges.

    Thinking all this over, St. Therese of Lisieux came to mind. In Story of a Soul** Therese recounts her determination to love even the most annoying person in her convent. Why? Because the artist loves nothing better than to have his art praised and Jesus is the artist who made that annoying woman's soul.

    A sobering thought.

    I don't know why Therese's experience came to mind but I'm grateful it did. It reminded me to ask Jesus to show me what He loves in this soul He created specifically for this time and place. Who He loves just as much as He loves me.

    That prayer is one I ask St. Therese to join since she knows my struggle so well. Whether I receive any further insight remains to be seen. But I actually have received all I need. What I know is that my struggle, my prayer, and my intentions are enough. God will use them as He sees fit for my good and for that of the person. I must just keep on keepin' on.

    Lord, hear my prayer. St. Therese pray with me.

    * A Knight's Tale
    ** My review and comments here

    Thursday, December 15, 2011

    Christmas Reading; "Oh Holy Night: The Peace of 1914"

    I'm reposting this because I didn't get my review up last year until just before Christmas. It is truly a wonderful book.



    We had the time of our lives on Christmas Day. The Germans left their trenches and walked without their rifles half-way across the field to where we were entrenched. There was not a shot fired. Some of our chaps then got out and went to meet the German soldiers. You should have seen them shaking hands with our boys and handing them smokes. Both sides walked and talked with one another as if there was nothing the matter. later on our lads helped the Germans to bury their dead and sang over the graves. It was a sigh you could never forget.
    Lance Corporal George Yearsley
    Oh Holy Night: The Peace of 1914  by Michael C. Snow is a truly moving account of the Christmas Eve in 1914 during World War I when German and British soldiers left their trenches and met in "no man's land" to celebrate a common day of peace and fellowship. Told through British soldiers' letters home, we see the common themes of surprise and thankfulness over this shared Christian celebration with their fellow men. This is followed by the dismaying official orders from those far from the war who declare that any similar displays of good fellowship toward enemy soldiers will be treated as treason.

    The event is then contrasted in the second part of the book with a personal connection between rival nations at a higher level as we see the great affection between Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II and Russia's Czar Nicholas II who were cousins through their grandmother, Queen Victoria. Their personal notes to each other from the year before World War I show their fondness and we follow the breakdown in relations between countries as each cousin strives to believe the best of the other behind the scenes.

    Threaded through these accounts are Christmas carols, scripture of Christ's birth and teachings, psalms, reflection from saints and others including Mark Twain. The author uses all of these and his own reflections to bring the reader to consider peace, war, mercy, forgiveness, and living Christ's teachings.

    The author provided me with a pdf of this book (I converted it to mobi for my Kindle). I plan on purchasing a copy as I think it is a worthy accompaniment to Dickens' A Christmas Carol in reminding us of the true meaning of Christmas in bringing Christ's light into the world.

    Highest recommendation.

    It's only potatoes, you say. No. It isn't.

    And my sis has the whole story why at her blog, The Guideline.

    Guess what?

    I already was planning on making those potatoes. Haven't had them for years but they are "on my palate" whenever I think of the roast pork I am planning.

    Our family is definitely on the same page.

    Dear Hogfather, For Hogswatch I want a doll and a book and a ...

    Scott and I talk about Terry Pratchett's Christmas book, Hogfather, at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast. Hilarity ensues while seriously examining belief. Yes, he's that good.

    Wednesday, December 14, 2011

    Rose's Culinary Delight Continue with Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya

    Not to mention last night's African chicken dish and the night before's Thai Lemongrass Stir-Fried Pork. Dang that girl's a good cook!

    But first things first. Jambalaya. Get it at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

    Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    Ten Free Kindle Christmas Books

    Here's the list.

    Trojan Tub Entertainment: a project from a Catholic author, entrepreneur, and homeschooling Dad

    From Daniel McInerny to my inbox and definitely worth checking out ...
    This past summer I founded a company, Trojan Tub Entertainment, a web-based children's entertainment company featuring my "Patria" series of humorous adventures for middle grade readers (approx. ages 8-13). Recently Trojan Tub launched its Kingdom of Patria website, an immersive, interactive site for kids and families. The site contains free Patria short stories, fun audio, blog posts from me and the main characters, two clubs for kids to join (one for boys, one for girls), and much more! You can check it out by going here.

    The site provides links to the first book in the Patria series, Stout Hearts & Whizzing Biscuits, now available as an eBook here at Amazon (for the absurdly low price of $2.99!). It is also available on barnesandnoble.com as well as iTunes. The unabridged audiobook is also available from Worldwide Audiobooks.

    About Stout Hearts Rachel Dove, of Kindle Book Review, wrote in her 5-Star Review: “It's fresh, highly amusing, and with Oliver Stoop being such an identifiable, lovable character (and a bookworm himself to boot!) I can see this book quickly becoming a modern classic that will stay with children long after the last page.”

    Trojan Tub Entertainment and my Patria stories have recently been featured on the web. You can check out those features at Catholic Exchange and Ignitum Today.

    Monday, December 12, 2011

    What I Just Finished Reading: Lit by Mary Karr - UPDATED

    This is actually an ongoing commentary on the book as I read it ... not a review really. The update is at the bottom with the bold header.

    Lit: A MemoirLit: A Memoir by Mary Karr

    My rating: 2 of 5 stars


    Reading this for my book club.

    O.M.G.

    If there is a genre I hate, it is that of addicts telling their life stories ... yes, even when they come out Christian at the other end. Just like a bad movie made for Christian ends, an angsty book told for Christian ends does nothing for me. First give me good art (story) I say, then worry about what else is in it.

    It isn't that I don't have sympathy for the people themselves, it is that their books inevitably seem to be all about them (me, me, me ... angst and self loathing ... then repeat).

    I know, this makes me sound harsh. But there you have it.

    The only thing worse than that?

    Tell it in stream-of-consciousness (which around our house, we call "lazy writer's syndrome").

    Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to Lit.

    FINAL - AFTER THE BOOKCLUB
    No one spoke out as boldly as I did against the beginning of the book, but some others acknowledged similar problems, though they soldiered on and didn't skip the way I did. We all agreed that the end of the book, from the point I began reading (page 275 for those who are interested) was where the author "came alive." Obviously this was intentional and reflected the change between the addicted life and a sober life with faith mixed in. However, I'd have liked reading a book that began at that point. Or possibly just a bit before.

    So yes I have a very bad attitude going in and after reading the first four pages I was consciously reminding myself that some book club members read 400 pages of Assam & Darjeeling who never have read fantasy before.

    Therefore, I manned up and soldiered on. For another four pages. I didn't want to actually weep aloud so I stopped reading.

    And then I recalled one book club member who skimmed Assam & Darjeeling in 20 minutes and kept insisting that she'd "read" the book ... but she had so many other books she was reading that she didn't have time to properly sit down with this one.

    Right.

    But ok, everyone loves her and we have good manners (unlike this commentary, I realize) and so we politely agreed to her fiction.

    Which opened the gate for me to do the same. Almost.

    I managed to page through and find where Karr actually goes to her knees to pray and gets a bit of response ... and will pick up skimming from there. Although the next meeting isn't for a few weeks. So there's no need to actually rush into this or anything (yes, I also enjoy procrastinating in my spare time ...)

    UPDATE
    Full disclosure ... I haven't read the first 200-250 pages. It is just that is the spot from which I am taking the plunge. As quick a plunge as possible. The book club is Monday so I've got to begin skimming now!

    FINAL
    I must say that I enjoyed the last part of the book fairly well. It didn't make me want to go back and read the beginning of it, but I have rarely read a better description of one's interaction with God than the last part of the book. So in the end, I am glad that I read the bit that I did. I'll be curious to see how everyone else liked it.

    FINAL - AFTER THE BOOKCLUB
    No one spoke out as boldly as I did against the beginning of the book, but some others acknowledged similar problems, though they soldiered on and didn't skip the way I did. We all agreed that the end of the book, from the point I began reading (page 275 for those who are interested) was where the author "came alive." Obviously this was intentional and reflected the change between the addicted life and a sober life with faith mixed in. However, I'd have liked reading a book that began at that point. Or possibly just a bit before.

    The Jesse Tree ... and human failings

    I started off strong with the Jesse Tree, but only got as far as Day 7 before life intervened and I got off track.

    This sort of thing happens to me so often.

    However, I can say that up to this point the Jesse Tree has definitely served its purpose, for me anyway. Between thinking about the chain of salvation history it has shown me and reading the daily mass readings each day, I have a sense of the age-old longing for messiah which the Hebrew people felt for so many years. This longing translates into my own longing for Christ, which is a peace-inducing overlay to the Christmas preparations. It has made a difference for me this year.

    My apologies as I am not sure I'll be able to get back to the Jesse Tree this year, but am viewing this as a foundation upon which I can build next year (ever hopeful, right?).

    For those who are more disciplined and determined than I, Catholic Culture was my launching point and will be a wonderful resource.

    Friday, December 9, 2011

    Save Greendale (with the cast of Community)



    Get the Greendale experience...

    If you don't, know what Greendale or Community are, then ... move along, nothing to see here.

    Red, White, Blue, and Zombies: Reviewing "Patient Zero" by Jonathan Maberry

    My review for SFFaudio which they very kindly let me run here also.

    Jonathan Maberry caught my attention immediately with Patient Zero’s dedication:
    This book is dedicated to the often unsung and overlooked heroes who work in covert operations and the intelligence communities.
    And then he caught it again with the quote with which the book begins.
    A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer. — Ralph Waldo Emerson
    I know a particular person who is one of those unsung heroes and so my natural inclination is to look approvingly upon the author’s sentiments.

    However, I wasn’t here for a covert intelligence story or a spy story but for zombies. Also, because I’d heard the Writing Excuses podcasters praising the Joe Ledger series.

    Then I heard the first two sentences of the book itself.
    When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week, then there’s either something wrong with your skills or something wrong with your world.

    And there’s nothing wrong with my skills.
    Aha. The hat trick … which also informed me that I actually was here for a covert intelligence story, for a spy story, and, this should go without saying by now, for zombies.

    Here’s a quick story synopsis.

    Joe Ledger is a hardened Baltimore cop with serious skills in physical combat. After a surprise raid on suspected drug traffickers, he is strong-armed into joining the DMS, a rapid response task-force that handles problems too big for Homeland Security. The latest problem is a terrorist’s bio-weapon which, for all practical purposes, turns the infected into zombies. While Joe and his team try to track and stop the threat, we also see the bad guys: a tangled knot of corporate interests and Muslim fanatics gearing up for the ultimate assault on American soil.

    In a way this is a meta thriller. It is obvious that there are the standard types which are being used. The Warrior. The Super Villain. The Mad Scientist. The Best Friend who is also The Conscience. Characters will even call people by these labels. This is reinforced by such tidbits as when a scientist excitedly asks Joe if he’s read Doctor Spectrum comics where Joseph Ledger is a character. However, Maberry keeps it from being cliched. Perhaps it is the zombies but I felt it was also due to Joe Ledger’s character and the blistering pace of the book. Short, fast chapters keep the action moving and the reader on the edge of their seat.

    As with many thrillers, the story is relatively formulaic. The good guys are very good. The bad guys are very bad. Joe bleeds red, white, and blue and there is no way he is going to let terrorists harm Americans. There is a bit of humor, a touch of romance, and a ton of suspense. And zombies. Lots and lots of zombies coming in wave after wave.

    It’s a formula that works. We need heroes and villains in our stories. Sometimes it is easy to see who they are. Patient Zero works because Maberry reminds us of how much entertainment there is to be had in the telling of such a tale.

    My one problem with the book was that there were a couple of extended zombie attack sequences where Joe and the team just had to keep fighting and fighting … and fighting. We’d have gotten the same effect by cutting out just a bit of the fighting, particularly in the crab plant. They didn’t really have to be down to the point of ripping legs off of tables for weapons in order for me to understand just how desperate the situation was. However, this is a small quibble.

    Much of the delight in this audiobook comes from Ray Porter’s narration. He reads Joe Ledger’s lines as if he were Ledger himself, reacting perfectly with a naturalness that made me feel as if I were hearing Joe’s actual thoughts. I particularly enjoyed the moments when he would hesitate or pause to emphasize points because that carried me into Joe’s emotions much more than if I had been reading.

    The only problem with the narration was that Porter was a little too thorough. There is one character whose identity we don’t know until the end of the book but who we hear speaking with his employer. As I listened, I continually wondered if Porter had randomly chosen the accent with which this character spoke. I found myself listening to other characters in the book, wondering if we’d met this character yet and if he had that accent. It didn’t give it away much before the book itself did but it turns out that the narrator was being true to the character and that is something that I don’t think would have come across in the actual book. This isn’t a big deal, but it was an interesting problem.

    Overall, you have to like this sort of thriller to enjoy this book. But if that’s the sort of thing you like, as I obviously do, then you’re going to really enjoy meeting Joe Ledger. And wave after wave of zombies.

    900+ Free Kindle Books This Morning

    You’ll see that this list has all of the non-public domain free books on the Amazon website and, as I type this post, should refer you to 2,735 free Kindle books. If you look on the left-hand side of the Amazon page that pops up, you will see the books sorted by category with 1,988 fiction and 688 non-fiction books.

    Wow!

    How did this happen? Well, with the lending program I told you about yesterday (click here to see that post again), independent authors now have the ability to offer their books for free for a five day period every 90 days. Needless to say, it would appear quite a few authors chose to offer their books for free starting today. While they won’t make any money off of these free offers, the hope they have is you will try out their book and enjoy it, and possibly purchase some of their other offerings.
    Holy Moly! Free Kindle Books has the entire story.

    Thursday, December 8, 2011

    Immaculate Conception: A Couple of Things to Consider

    Our priest's homily considered Eve and Mary as our two mothers. Eve is the mother of the flesh, of the weaknesses that we give into, of trying to take control of her redemption and saving herself. Mary is the mother of our spirits, our souls, of choosing obedience to God, of not trying to control her own redemption. She let herself be saved. (In a nutshell.)

    These thoughts from Fr. Scott Hurd look at a different version of the same sort of concept to me ... featuring a movie that is one of my guilty pleasures. Just as in the movie he uses for an example, Fr. Hurd turns our thoughts toward hope for the future, rather than regret for the past. Beautiful. Go read it.

    Woah. I've Never Been to an Outlet Mall Before ... But Now I Have.

    And it seems that it takes a surprising amount of time.

    Precious blogging time, as it turns out.

    Back tomorrow!

    Wednesday, December 7, 2011

    First Communion Invitations

    Here's a great deal! Happy Catholic readers can get 25% off ordering at 1st Holy Communion Invitations. I'm going to put this in the sidebar also, under Catholic Resources, because the site is a nice one and the invitations and gifts look really lovely.

    It's an exclusive 25% off code for Happy Catholic readers (and easy to remember): HAPPYCATHOLIC

    Swing by and check it out.

    A little more like Mary

    Renee writes to say she's in RCIA classes right now and thought she'd start an outlet for her studies. It looks as if she's made a good start.

    Do check out a little more like Mary and say hello!

    When the Fine Art of Storytelling Goes to the Dogs: Reviewing "Hounded"

    Hounded (Iron Druid Chronicles, #1)Hounded by Kevin Hearne

    My rating: 1 of 5 stars

    This is my review from SFFaudio.

    Hounded is the first of a hugely popular YA series, highly recommended by a friend and, luckily for me, available as a review book from SFFaudio.

    Here’s the brief summary for those who, like me, hadn’t heard of this book:
    Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, running an occult bookshop and shape-shifting in his spare time to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. His neighbors and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old — when in actuality, he’s twenty-one centuries old. Not to mention: He draws his power from the earth, possesses a sharp wit, and wields an even sharper magical sword known as Fragarach, the Answerer. Unfortunately, a very angry Celtic god wants that sword, and he’s hounded Atticus for centuries. Now the determined deity has tracked him down…
    Hounded begins with verve as Atticus is a charming narrator who introduces us to his friends, who are mainly from the supernatural world. We meet Druid gods, local werewolves, a Viking vampire, the local coven of witches, and Atticus’s Irish wolfhound, Oberon, with whom Atticus can carry on mental conversations. There are few genuine humans in Atticus’s life and none are developed beyond a paltry few amusing characteristics, such as the Irish widow who likes to get drunk before going to Mass and forgives murder on her lawn if she is told the victims were British. The most likable character in the group is the dog Oberon who is charmingly focused on doggish things and has just enough understanding of Atticus’s world to offer his own solutions from time to time.

    My initial attraction to the story soon ground to a halt. The problem with this book, and it is a large problem, is that Atticus is a perpetual Peter Pan character. His emotional development seems to be frozen at several years younger than his outward 21 years since a heaving bosom is all it takes to permanently distract him from whatever he’s doing. Pity. One would have hoped that 2,100 years of living would result in a certain amount of experience leading to wisdom. Instead, Atticus spends more time in a practical joke on an ambulance attendant than in thinking through how much he should have healed himself from a bullet wound to make it seem convincing to local law enforcement. That’s ok though because Atticus has friends and allies who unfailingly show up to give an easy solution without readers ever feeling that Atticus himself is too worried about the outcome. This leads to a permanent lack of dramatic tension.

    It’s a pity there isn’t a “Wendy” to accompany Atticus’s “Peter Pan.” That would give Hounded the necessary depth and contrast. Now we can see how wise J.M. Barrie was in the construction of his tale. Without a truly human element who lacks control of the situation, all the adventures are one boring episode after another with nary a worry about how Atticus will escape.

    The one good thing about this book is the narrator, Luke Daniels. I haven’t come across him before but will keep an eye out for him in the future. His talents kept me listening long past the point where I would have given up. His voicing of Oberon has found its way into my head whenever we “speak” for the dogs in our household.

    Sadly, Daniels’ talents aren’t enough to make this shallow story worth your time. There are many wonderful YA stories out there that are worth reading and rereading: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman, White Cat by Holly Black, and Assam and Darjeeling by T.M. Camp are just a few.

    For that matter, try Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. You’ll see what Hounded could have been with proper attention given to the storytelling.

    Pasta with Spinach, Tomatoes, and Blue Cheese

    Another of Rose's finds which delighted us at mealtime ... get it at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

    Tuesday, December 6, 2011

    Note to Self: Don't watch the first three episodes of Buffy right before bed.

    Even if it is a series in which you can't possibly take the monsters seriously, your brain is still working away in the night ... and the dreams can be horrendous.

    Monday, December 5, 2011

    Book Blogs Featuring General Fiction - UPDATED

    We did a lot of talking about books yesterday and Rose asked if I read any blogs that discuss modern general fiction. She knows my taste is much more genre-oriented. As do y'all, now that I come to think of it.

    I was able to direct her to these three spots, where I seldom comment but keep track of their book talk:

    • Reading Envy: I "met" Jenny via SFFaudio so it is funny that she actually is much more of a fiction reader. She's one of those people who sees the long list for the Booker Prize come out and instantly starts reading as many as possible so she can see if she agrees with the short list later. So unlike me and, therefore, fascinating.
    • A Momentary Taste of Being: Steven Riddle's book blog. Steven has remarked before that he probably will like 95% of what I recommend, whereas the percentage I am likely to enjoy of his recommended reading is much less. True enough. I am sadly limited in my enjoyment of the breadth of literature Steven reads and enjoys. That doesn't mean I don't like perusing the excerpts and reviews however!
    • Semicolon: Sherry reads a lot more childrens' books than I ever would, however, she also reads current literature and enjoys coming up with reading challenges for herself to which she invites everyone interested. The latest one focuses on Northern Africa. Sherry wants to read an adult's book and a children's book from each country. I'd never have thought of that!

    UPDATE
    I realized I do listen to a podcast that talks about current fiction, Books on the Nightstand. The cohosts work in the publishing business so they often are talking about current trends and upcoming books. I think their forums are really active. At least I know the one on Goodreads is.

    Another Jesse Tree Online

    Karyn at Days of Grace and Stumbling began her Jesse Tree with the beginning of Advent. And she doesn't just give art and readings, but also her own thoughtful reflections on the journey.

    Check it out...

    Friday, December 2, 2011

    Weekend Joke: Christmas Mail

    An oldie but it never fails to make me laugh.
    A woman went into a post office to buy some stamps for her Christmas cards.

    "What denomination do you want?" asked the lady at the counter.

    "Good Heavens!" she replied, "Has it come to this? I suppose you'd better give me twenty Catholic and twenty Presbyterian."

    Awesome People Reading

    Awesome People Reading is just a photo blog on Tumblr but I enjoy the unlikely people who pop up reading books. I feel sure I found this blog via Margaret at ten thousand places. She is a constant source of great stuff to me.

    I find that I don't really care about photos of people reading newspapers or magazines ... or even scripts, for that matter. I am interested in people reading actual books and what sorts of material they're interested in.

    Therefore, you may understand why I find this photo of Orlando Bloom endearing on several levels.

    Thursday, December 1, 2011

    Tips for Protesters: nothing says "easy to read" like Helvetica.

    Our office is next-door to Jeb Hensarling's so we've been seeing occasional groups of protesters on the sidewalks outside. (Once I took the elevator with about 15 protesters heading to his office ... leaving the remaining 15 waiting for the next elevator. Suddenly I understood why I'd seen his office manager exiting down the stairs on my way down to the mailbox.)

    Anyway.

    Usually they have hand-made signs but they are written large and simply.

    Today, there is a more organized group, although not many of them, sporting a variety of pre-printed signs.

    There is nothing worse for protesters than to have bunch of people working in advertising looking out the window. No matter what our personal political views, there is one thing we can agree on.

    NEVER use an open-face type to print a protest sign.

    Use Helvetica. Keep it simple.

    We couldn't really tell what they were protesting because of the confusing messages on the signs. ("Shop local" - were they protesting the Walgreen's across the street? "We love capitalism but hate greed." The Post Office lay offs? Our building is right next to a huge Post Office and we've seen a protest or two over that. "$$$ ... elections ... blah, blah, blah" The government thing? The Occupy thing? Not that we understand that, but we know it's a thing.)

    Again in the elevator, clarity came.  I talked to some other tenants who'd spoken with the protesters ... it's for Occupy Dallas. They probably didn't appreciate this gentleman's advice of, "That's not how you get a job. Go to the unemployment office. Knock on business's doors. No one's going to hand it to you standing by the street, even with a sign."

    Be that as it may, take our advice.

    Helvetica.

    Always Helvetica.

    Julie and Scott got out of the convenience store just in time! After calling an ambulance, they talked about Tokyo Godfathers ...

    ... , a meaningful Christmas movie from an unlikely source. Hear it all at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

    Wednesday, November 30, 2011

    More New Liturgical Info: "Stop Holding Hands"

    We know what this is about, right? Holding hands during the Our Father. Our family prefers to discreetly hold our own hands ... in other words, we fold our hands in prayer and leave each other alone. If someone insists on grabbing my hand, I'll allow it. But, I don't like it.

    Neither does Bishop Foys of Covington who has issued a decree clarifying the proper gestures and postures for Mass and says, among other things:
    Special note should also be made concerning the gesture for the Our Father. Only the priest is given the instruction to “extend” his hands. Neither the deacon nor the lay faithful are instructed to do this. No gesture is prescribed for the lay faithful in the Roman Missal; nor the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, therefore the extending or holding of hands by the faithful should not be performed.
    This comes via Deacon Greg at The Deacon's Bench who has more pull quotes and a link to the overall decree.

    To be fair, I have always known that you really aren't supposed to be doing this. I just didn't bring it up. Trying to keep the peace and all that jazz. But since it's been brought up ... I'll pass it along.

    Vietnamese Coffee, Anyone?

    It's over at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

    Tuesday, November 29, 2011

    Blogging Around: Seasonal Stuff

    New Liturgy
    Gift Giving
    • Dr. Boli's Encyclopedia of Misinformation -- is now an actual book! If you've seen my sidebar, you know how amusing and clever this book is. It is surprisingly inexpensive.
    • xkcd has posters, shirts, mugs, and a book -- you could hardly miss with getting something from here for the geek in your life. Or even just the comic lover.
    • Happy Catholic - the book! I'd be remiss if I didn't remind everyone that there's a great book you can give friends and family. Buy it from your Catholic book store, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or ... get an autographed copy from me that has an extra quote that didn't make it into the book.
    This 'N' That

    New Liturgy - not that hard and I had a few "aha" moments thanks to the new wording.

    We didn't have much trouble with the new liturgy although we were probably helped by our deacon's homily, which pointed out that the correct response to "the Lord be with you" was "and with your spirit" ... AND that it happens five times in the liturgy.

    There was some stumbling, but not much.

    Our favorite of the local news stations, Channel 8, was there during the Mass we attended, and did a story on the new liturgy. You can see quite a bit of our church here ... and also, quite a bit of our Church. I was surprised because I knew practically everyone shown in the video. Rose is in it for a bit, although blurred in the background. On our big tv screen, Tom and Rose said they saw me in the very last shot in the pews, albeit quickly and far away.

    You can see it here, if you are interested.

    Snapshot: Walking to Work

    My car has been in the shop for a few days, having some repairs done to a door after a slight accident.

    Tom decided to walk to work at one point in the complicated process of getting three people to work, errands done, and so forth ... with two cars.

    He liked it so well that he walked home again that evening.

    We realized that we actually only live one mile from work. We'd never thought about walking because you've got to cross a six-lane highway (though, to be fair, it does have a stoplight so we can get across).

    I began walking, too, though usually once a day, with Rose picking me up or dropping me off, depending on what other errands had to be run.

    It is invigorating. It connects us to the weather, the topography, the world around us.

    I imagine that we'll continue it on days when it isn't pouring rain or when the morning temperature isn't 90 by 9 a.m. (yes, it happens).

    I also realized that I usually say my world is lived in a 5-mile radius, but that our church, work, the grocery store, library, bank, and Target are all within one mile or less.

    No wonder I can duplicate that small town feeling inside of a big city like Dallas.

    I like it that way.

    And I'll probably be walking to many more of those places in the future.

    Chinese Pork with Eggplant and Rice Sticks

    Turn Rose loose with a lot of eggplant from our CSA and a recommendation that my Cooking Light cookbooks usually include lots of vegetables in main dishes ... and certainly get a really delicious result for dinner. Even Hannah ate it and she's no eggplant fan.

    Find out more at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

    Monday, November 28, 2011

    Thanksgiving ... Seemed Longer This Year

    I mean that in a good way. A very good way.

    It was almost like taking a vacation.

    We were worried about transporting Tom's mother after her amputation. She's been moved to a skilled nursing section where she lives but hasn't been to our house since all that happened.

    We went to visit her on Thanksgiving morning and she was so mournful (not in words, but attitude) that we made renewed efforts to figure out how to get her home for Thanksgiving dinner. It wasn't easy, but it was do-able so Mom came home for a couple of hours, which was all she could manage.

    She was so happy to get out and watch the cooking and have a home cooked meal. I haven't seen her eat so much for a long, long time. It made us very happy just to see her face at the table. We will definitely be bringing her home again soon for a visit.

    On other fronts, all went quite well. The Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecan Crumble was simply amazing. Rose loved the ginger. I loved the nutmeg. We may be working on adapting it to pie form soon.

    I got tons of reading done. It helped that my pal, DJ, had just lent me Midshipman's Hope and Challenger's Hope by David Feintuch (my comments at links). I like military science fiction and, although the first book began slowly, I was soon caught up in the adventures of a young midshipman when a fatal accident thrusts him into leadership.

    I didn't get to listen to Patient Zero as much as I'd hoped (my comments here), which left me eking out bits and pieces of the final showdown as I washed dishes or swept the floor. I'm still eking ... this feels like the longest, slow motion finale in history. One of the things I love about this book is the hands-down patriotism of the main character, Joe Ledger. That made it perfect for Thanksgiving weekend when all-American seemed the way to be.

    That all-American bent was reinforced when we watched Captain America. Loved it! Solidly old school patriotism, the way it would have been in the original comic books, and a straight forward story line. In many ways, it made us think of another family favorite, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

    Rose and I also watched Tokyo Godfathers, both as a kick-off to the Christmas season and because Scott and I will be discussing it this week on A Good Story is Hard to Find. I forgot just how many funny moments this anime has ...

    Other movie watching included Monsters, which Rose had heard good things about and which I had on my list for some time. Sadly it struck us much like Schultze Gets the Blues ... potential and story idea were good but it needed other input (or something) because the story just meandered and nothing much really happened. The one thing that seemed quite clear was that it was an allegory about illegal immigration. Turns out that wasn't the intention of the British writer and director, but that doesn't matter because anyone living in Mexico or the southern U.S. is going to see it loud and clear. I did like the monsters. They were creative and fascinating. Hannah says that the way their life cycle was discussed was exactly the way something like that would happen and she also pointed out that it was a typical "invasive species" story. That's what happens when you watch things with Wildlife Management Sciences majors.

    The best movie of the weekend, though, was Gone Baby Gone. This was everything that critics said. Ben Affleck's directing was superb and surprising considering that it is the first movie he's directed. Casey Affleck's acting was subtle and right on target. The supporting cast was wonderful as well. The story was morally grounded and made me want to look for Dennis Lehane's books, as this was based on one of his. All round a wonderful movie.

    Tuesday, November 22, 2011

    Buffy vs. Edward Cullen



    I was never a Sarah Michelle Gellar fan so I just watched Angel instead.

    However, I may have to change my ways. (Because even whiny Slayers are better than twinkly vampires.)

    Via Frank Weathers, who saw it first.

    Monday, November 21, 2011

    Star Wars Subway Car



    Brilliant.

    Snapshot: Rose - Cook of the House

    I finally have a breather so I can do more than the minimum around here ... so I'll start by filling you in on the most significant change in the household lately.

    About three weeks ago, completely frazzled from our huge annual project which takes all waking hours, I assigned Rose the dinner duties for weekdays. She's home for a bit between graduation and heading off to L.A. to seek her fortune in film editing. Other than training the dogs to do tricks (three dogs now know "down", two also know "shake" and all are gradually coming to grips with "fetch), she's been whiling her time away reading Middlemarch and working on screenplay ideas.

    She likes to cook but hadn't been expecting this, which began with a phone call (as she reminded me the other day), "Check the freezer for things to use, but you've got to make dinner tonight. And the rest of the week."

    She rose nobly to the challenge. I don't remember what she pulled together for that evening, but she has been planning weekly meals that reminded me of the joy that can be had preparing and consuming meals when you go beyond the same old thing.

    I have to admit that  "same old thing" is what I'd been doing for too long. I believe that most people who are responsible for daily meals every day of the week will know what I'm talking about.

    Rose, however, faced different problems when in college. She had little time, little money, and few people to consume what she was interested in making. She has had all those deficits filled in our family where I give her my debit card, add my weekend cooking items to her grocery list, and where all four of us either appreciatively enjoy the meal OR laugh together over the failure of the recipe. I hasten to add that in each case the failure has definitely been in the recipe writing or testing, not in Rose's skill in cooking.

    The biggest change for me is that Rose's fearlessness in trying whatever looks interesting has rekindled my interest in cooking is returning to enjoying the process and experimenting more. It is becoming more of a joy than a chore.

    Also, I painlessly lost three pounds because Rose incorporates so many vegetables in every meal and I'm not tasting while cooking all the time. Something to take note of for my full-time return to the kitchen!

    I will be sharing some of the recipes that I've been trying and my favorites of those that Rose has served.

    First up, Burgers with Blue Cheese Mayo and Grilled Onions.

    Saturday, November 19, 2011

    Weekend Joke

    Thanks to Mark W. for this one!
    A young woman on a flight from Ireland asked the priest beside her, "Father, may I ask a favor?"

    "Of course child. What can I do for you?"

    "Well, I bought an expensive woman's electric hair dryer for my mother's birthday that is unopened and well over the Customs limits, and I'm afraid they'll confiscate it. Is there any way you could carry it through customs for me? Under your robes perhaps?"

    "I would love to help you, dear, but I must warn you: I will not lie."

    "With your honest face, Father, no one will question you."

    When they got to Customs, she let the priest go ahead of her. The official asked, "Father, do you have anything to declare?"

    "From the top of my head down to my waist, I have nothing to declare."

    The official thought this answer strange, so he asked, ""And what do you have to declare from your waist to the floor?"

    Priest answered, "I have a marvelous instrument designed to be used on a woman, but which is, to date, unused."

    Roaring with laughter, the official said, "Go ahead, Father... Next please!"

    Friday, November 18, 2011

    Mailbag: Publishing, Videos, and Voodoo

    From my inbox and worthy of your interest:

    Publishing
    • TAN BOOKS: It's the three year anniversary of Saint Benedict Press’ acquisition of the venerable TAN Books out of bankruptcy ... interesting article.
    • FREE CATHOLIC BOOKS, written by saints
    • FRANCISCAN MEDIA: "St. Anthony Messenger Press has changed its name to Franciscan Media. With its new name and branding efforts, Franciscan Media hopes to bring greater clarity to our Franciscan tradition and become more inspiring, innovative, and personally relevant in today’s marketplace." ... my comment: it's certainly easier to say in a hurry. Read about it here.
    • SOPHIA INSTITUTE PRESS: Sophia Institute Press announced Wednesday the acquisition of Catholic Exchange. I remember back in the day when Catholic Exchange was just about the only good place gathering together Catholic writers. They were ahead of their time. Read more here.
    Worth Watching
    • Eskimo Hallelujah Chorus ... charming, creative, and sweet ... they hold up the cards with the words while the music and singers provide the sound. Some of the very creative ways to display the cards really made me smile.
    • The Hunger Games ... the movie. Haven't read the book, but this looks great! (scroll down for the trailer)
    Pope & Voodoo Newswatch
    • BBC article wins the prize for how many times can an article force the word Voodoo into an article about the Pope going to Africa. Despite the pope never mentioning it once. I believe the article may have been commissioned by Dah Aligbonon.

    Every Blogger's Nightmare ... It's Funny Because It's True

    From the hilarious Doug Savage.

    High Praise, Indeed, for A Good Story is Hard to Find Podcast

    SFFaudio’s sister podcast, if there is such a thing, must be A Good Story Is Hard To Find. It’s like a slimmed down and Catholicized version of The SFFaudio Podcast. At the beginning of every show Scott and Julie describe the show as a podcast “where two Catholic friends talk about popular the books and movies they love, and the one reality we see beneath.” Now while I’m a bit suspicious of that “one reality” (especially after reading a Philip K. Dick story) I still love the show to bits. Scott and Julie, the participants, talk intelligently about great books and movies.
    Awww ... now that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. I love you too, buddy ... no kidding.

    It may help that our latest episode discusses one of Jesse's favorite books, Way Station by Clifford D. Simak. Jesse has lots of art posted from the original serialization of the book ... as well as a link to his review of it. Go and see!

    Wednesday, November 16, 2011

    Just When My Plan Was All Coming Together ...

    ... the catalog was ahead of schedule and I was going to have this weekend off and was assured of Thanksgiving weekend also.

    And then the client changed a very basic formatting issue in such a way that we are going to have to work on every page much more.

    Darn it!

    So, my very cursory blogging will have to continue. Thank you for your patience!

    Something I'm Reading ... Flunking Sainthood

    Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My NeighborFlunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor by Jana Riess

    The premise of this book is that the author was to try a different spiritual discipline every month. She failed at each, if I understand the back of the book (and the title) properly. However, it seemed an interesting read if for no other reason than to read her quotes from other sources and for her take on the various disciplines.

    I dipped into this a while back when I received it and found it an easy read but the author came off as really whiny (they call it wry, but whiny was my reaction, especially in March where she really, really did not like Brother Lawrence -- who I've always found rather endearing).

    Picking it up again, I decided to skip to the end to see if there was a worthwhile result and any hope that the whininess would lessen (however amusingly the whining might be couched). Definitely there is a big payoff ... and one that I can relate to. Therefore, I picked it up from March and am going to see if the other disciplines sit a bit better on the author. Perhaps encountering Brother Lawrence so early in the process was simply unfortunate for both the author and the book.

    More later ...

    Tuesday, November 15, 2011

    BLEG: Recommendations for a book about "offering it up?"

    The concept of offering one's suffering to God as a sacrifice was introduced last week at RCIA.

    It is never an easy concept, but one person in particular struggled with understanding it. A request was made for a book recommendation.

    I have no clue, people. At least about a book to help with this concept.

    Recommendations?

    Just as a source of further information, should someone be reading and wonder what the heck we're talking about, here are two previous posts of mine on the subject:

    Community benched ... scheduled "to return at some point..."

    Nooooooooooooooo!!!!!

    Say it ain't so!

    The Catechism Demystified

    This is a talk that I gave to our RCIA class last week. I'm sharing it here for anyone else who'd like a little help finding their way around the Catechism, which can be confusing but need not be.
    I am not an expert on the Catechism, but I do know how to use it.

    The Catechism can be a bit tricky to find your way around so I wanted to take just a couple of minutes to familiarize everyone with it.

    Let’s start with what the word catechism means. A catechism is a summary of principles.

    So, the Catholic Catechism is specifically designed as a reference guide. Some people call it the Catholic “rule book.” It is much more than that though.

    “In the Catechism, we see the wealth of teaching that the Church has
    received, safeguarded and proposed in her two thousand years of history. From Sacred Scripture to the Fathers of the Church, from theological masters to the saints across the centuries, the Catechism provides a permanent record of the many ways in which the Church has meditated on the faith and made progress in doctrine so as to offer certitude to believers in their lives of faith."

    That is what Pope Benedict says about the Catechism ... and he should know.

    The current Catechism was requested by Pope John Paul II and produced under Cardinal Ratzinger’s supervision. Cardinal Ratzinger is now Pope Benedict XVI.

    This Catechism is the first systematic synthesis of faith issued since the Council of Trent in 1566. Between then and now there were catechisms that were issued locally as various people saw the need.

    The English version of this catechism came out in 1994 and was revised in 1997, so this is really current.

    Think of it as the sort of encyclopedia from the days when all we had were books ... when you would sit down to look up facts about the moon and get pulled into other sections because they were so fascinating.

    Of course, when you have a two thousand year old institution whose goal is to help get us to Heaven, they don’t think quite the way we do about organization.

    The Catechism is arranged in four main sections that are often called the “Four Pillars” of the Faith:
    • The Profession of Faith (the Apostle’s Creed)
    • The Celebration of the Christian Mystery (the Sacred Liturgy, especially the sacraments)
    • Life in Christ (including The Ten Commandments in Catholic theology)
    • Christian Prayer (including The Lord’s Prayer)
    Numbering system:

    Let’s look at a page. (get pdf of sample page here)

    Every paragraph is numbered. (red circle) Those numbers are very important.

    When you look up something in the index, the numbers it refers you to are
    paragraph numbers, NOT page numbers. This can be confusing until you get used to it, but it does give us an idea of just how much information is packed into each paragraph.

    The numbers in the margins (green square) are cross-references ... to other paragraphs in the Catechism that refer to the same subject and may shed more light.

    The cross-reference paragraphs are a good reason to have the actual book. The Catechism is on-line in a lot of places (the Vatican’s web-site, the US Bishops’ website, etc.) and is super handy for searching. I use the online version all the time.

    But those versions don’t have the cross-reference paragraphs ... and sometimes those lead you to just what you were looking for or for added depth you wouldn’t have found otherwise.

    In Brief:

    The writers of the Catechism know that this may be more information than you wanted. Maybe you were looking for a simple answer and didn’t need all the extra info.

    Each chapter ends with an “In Brief” section that summarizes the main points of the chapter in one or two sentence paragraphs.

    Footnotes:

    Of course, there are are copious footnotes for both direct quotes in the text and also where they refer to sources of the teaching, in particular the Scriptures, the Church Fathers, and the Ecumenical Councils and other authoritative Catholic statements, such as those issued by recent Popes.

    Compendium

    Just finding your way to the correct “In Brief” answers may seem a bit daunting if you’re trying to find something quickly ... which is something I’ve experienced in our small group.

    And the writers of the Catechism realized that too.

    So, in 2005 they came out with the Compendium to the Catechism. (Download a sample page here.)

    It is a more concise and conversational version of the Catechism.

    Again the paragraphs are numbered. These paragraph numbers don’t have any relationship to the numbers in the Catechism.

    However, these numbers in the margin (red circle) DO correspond to numbers in the actual Catechism so if you want to read more, it is easy to find.

    EVEN EASIER

    Say you need more explanation though, and the Catechism is a bit too confusing. I’ve been there. Here are three good books. (Links lead to my reviews.)
    Surprised?

    For one thing, how can we trust these books though to tell us the truth about Catholic teachings?

    Two reasons.

    First, they all use those same, all-important paragraph numbers from the Catechism so that you can go check what they’re saying against the Catechism itself.

    There is a much easier way to be sure though.

    I didn’t trust these books myself ... until I saw that each went to the trouble of getting the Catholic seal of approval.

    Here’s what I mean by that.

    Look on the copyright page for one or more of these phrases (below). These mean that the book has been submitted to Catholic authorities to be checked for accuracy.

    If the author belongs to a religious order, the book is submitted to the order’s superior. If the author is just a regular writer, the book is usually submitted to local Catholic authorities, like the local diocese.

    In either case, first the book is examined by an expert, called a censor. If the book is accurate, they issue:
    Censor’s stamp: NIHIL OBSTAT (“nothing stands in the way”)
    After the Nihil Obstat has been obtained, the manuscript will be submitted another person for checking.

    In the case of a religious order, it is examined by the order’s religious superior ... in which case it receives the:
    Religious Superior’s stamp: IMPRIMI POTEST (“it can be printed”)
    I have only come across the Imprimi Potest once ... in The Catechism, which has Cardinal Ratzinger’s stamp of approval.

    In the case of the regular book given to the diocese, the manuscript would go from the censor to the bishop to receive the:
    Bishop’s stamp: IMPRIMATUR (“let it be printed”)
    The religious superior may also go ahead and submit the manuscript they approved for an Imprimatur. So it is possible to have a book with all three seals of approval.

    By the way, it is only necessary to put the Imprimi Potest or Imprimatur on the book. You can assume it has gotten a Nihil Obstat first if it made it to those two stages.

    Caution:

    A word of warning though ... if you see a book that only has a Nihil Obstat, be cautious. It may be in error. This happened in the 1960s a lot and some of those books contained incorrect material, even heretical material. You need the double-check system to be sure something didn’t slip by someone. That is why if one bishop gave the Nihil Obstat, another bishop has to give the Imprimatur.

    The Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur are often followed by this statement on the copyright page:

    The “Nihil Obstat” and “Imprimatur” are official declarations that a book or pamphlet is free of doctrinal or moral error. No implication is contained therein that those who have granted the Nihil Obstat and the Imprimatur agree with the content, opinions or statements expressed.

    So if one of these authors has all theCatholic truths right but is using them to try to prove that we shouldn’t drink hot coffee because it’s the devil’s temperature ... we can’t blame the Catholic Church.

    FINALLY

    Remember those footnotes in the Catechism? The ones for materials that are simply referenced, where they might have summarized twelve pages of a Church Council document into two sentences?

    If you ever wonder just what was summarized, there’s a book for that too.

    The Companion to the Catechism of the Catholic Church ... which is a compendium of texts referred to in the book but not quoted there.

    It has every word of the pertinent part of the originally referenced materials, in English, so you don’t have to go all over the place looking for something.

    It is almost 1,000 pages long and is really fascinating and enlightening if you want to see it all from original sources.

    Just imagine if all this material had been included in the Catechism.

    That would’ve been a book no one would have wanted to open.

    It makes the Catechism not look so big after all, does it?