Sunday, December 13, 2009

Practicing Advent

Today is the third Sunday of Advent. Perhaps now, only two weeks after I installed it, is the time to thank the Curt Jester for the very nice Advent wreath graphic and counter he provided free to anyone. It's nicer to open someone's blog and see "12 praying days till Christmas" than to look at a newspaper and see "12 shopping days till Christmas".

When I was a child, I didn't know anything about Advent. The only time I ever heard of it was to see, once or twice, Advent calendars in this little mail order catalogue we got a few times. There was a little "letter from our customers" type testimonial from someone thanking them for carrying them, saying she'd fondly remembered Advent calendars from her youth but had been unable to find them for years. So I knew that this "new", Christmas-related thing I'd never heard of before had been around for a while, but I still didn't know what it was. (In recent years, I've come across a few articles saying that some evangelical Christians are starting to incorporate the liturgical calendar into their religious life, so between that and the Internet, maybe little children today won't be as ignorant as I was.)

Now, as an adult and a convert to Catholicism, I know what Advent is and participate in it to some extent (translation: in my own lazy, half-arsed way.) I had some notion back in the summer about making a Jesse tree or two (one to give away), but I never got around to it. I really like the idea of Jesse trees for helping to teach children about salvation history, and there are some good resources online for making them. I like the Domestic Church's pages here and here, but you can easily find more elsewhere: try here, here, and here for starters. But like festive Christmas decorations, it just seems kind of sad and pointless to do this only for myself.

Advent is generally considered the start of the liturgical year, when we sort of mentally put ourselves back into the time when the Messiah was still expected and not yet come. So it seems to me (maybe not to anyone else) that it might be a good time to make spiritual new year's resolutions. But I'm pretty used to the Christmas Day to New Year's Day thinking-about-resolutions thing, so I never got around to that either.

A couple of other ideas fell through as well, so Advent celebration for me so far has pretty much come down to a little extra reading and using a little purple on my blog. :-/ I've many times heard of Catholics selecting some spiritual books for "Lenten reading", so why not Advent reading? The Advent reading I decided on was Isaiah and Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ. The book of Isaiah is an obvious scriptural choice, and The Case for Christ, which I first heard of from Jen at Conversion Diary, is a pretty good choice too; it'd make a fine Christmas gift.

Maybe the rest of Advent will hold a little more prayer and meditation on the Messiah, and a sacrifice or two. Or maybe I'll just dig out a purple scarf to wear to church.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Random Thoughts

A bumpersticker I'd like to see: Honk if you're not paying attention.


When a hypocrite blasts you for the bad behavior he himself blithely commits, his hypocrisy doesn't make his criticism of your behavior any less deserved.


I wonder if people whose names begin with an F are statistically less likely to buy clothing emblazoned with their initial than people whose names begin with an A. Someone should do a study.


The correct term for "pro-choice Catholic" is Protestant.


Is it any wonder American public school students can't do math or read very well, when American teachers in recent decades have spent so much time fretting about whether the effect of crayon color names like Indian Red and Prussian Blue.


I believe in freedom for individuals, families, and private businesses, so I don't hold with intrusive, pettifogging rules. But if I did and if I could make these rules myself, I assure you "no Christmas decorations or sales displays in October" would be on the list.


I think if the government really cared about reducing energy use there'd be a public service campaign every autumn encouraging people to gain weight for winter. At least outside the Deep South.


Babies are born without habits. Since every habit we have is acquired, any habit can be changed or eliminated.


Re the Gap's "Dowhateveryouwannakah" ad, urging us "you 86 the rules, you do what just feels right": What feels right to me is not to shop at the Gap.


If I were marketing a dictionary, I'd put wrapping on the outside that says "Find meaning(s) within."


We live in a society that has replaced Advent with "X shopping until Christmas". Does anyone actually think we're better off for having done this?


Monday, September 21, 2009

A Representative of the Kingdom

I heard an anecdote from my mother a while back. A preacher she knows said he went out of his house in an especially good mood one morning, and while he was on the way wherever he was going, he got behind a car that had a bumpersticker that said "Honk If You Love Jesus!" Being in a good mood and, as a minister, loving Jesus, he honked. Whereupon everyone in the car--the woman driving and her small children--all turned around and flipped him off.

He said it flattened his mood so much he turned around and went home.

People, this isn't the way to represent the body of Christ. When you identify yourself in public as a Christian,you become a representative of Christianity and thus of Christ. Flipping people off is bad PR.

When you slap a Jesus bumpersticker on your car, wear a tee-shirt with Christian slogans or graphics, or hang a big cross around your neck, you are proclaiming yourself a Christian, just the same as if you loudly announced, "I am a Christian" to all and sundry. Some of the people who see or hear your proclamation may not be familiar with Christianity or with the particular subgroup of Christianity you are a part of (if your announcement was, say, an XYZ Church Annual Picnic tee-shirt). Other of the people who see your proclamation may have a prior inclination to think negatively of Christians. So here you come saying "Honk If You Love Jesus" or "Follow Me to Church" and you proceed to act like a jackass. Which gives people in the former category a negative impression of Christians (or Christians of XYZ branch) and gives people in the latter group confirmation of their tendency to think badly of all Christians. Was that really what you wanted to do when you bought the bumpersticker?

Here's why I think this is going to become even more important than it used to be.

When you go somewhere you and your kin or kind are not much known, you become a representative of your group, like it or not. People in minority groups know this. Natalie Goldberg once wrote of going into a rural, Midwestern classroom and telling the kids she was Jewish; none of them knew anyone Jewish, so she figured that now she represented Jewish people to them--she was eating an apple, therefore all Jews eat apples sort of thing. Christians in America and perhaps especially in the Bible Belt have had the luxury of being in the majority for a long time. Even now something like 89 percent or more Americans self-identify as being at least nominally Christian. But that's going to change and do so sooner and faster than we are going to find comfortable. I'm not referring to immigrants from historically non-Christian parts of the world changing the demographics of our country. Already a lot of citizens who tick Christian subgroup XYZ or ABC on forms that ask religion could be more accurate by checking "other" and writing in "secularist who sometimes uses XYZ facilities for weddings and funerals and may bring out a manger scene tree ornament at Christmas". Throw in a little mild persecution and a great many of those people will fall away. And some of the people who remain will be people committed to redefining Christianity as something historically unrecognizable.

This means that practicing Christians will more and more often run into people who have never met a practicing Christian and have formed their view of the faith based almost wholly on the mockery of contemporary comedians and the vilification of our enemies. What you, as a known practicing Christian, do and say before such a person will either reinforce the negative opinion they've taken from pop culture or will be a witness against the caricature. Given that we're supposed to evangelize, which is better?

My point here is not to point fingers, but to point out the responsibility we take on when we display symbols that identify us as Christians. I've never worn any of those smarmy Christian tee-shirts that some people wear because I don't like them, but if I ever found one I liked, I would be reluctant to wear it in public, because it would make me feel under a greater obligation to mind myself. I do frequently wear a modest-sized Marian medal and I would hate it if I ever spoke nastily to someone or hit my shin and let out a stream of profanity and then had the people who witnessed this notice my medal; their seeing my behavior and thinking I am a jerk is one thing, their seeing my behavior and thinking Christians are jerks is another thing. I know I would hate this scenario because I let something like it happen once. (So if there were a finger pointing, it would have to point at me as well.)

Some years back I noticed myself getting angry while driving more and more often and I didn't like it. So, although I've never liked things dangling from rearview mirrors, when I got a free plastic rosary in the mail, I decided to hang it from my rearview mirror as a reminder to remember Jesus and not get angry and mutter bad things about other drivers. And it worked pretty well for weeks. Then I lost my temper worse than I ever had while driving.

I had to go pick up some medicine or something at Wal-mart and, unfortunately this was on the day before a hurricane might or might not hit us, and it was afternoon. Leaving the store after having suffered through the crowd inside, I ended up in the most godawful snarl of parking lot traffic likely to be seen in a small town. After what seemed like ages of this and escape to a less congested area seemed nigh, I witnessed a bit of what I took to be insane driving and someone nearly hit me, and I flipped out and did something I'd never before done while driving: angrily thrust two upturned fingers toward my window, while shouting the air blue.

But there's Jesus. Before I had even calmed down, I was overcome with remorse: Suppose they saw the rosary dangling from my mirror and thought all Catholics act like this? I felt horrible about it. Now, maybe it would be a finer thing to say I thought only of the wrongness of the act itself or of how sin hurts Jesus, rather than how I might have created a negative impression of my group of Christians. But if I were pure of heart, I probably wouldn't have snapped like that in the first place, and the results were good: my little bout of road rage ended, I became a much calmer driver for years after, and I found myself glancing over at my little plastic depiction of Jesus quite often.

And that's the good part of displaying symbols of our faith on or about our person: they make us think of God more often. The "bad" part of course is that they require we take on a responsibility to act as representatives of our faith; it's harder to hide when we're wearing a sign. And maybe that's a good part too.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Little Round-Up

In my last post I mentioned that I occasionally peek at John C. Wright's blog, which I found a few months back. I am not a regular reader and I haven't read back into his archives, but every time I visit his blog I find something interesting. Mr. Wright is a convert to Catholicism from atheism, as well as a writer of sf, and he writes about religious and moral issues, philosophy, sf/fantasy, with frequent mentions of his wife, She Who Must Be Obeyed. (Their "wedding photos" moved me deeply. From this and other posts, I now know that where I went wrong as a bride was in allowing misbegotten notions of male equality to prevent me from building a Pit O' Doom in front of my throne--in fact, I confess with head hung down that I even neglected to build an awe-inspiring throne. Result? One uppity husband. Listen and learn, ye maidens that have ears to hear.) His posts have made me think, made me laugh, or at least provided mild entertainment. Would that every blogger could provide half as much bang per visit.

Maybe if I were bigger on philosophy, I might visit more often, but I pretty much gave up on voluntary reading of philosophy in my mid-teens, when I decided it was all "mental masturbation", then decided that term was fun to say, and didn't miss a chance to say it for five or six years.

Another blog I like to look at sometimes these days is also written by an atheist convert to Catholicism: Jennifer Fulwiler's Conversion Diary. Mrs. Fulwiler blogs about religion, especially trying to put religious principles into practice in our everyday lives, and about young mother type stuff. Also scorpions. I mostly read the religion stuff.

I actually first saw Conversion Diary last winter when I saw an article by Fulwiler on how she became pro-life and clicked on the link to her blog at the end for a very brief visit. I didn't visit again until this summer. I can't remember where I saw that article, but I think it was pretty much the same as this blog post. If you've ever wondered how an intelligent, free-thinking, normal human female could possibly go so far wrong as to align herself with the pro-life crowd, read this post.

That first Cul de Sac collection I mentioned recently, Cul de Sac: This Exit, I got and read this past week. Good stuff, although not as good as Calvin & Hobbes. (That's called praising with faint damnation, BTW.) Uncle Pookie liked it less well. He expressed annoyance that Alice's parents don't explain things often enough, leaving her confused about many things. I argued that confusion is a pretty normal state for a four year old, even ones who don't have parents like mine who hold that children shouldn't ask questions because "children should be seen and not heard"; because there's just so very much seemingly basic stuff left to learn when you are four. Uncle Pookie also called Miss Bliss an idiot and asserted that "Alice deserves better". I didn't exactly argue against that, but I'll leave my comments on that for another time; I don't need hate mail from people in early education right now.

I finally got around to watching The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Excellent movie. It's a cliche to say this, but there's something for everyone--John Wayne, romance, action, political drama, a man trying to live up to his ideals, some good minor characters, and thought-provoking stuff about what it takes to settle a frontier and how we get and keep law and order. As to the question of which character is more attractive as a romantic partner, John Wayne's or Jimmy Stewart's, I have to say it is very, very close, but Tom Doniphon (John Wayne's character) nudges out Ransome Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart's) for me. It's a slight thing. They are both attractive characters. Tom Doniphon is tough and well-suited to frontier life. He's tall and manly. Plus he's played by John Wayne. Ransome Stoddard is a man of integrity, committed to his ideals, willing to stand up for law and order when it is awfully hard to do so, honest, and learned. Whereas Tom Doniphon is unafraid of Liberty Valance because he knows himself to be as tough or tougher, Ransome Stoddard (like most of us would be) is terrified of Liberty Valance when he goes out into that street to face him and yet he never backs down. That is very attractive in a man. (Or anyone else.) What puts Tom Doniphon slightly ahead for me is the way he puts his love interest's happiness ahead of his own when he lets Ransome take credit for killing Liberty Valance. It may not be the most noble thing ever done, but I think it is noble.

Question for anyone who's seen this movie: Do you think Liberty Valance was really dead already when the doctor declared him dead? Valance was scum and the doctor clearly knew that as well as anyone in town. When they turned Valance over for the doctor to look at, he barely looked at him. I think there may have been a little life fast draining away within him, and the doctor just didn't want to spend time on futile treatment of a man most people would agree needed killing.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering 9/11 and "Psychological Comfort"

Today is the day we all remember (I hope) the Islamofascist terrorist attacks on the United States of America on 9/11/01. I will never willingly forget, although remembering is very unpleasant.

I remember what I was doing that morning when I found out, and all the rest of the day to boot. I remember what I did the night before: I went to my first RCIA meeting; when we walked into the next Monday's meeting, it felt as if the whole world had changed.

This year I once again prayed for the souls of the victims of those murderous attacks. I do not recall if I ever prayed for the souls of their murderers--I guess I figured they chose hell when they deliberately targeted innocent civilians for murder and were willing to die with that sin on their heads--but I did and have prayed for the souls of living terrorists and would-be terrorists. I do this because the religion I was moving toward at the time of the 9/11 attacks and am now part of requires it.
Today John C. Wright (whose blog I peek at occasionally, after having found it a few months ago), commenting on someone who sneeringly dismissed Christian faith as "psychologically comforting", says that
"...I would hesitate to call the conversion experience psychologically
comforting. Indeed, very much the opposite is the case: unlike my atheist self
of yore, I am now beholden to a higher authority, who pins me to a standard of
thought and deed very much against my nature and inclination."

Just so. I find nothing comforting or comfortable about praying for my enemies--whether terrorists who murder my countrymen or an arrogant coworker or someone who's threatened my family. I find nothing comfortable in reading a newspaper article about some disgusting child molester and being forced to consider that that person (someone even the very murders, thieves, and rapists in prison revile!) is a fellow child of God, whom Jesus died to save no less than he died to save me, and that I should pray for the person's repentance and reform. It is against my nature and my inclination. I don't like it and I don't want to do it.

Mr. Wright talks about trying to "obey the call to be charitable, loving, longsuffering, meek". I don't want to do any of that, except to be loving to my husband, and I probably fail at that as much as I do all the other stuff that I don't even want to try in the first place. But it's required, so I make my sporadic, grudging attempts at Christian virtue. And I don't find it comfortable to have to go into a confessional and name my failures aloud to another human being (much easier somehow to say in the privacy of my mind "God, I'm sorry I messed up" and leave it at that!), but it's required of me, so I do it, albeit less frequently than I should.

And I don't do these things just because I voluntarily joined this religion and my personal integrity demands that I follow its rules. I do it because I will have to answer to a higher authority than myself.

The part of the Narnia books that I keep coming back to is one that I think the books themselves repeated: Aslan is not a tame lion. I think that the real One whom Aslan is a fictionalized version of is also not a tame One. I think that He is not only "gentle Jesus, meek and mild", but the One who chased the moneylenders out of the temple with a whip, who came to bring not peace but a sword, who came to set a son against his father and a daughter against her mother. Demons feared him, and He defeated Satan with the shedding of his holy blood. One day I will have to stand before him. If you have less cause to tremble in that circumstance, then I am glad for you now, but I doubt I'll have room to give it a thought then. I have reason to tremble. Even leaving aside the thought of His fearsome justice, I don't know how I could ever raise my eyes to the presence of so much goodness.

Fortunately, my religion also teaches that He is merciful to those who seek his mercy. I hope that my nation turns from immorality and seeks his mercy. I hope that all of the victims of terrorist attacks around the world have found his mercy. I also hope--though it comes far less naturally for me--that would-be terrorists will seek his mercy before they die, expecting a reward for their murders. There is a prayer for enemies in a little Catholic prayerbook I have that desires of God that we may be saved souls together in heaven with our enemies; considering some of the jerks I've known in my own unadventurous life, let alone terrorists, that is a line hard not to choke over, but such is my faith.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Cul de Sac

In the movie The Iron Giant, there's a scene where the young boy, staying up late to eat junk food and watch scary scifi movies on TV, hears a large crash and thinks aliens have landed. He excitedly equips himself with supplies--a toy gun and a flashlight featured largely in this--and bounded out of the house to investigate. At this point, Uncle Pookie leaned over in the dark of the movie theater to whisper to me, "That's OUR child!"

Earlier this summer, I discovered the fairly new comic strip Cul de Sac and made it part of my morning read. Soon after I found it there was a strip in which four year-old Alice, who enjoys dancing on the manhole cover near her house, begs a scarf of her mother so she can run around waving it. Final panel has her, scarf tied around her face like someone in a Western, holding up her little friend Dill, who insists there's "no such thing as a bandit ballerina." Alice: "Then I'm the first! Stop and admire my dancing or I'll blow out your tires!" At which I exclaimed, "That's OUR daughter!"

Since then I've seen the YouTube video called "The Talking Stick", which gave me a similar reaction and seen a few other strips that reinforced the idea that Alice Otterloop is a fairly good approximation of what Uncle Pookie's and my DNA mixed together into a female child might look like, especially if said child took a bit more after Daddy than Mommy. It's not perfect, of course--neither of us were tantrum-throwing types, for instance, which is lucky as neither of us had mothers who would have put up with it, and I for one was a disgustingly obedient child and well-behaved, unless you count occasional grouchiness as misbehavior. (Yes, thank goodness you grew out of that, I hear someone murmuring.) But it's fairly close, and the strip overall is a good one.

Bill Watterson (creater of Calvin & Hobbes, for which blessings be upon him) wrote years ago that, while there'd been a lot of strips about little boys and childhood as seen by little boys, it still remained for us to have a strip on childhood as lived by a little girl. Reading Cul de Sac made me think this might be the one Watterson was talking about, or pretty close, so I was all the more pleasantly surprised to learn Watterson had written the introduction to the first Cul de Sac collection. I haven't bought it yet, but I think it's going to be in my next Amazon purchase.

It's a very good strip. Thompson has an interesting drawing style, a good sense of humor, and an eye for great little details, like how odd it is for small children when they notice their parents called by other names for the first time or how impressed little kids can be by things teenagers and adults ignore, like a shopping cart in a drainage ditch or the awesome responsibilities held by a teenager with a cool job like cart pusher. Thompson also has some non-cookie cutter characters too--for instance, how many eight-year old neurotics (Alice's older brother Petey) are there in comics? Petey encounters some weird kids his own age. And adorable little Dill, who's a bit eccentric himself, has a pack of never-seen older brothers whose exploits lend excitement to the strip.

You really want to give this strip a try.

As long as we're near the subject, my favorite little girl character in comic strips before Alice Otterloop and aside from the supporting character of Susie Derkins in Calvin & Hobbes, was Carmen in Prickly City. Carmen is a cute-as-a-button, little libertarian Republican who hangs out with a coyote called Winslow, but the strip's not in the running to be one of the ones Watterson was talking about, as it is a political strip, rather than being about childhood. It fell out of my small morning comic read about the time of the Democratic National Convention last year, victim of the election fatigue I was feeling pretty keenly by then, but it's a fun little strip. You can read it here.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Smart Kids, Depictions of

I have a near lifelong grievance with television depictions of intellectually gifted children. Leaving aside the frequent assumption that such children are always desperate to be "normal", what really galls me is the lazy, unthinking depiction of such children and teenagers as loving school. No exceptions--they all love it, just LOVE it! I guess that's why these hyper-intelligent TV children all do loads and loads of studying so that they can get their good grades! (Yeah, right; as a bumpersticker I once saw says, "My dog was student of the year at the local government school.")

In real life intellectually gifted children often despise school, because they are bored there. Hideously, hideously bored. A topic is introduced, said child grasps it, and then has to sit through days of having it expounded upon. Child's reading level is twelfth grade, child still has to suffer through the same fourth grade reading materials as everyone else. Child is ready for deeper explanations of causes behind historical events, child gets the same simplistic summing-up and "memorize this date" as the other children. Elementary school vocabulary tests give him words he picked up on his own a year or two before, and high school literature class has him read books he read on his own several years before. Result? Child spends the better part of twelve years bored out of his skull.

But for some reason smart children on TV always love going to school and have to do lots of studying, else how would they get those As.

I always used to think I wanted to see a depiction of just one highly intelligent child who didn't like school--just one. Still hasn't happened as far as television goes (the closest would be Malcolm in the Middle, but I never got the sense the eponymous character hated school, only hated being put into the gifted program--filled, needless to say, with kids who love school, just LOVE it), but last year it finally happened in another category of popular media--comic strips.

The new-to-me strip Frazz (launch date 2001) is named for a janitor-songwriter character who looks suspiciously like a grown-up Calvin (of Calvin & Hobbes) and features a highly intelligent child character who looks suspiciously like an eight year-old, black Calvin. Caulfield is refreshing because, as any thinking person who isn't a sitcom writer would expect of such a child, he is bored in school. He whiles away the time with drawing the Mona Lisa in his standardized test score capsules and pulling stunts on people, such as giving his race as "Callipygian", something I swear I'm going to start doing! Luckily for him, he has Frazz to talk to and play with.

Glad as I was finally to see a character like Caulfield, I find I just don't like the strip much. I put it on my daily read list (morning means news headlines and two to three comic strips) but soon took it off. There's too much about Frazz's exercise hobbies (he's a cyclist, like Calvin's dad) and it sometimes seems as if there's a moral superiority vibe coming off the strip, directed downward to people who don't exercise. I don't think I'm imagining it, but even if I am, in my non-exercising (yet still callipygian!) inferiority, deluded, the fact still remains that I'd rather be reading about Caulfield than Frazz's exercise routine. Still, I give the author, Jeff Mallett, credit for doing something new with his strip.

More later about another new (once again, only new to me) comic strip I like.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Our Days Are Numbered (Arbitrarily)

Numerology claims that days have numbers which give them vibrational energy that can affect things in certain ways. But the numbers that days are assigned are based on our calendar and calendars are (mostly) arbitrary. When you give the day's numerology number any credence, you are privileging our calendar above other calendars--a grossly imperialistic act, to be sure! Moreover, as it's all arbitrary anyway, why not just assign your own personal numbers to the day? Let every day have your lucky number, or assign days particular numbers as you think you need them. To those who would claim that the beliefs of millions who use that calendar give strength to the assigning of date numbers derived from that calendar, I would say that surely your beliefs about the day's number have more effect on your day than the beliefs of anyone else.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Random Thoughts


I think some American Christians would be surprised to learn the message of Christianity is not "Love thyself".


If we knew that we had only X number of times to go to mass and receive the Eucharist before we are prevented by physical infirmity, an oppressive political regime, or what have you, we would never want to miss mass and its chance of receiving grace in that way.


I don't think it's not a good sign for our society that the word "lover" has become quaint.


Maybe there would be less taking of God's name in vain if, every time someone used "Jesus Christ" as a swear word around Christians, they responded with "Blessed be his name forever!"


I think DYI stands for Do Yourself In, which is either the term for DIYing things that shouldn't be DIYed or the socialized medicine promoters' advice to old people. You know, either one of those or it's just a typo for DIY.


It would be well if more Americans devoted less time to seeking to have the most prestigious logos on their consumer goods and more time seeking the Logos.

(Just because that sounds like my contribution to the smarmy Christian tee-shirt industry--"Less concern about logos, more about the Logos"; "Fewer logos, more Logos"--doesn't make it any less true.)


Uncle Pookie: "Should we think it's strange that the demons of sloth and laziness are very active?"

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Quote of the Past Week

Last weekend I was finishing up The Return of Don Quixote and found this:

It seems to be a sign of education first to take a thing for granted and then to
forget to see if it is still there. Weapons are a very good working example. The
man says he won't go on wearing a sword because it is no longer any good against
a gun. Then he throws away all the guns as relics of barbarism; and then he is
surprised when a barbarian sticks him through with a sword.

The whole rest of the paragraph this is taken from is interesting, but I'll stop there.

Religion would be another good working example of what the character I've quoted was saying. The educated modern long ago threw out religion as a relic of a superstitious past, and he is now surprised when people within his own culture still claim to hold to it and when people in other cultures do things that seem actually to be motivated by it. (Including running him through with a sword.) The idea of there really being such a thing as good and evil is something else some of our more enlightened moderns have thrown out, along with sexual morality and notions of honor, sexual chivalry, and reserve.

Oh, and let's not forget the idea of there being differences in the sexes: the educated modern has for a generation taken it for granted that the only sex differences are ones inculcated by oppressive cultures and so they must be falling away rapidly as we all grow more educated. Then is surprised when the little boys around him like knocking over block towers as much as building them, the college girls are more likely to respond poorly to binge drinking and one-night stands than their male counterparts, and the women he knows often wish they could stay home to raise their babies while the men he knows may not take paternity leave even if their employers offer it. What on earth could be going on?

But back to the book. The Return of Don Quixote is a short novel with an interesting premise: Some young people on an English estate are putting on a play set in the Middle Ages and come up one actor short. They ask the slightly obsessive, otherworldly librarian, an expert on some obscure Hittite subgroup, to fill in. He sets to by first researching the Middle Ages with scholarly zeal, then plays the part, and afterward refuses to take his costume off, because he's realized how much better medieval clothes were, in many respects, to modern ones. It all leads improbably to a return of the Middle Ages movement in England, which clashes with a trades union uprising (or sitting down), and to both the creation of romantic interests and their entanglements. I don't think I'm giving away too much if I say that all the Jacks shall have their Jills and, even if things do go ill in some wise, all shall be well.

It's all very Chestertonian and the only problem is I kind of wish someone else had written it, even though I don't know who else could have. Much as I love Chesterton's sprightly essays, I just don't like his fiction much. I know Father Brown is much beloved and for a writer to make any character that is still around after a century is an achievement not to be sniffed at, but I'm still not a fan. Father Brown makes good points in his stories, but I don't enjoy the stories. Innocent Smith (Manalive) is a great idea for a character, yet he remains more idea than character. The Flying Inn is a good idea for a story and I am sometimes reminded of part of it while reading the newspaper, but it never really came alive for me. The fictional work of his I like the best, The Napoleon of Notting Hill, has a proto-gamer as a minor character, a good idea for a book at its heart, and actually made me laugh out loud once--and yet I wouldn't call it a great novel. All of his fiction seems to suffer from a carelessness about details, and the characters often don't seem to live.

Somewhere in her Misanthrope's Corner columns, Florence King said she finally realized she couldn't write fiction because she cared more about what her characters thought than what they did. Reading The Return of Don Quixote, I found myself wondering if that was Chesterton's problem. He cared very much about what people think and spent a lot of time arguing in his essays and newspaper columns that what people think about the big subjects--God, life, death, love, war, sex, marriage, family, religion--is important and can't be dismissed with a bland, "Oh, well, it doesn't really matter, we all think the same" or never talked about because it's both vulgar and not really of as much consequence as having the correct opinion of "lawn art" or Andrew Lloyd Webber. This mindset may have helped his delightful essays, but I don't think it helped his fiction.

Most good fiction has a moral component so what a character thinks about the big things does matter and of course it goes without saying that, in even the most frivolous fiction, what the character thinks about other characters or the silly mess he's gotten himself into matters, but we don't go to fiction for philosophy, we go for a story. Things have to happen, it's better if they happen to well-rounded people we can remember afterward, and the things should mostly make sense. If an author is more interested in his characters' philosophies than in anything else about them, he's probably not going to flesh them out as much for the reader. If an author is mostly interested in contrasting how different characters think or in the interesting idea he had about a social situation or some such, he may get careless about details in his rush to get to the parts that interest him. In that flesh-out and in some of those details lie much of the appeal of the story we came for; in other of the details are the shots of realism necessary for us to buy the improbable bits. You can't use hand-wavium to explain away a major social revolution happening in a matter of a few weeks; it's not even a good way to go from no romance to romance.

But I'm just thinking out loud here. I don't really know why I find Chesterton's fiction less satisfying than you'd think I would. He had some good ideas, but the execution left something to be desired, which I can't pin down.

Never mind, I still have his nonfiction to love and, having joined the Church he loved, I can picture him in Heaven (or speeding his way through purgatory to get there, but I like to think he's St. Gilbert, however unofficially), and ready to pray for me or you if we ask. And if any Chesterton fans want to defend his fiction to me by pointing to the endurance of Father Brown or saying that The Man Who Was Thursday has never been out of print (as I think I heard was the case) or even demanding whether I can do better, I shall only take off my hat to that person and bow with a flourish. Or so I would do if I were male. Ladies do not remove their hats for such reason; perhaps I'll curtsy and say "touch'e", which sexually confused response [sings "I'm a happy fella-girly"] should give the speaker enough pause that I can wander off and find a book to read.

Incidentally, if this notion that caring more about what characters think than what they do causes trouble in fiction-writing is correct and if that was a problem of Chesterton's, then the Chesterton book I'm currently reading, The Ball and the Cross, may prove an exception. The two main characters are a committed atheist and a believing Catholic who keep trying to have a duel and keep getting interrupted. I'm not far in, but I think caring more about what the characters think than what they do may work for him in this one, since the whole point of the story is the clash of genuine beliefs.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Reflections on the Psalms

The Psalms have been called the prayer book of the Church and a nice little introduction to them is Reflections on the Psalms by C. S. Lewis, which I read a month or so ago. Lewis does a good job of talking to the reader about things in the Psalms that might seem odd to modern Gentiles--cursings and anger (in a holy work?!) or the idea of God's law being sweet.

The most notable chapter, to my mind, was the chapter on praising. Lewis said that when he was on the cusp of Christianity the repeated exhortations of some Christians to praise God was one of the more hard to understand things for him. Why praise? Why would an omnipotent being care if he were praised or not? After a couple of brief bits on this, he shares the realization that came to him: that the everyday world is full of praise and that, in a sense, our enjoyment is not complete until we praise. When we see a movie we love, what do we do as soon as it's over? We turn to the people we saw it with and say, "That was great! Didn't you love that part where X happened?" If we talk to a friend or coworker who hasn't seen it, we say, "It was great, you have to go see it." If we have a good meal, it almost isn't complete until we express our enjoyment verbally. Most of us love the chance to praise a family member, even if it's only to outsiders and not to the person himself. And people who are healthy in mind and spirit are even more apt to praise than others; they will not stint their praise of something good in parts because it was not perfect in all.

But Lewis says all of this better than I do. Check it out. I found this book at my public library, but it's available inexpensively at Amazon in a paperback with a pretty cover, as well as in an audiobook download. I would recommend this book as a gift for nearly anyone. Being composed of short, more or less stand-alone type chapters, I should think it would suit people who don't read much, and it might be a good corrective to anyone who, never having read much of it, assume the Bible is full of Precious Moments moments.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Emboldening Our Enemies

Earlier today, when I mentioned to Uncle Pookie that Scotland has freed the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing because he has prostate cancer (see here), UP remarked that, "It would be funny if he came back as a suicide bomber. What does he have to lose?" Good question. A dying man has less to fear from a suicide mission than a healthy man, and any man might prefer going out in a blaze of what he considers glory to lingering in a hospital bed. Even John Wayne, playing an old gunfighter in The Shootist, preferred provoking a gunfight and dying in it to dying of prostate cancer.

And if he should get caught before he could carry out his suicide bombing, what of that? He would know that the last time he was convicted of terrorism by a Western nation he only had to serve less than three months per person for the people he killed (not to mention nothing for the property damage he caused), and that in the relatively cushy confines of a British prison. Why worry about that?

We in the West should worry. We've just sent the message that we consider the lives of our civilian populations to be of so little worth, that we see no reason for outsiders who murder us to get a full three months per murder in prison. I sure feel safer knowing that.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ever Notice...?

It is a truth almost universally acknowledged among contemporary people that some groups--teenagers, college students, poor people, Africans--simply can not be expected to have the kind of self-control necessary to refrain from sex. They are simply not capable of it. Everyone knows that. And yet, when we bring our attention down from groups to individuals, suddenly everyone is capable of it, especially if they're individuals with whom we are romantically involved. No woman says of her husband, when she finds out he's had an affair, "Oh, well, I guess it was unrealistic of me to expect him to keep his pants zipped." No young man seeing his girlfriend off on a weekend trip reminds her to take along some condoms in case she meets someone and just can't control herself.

We feel perfectly free to expect self-control from the individuals around us, but we deem it naive to expect self-control from certain groups.

Last time I checked, groups were made up of individuals.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Leading Men--A Sad Progression?

Last year I found myself remembering a fluff piece from one of those women's magazines I read back in the eighties, in which the author pointed out that the previous generation or two's manly leading men, like Clark Gable, had given away to perpetually boyish leading men, like Matthew Broderick. And I wondered if she'd been onto something and there really was a progression--from manly men to boyish men, and now from boyish men to Topher Grace and that kid from Juno.

Don't get me wrong, I like Topher Grace (he was great in That Seventies Show, he was fine in In Good Company, and it wasn't his fault Spiderman III was a flop) and if I were a very young girl, I might very well want to cosy up to that supremely non-threatening boy in Juno. But, let's be honest, neither of these actors have very manly onscreen personas. Both are physically scrawny, Topher Grace plays awkwardness like a fiddle, and the central fact of that Juno boy is that he is non-threatening. Heck, the girl's father's response to finding out who was the father of his daughter's baby was to say in surprise that he never would have thought the boy had had it in him. How many teenage boys can you say that about? And did you notice how I instinctively switched to a more passive voice when I referred to the pregnancy? This is not a kid you say "got someonely pregnant" or "knocked a girl up"; he's too passive for that. Superhero and action movies aside, it almost seems as if the passive male is the new ideal.
This morning, unable to sleep, I check The Corner and what do I see, but Kathryn Lopez posting that "Jay Marini, who watches [The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance] with groups frequently, explaining that young women increasingly like the Jimmy Stewart character, Ransom Stoddard, whereas women used to go for the Wayne character, Tom Doniphon." Jimmy Stewart normally played good guys, but preferring him to John Wayne--well, that doesn't sound right. Not in general, or based on what I've heard about the movie. Jonah Goldberg came in with a suggestion that it might be understandable for women to prefer Stewart's character to Wayne's: "Ransom Stoddard (Stewart) is honest, heroic, compassionate and principled. No, he's not as well-suited to frontier life as John Wayne, but John Wayne is not as well-suited to the rule of law and civilization. "

Well, now I have to watch The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. I've actually been meaning to watch it for a long time, but like that big westerns-viewing marathon I keep saying I'm going to do, I've been fairly content in my ongoing procrastination. But now I have to know which Liberty Valance character is more attractive, so I'm going to be driven to getting off my duff to procure a DVD and getting on my duff to watch it. I hope they're happy with what inconvenience they've wrought upon me. [grumble, grumble]

The weird thing here is that I don't know which character I will find more attractive. Jimmy Stewart did play good and decent characters generally, but he's too lanky for me to find him sexually appealing. And like most Americans, I love John Wayne--indeed, even if I hadn't liked him before, I might be afraid not to now, considering that Uncle Pookie once advised a friend to call off his wedding upon finding that his intended did not like Wayne--but somehow I've never thought of John Wayne as the romantic lead type, even though he did sometimes have love interests in his movies. He's tall and non-scrawny (two of my big requirements) and he's definitely manly, so I don't know what it is. Perhaps it's that he's almost too much of an institution to be erotically appealing; nobody wants to do the Washington Monument.

Of course, this is John Wayne in the movies. Perhaps if I'd met him in real life, I would have done a Maude and melted like butter on a biscuit before him.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A New Favorite Feste

My favorite Twelfth Night and my favorite Shakespeare movie in general has for years been Trevor Nunn's 1996 Twelfth Night movie. I'd seen at least a couple of other Twelfth Night productions, not counting the charming half-hour Shakespeare: The Animated Tales version, but that movie was the best. Maybe it still is, but I have a new favorite Feste.

Unless I prove fickle and go back to Ben Kingsley, my new favorite Feste is Trevor Peacock.

I recently finally got around to watching the BBC Complete Shakespeare Plays' 1980 version of Twelfth Night. These productions weren't all good, but I'm more easily pleased than a lot of people when it comes to filmed plays, and I like a lot of them. Their Twelfth Night turns out to be one of the ones I like. I like the Elizabethan costumes and interiors. Felicity Kendal is, as always, cute as a button as Viola. Duke Orsino is much more palatable than he usually is. Sir Toby Belch (Robert Hardy) is good, Sir Andrew Aguecheek is good, and so is Maria (Annette Crosbie, perhaps best known as Victor Meldrew's long-suffering wife, in One Foot in the Grave) . The attractive Robert Lindsay, whom I've mentioned before, is also in this as Fabian and he's good too.

But as you might guess from the title, my favorite here is Trevor Peacock as Feste. Remembering him only from his somewhat less than coherent or pleasant comic character in The Vicar of Dibley, I was surprised the first time he turned up in one of the Complete Shakespeare Plays history plays. He seemed an odd choice. Physically, if for no other reason. But he's actually a good actor and his short, stubby appearance is no impediment to playing a jester. I really like him as Feste. His interplay with Olivia (Sinead Cusack) works very well; I totally buy their relationship--I see why she welcomes him back into her home and why, other than the obvious patronage, he comes back.

But what I especially love are his songs. You can hear them in clips from the YouTube user ShakespeareAndMore. I love best the "sweet and twenty" song from the rowdy three's overnight carousing scene; it is so poignant, it pulls at my heartstrings, corroded with cynicism though they may be. But he's no slouch in the "wind and rain" song, either, which was the part I liked best in Ben Kingsley's performance.

I really, really wish the owners of the rights to these old TV Complete Plays programs would get with the program and make them available individually to viewers at a reasonable price. I would love to own this DVD, but I can only rent it from Netflix. Word to whoever out there is in charge of this: There is an audience, guys. Make your product available to us, somewhere we can actually find it, and at a price that doesn't make us gasp, and we will buy it and you will make a little money from each one we buy. Overprice it and make it hard to find at any price and you might make more per each DVD you manage to sell, but you won't make as much overall.

Only tangentially related to any of this, is an experience that YouTube user gave me. Months ago I found an old (1960) version of The Tempest from American television and starring Maurice Evans (Bewitched) that he'd shared. Remember I've mentioned how I've often been known to "channel" Homer Simpson and at least once channelled Foamy the Squirrel? Well, upon seeing the male playing Ferdinand walk toward the camera in his pantsless costume, I--for the first time ever (and after disagreeing many times with my husband and his bachelor friends about the supposedly always baleful presence of male "parts" in movies)--channelled the bots from MST3K and yelped out an "aaaargh", followed by a "Men should not have 'areas'!" Sorry to any guys who enjoy dancing around the French Quarter in similar costumes on Mardi Gras, but it was a spontaneous reaction.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

My Daily Catholic Bible

It may seem odd, but I wanted to put in a plug for something I don't use myself.

In late 2007, I bought a copy of My Daily Catholic Bible: 20-minute Daily Readings. (Available from Amazon.) This is a fairly nice-looking paperback Bible--easy-to-read print in two columns per page, well-laid out, on decent paper. Each day (except Leap Day) has a short quote from a saint or other holy person, a reading from the Old Testament, then a reading from the New Testament. The Old Testament readings are in order, right through, but the New Testament books have been rearranged, presumably to spread the Gospels out through the year. (I say presumably, because the editor's introduction does not explain his method of dividing the texts up, except to say that it is similar to the method used in Carmen Rojas' How to Read the Bible Every Day.) There is no commentary or notes on the Scripture. The translation used is the Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, so all of the OT books are there. All in all, it is a good choice for anyone wanting a daily Bible.

I bought mine because I wanted to foster a daily Scripture-reading habit and thought that having each day's portion already laid out for me would be easier than the various "read-the-Bible-in-a-year" plans I've seen online. (Easier than anything other than the uber-simple, "read four chapters a day" advice, that is.) And it is easy and convenient, if you want to do it this way. What I discovered, though, is that I don't like reading the Bible in this way. I like reading all of a Bible book I'm interested in--either straight through or in big chunks--and, if I'm really interested, going back and re-reading that book soon after. I don't like pre-planned menus, where I can only have so much OT and so much NT today and so much tomorrow. With the daily Bible, I found myself reading ahead, on either the OT or NT reading, but not usually both, so I had trouble remembering where I was. I felt lazy when I eventually gave up on it last summer, but now I've admitted the method just doesn't work for me, I don't mind my failure to last the whole year.

I'm happily back to my undisciplined, "read as my mood and interest take me" method. What I'm not happy about is the days with no Scripture reading I intersperse with the Scripture reading days. I'm having some good effect with, on some of those days, either reading a few psalms in a prayerful sort of way or saying prayers (mostly psalms and canticles) from the Divine Office at the Universalis site. Using the Psalms in this way, besides being a lovely way to pray, ensures some Scripture each day, but each psalm feels complete in itself, so I'm not caught up in the "must read more, more" mood.

For people who prefer the daily dose to the fits and starts--or feast and famine--method of Bible reading and for people who are so short on time they have trouble fitting scripture in any other way, I recommend My Daily Catholic Bible. The daily readings really can be done in twenty minutes or less. And one upside of having both a NT and an OT reading each day is that seriously time-constrained people could read the NT portion in the morning and the OT in the evening, or vice versa.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Apropos of Nothing

Here's a quote from that loveable old atheist, Florence King:

Now, a word to Catholics who would follow the dictates of their consciences instead of the dictates of the Vatican.

Congratulations, you're Protestant.

She remarks elsewhere that she's been irritable ever since Vatican II.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Random Thoughts


Many Americans today seem to have forgotten the old bit of wisdom that used to be expressed as "You can't get something for nothing" or "There's no such thing as a free lunch".


You know what would be really new in television or film? An American Indian policeman who solves a crime, not because of his knowledge of tribal customs, but because he uses his intelligence, police experience, and investigative skills.


Ever wonder if those reality shows where some humans are humiliated for the entertainment of other humans are paving the way for a return of the Roman games?


Stupid Marketing Decisions: Giving a product which will be sold in the USA a name whose acronym is KKK, especially if you had to change the spelling to get that acronym. Unsurprisingly, Lily's Kountry Kabled Kotton is no longer on the market. At least not under that name. [See here for what may be the same product.]


Something I've been wondering for years: You know those bumperstickers and such that tell us to "Question Authority", well, why do we never see an addendum pointing out that sometimes when we question authority we realize the authority was right all along?


I fully expect that before much longer we will be hearing the words, "If you don't want to kill people, you shouldn't become a doctor."


Q: How is a woodpecker like Peter O'Toole?
A: They both have a double phallic name.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Up, Up, Up

Okay, I do not cry at movies, let's get that out of the way right up front. As I have pointed out many times, I have a shrivelled, little black heart, three sizes too small. There isn't a splinter of ice in it, but the contents of a whole ice tray. This may not be a "truth universally acknowledged"--I don't know that many people--but I'm pretty everyone who knows me, knows it. I've never seen Old Yeller, but I'm confident I'd escape dry-eyed.

Uncle Pookie, on the other hand, cries in movies. Like a baby. Cries more, as they would say in Get Fuzzy, than a French soccer player. Except for one notable instance when we went to see Ghost and Demi Moore's interminable bawling failed utterly to move either of us and all the people we went to see it with told us we were shallow or unfeeling or some such nonsense, I've pretty much always been able to expect him to cry at the affecting (affecting to other people, not me) bits. Still, if we are to be married we must learn to accept little flaws--like having a kind and tender heart--in our spouses.

Enter Up. We went to see this new Pixar film Tuesday evening, and the first twenty minutes of the film are almost unbearably sad. I had tears rolling down my face and my sides were quivering from the effort of trying to hold them back, and Uncle Pookie was unashamedly crying beside me in the darkness. I've never seen anything quite like it. It was sad the way life is sad. Not anything big and dramatic, no tragic heroes, just a quiet depiction of a couple of ordinary lives. Very little dialogue. Just a visual spanning of decades in the lives of very ordinary, non-exciting people who probably wouldn't be able to pass some contemporary people's test of "quality of life": unskilled jobs, continual struggle to pay bills, repeated delaying of dreams, a major disappointment or two, and the inevitable onset of age-related decay. And it all seemed beautiful as well as sad, every bit of it.

Fortunately for me the film moved on to its adventure tale. That part has lots of episodic peril and a good many funny bits as well. I may not have loved every bit--some parts were predictable and I wasn't keen on Dug's voice characterization and it seemed weird the bird would leave her chicks for so long--but I was well pleased over all. I liked the grouchy old man and the chubby little boy and the dogs with their special collars and the whimsy of the floating house and the wealth of details to notice and the heart of the film. It returned to the sadness again near the end of the story, but it was briefer and easier to bear the second time (still provoked tears, I'm afraid) and after a bit more action the story ended happily (and, in our over-regulated and dirty-minded world, improbably) in an ordinary happiness kind of way. Be sure to sit through the credits to see the charming little graphics and the usual list of Pixar babies.

On the way home Uncle Pookie said he didn't know if he would buy this Pixar DVD, as it's too sad, but I'll bet he does.

In case it's not blindingly obvious, this post is a recommendation. Go see it while it's still at theaters. I really can't be sure how well it will play to small children. I think you may have to be middle-aged and married to fully get what's going on in the grumpy old main character. Of course, there's nothing wrong with partial appreciation and I'm sure older kids would understand something of the sad parts, but little kids might just be bored until the doggies and the giant bird and the balloons come on. (Except for the cute pre-movie short.) If you do carry children to see it, at least you don't have to worry about any vulgarity in the film--there is absolutely none and the film's message is wholesome. And if it does turn out little ones don't like it, maybe it will be the mainstream film that finally changes the minds of those (mostly older) Americans who STILL think animated films are solely for children.

06/15/09 UPDATE: I'm feeling a bit better about my own reaction to Up now that Uncle Pookie reports a coworker told him she and her husband sat in the movie theater and "bawled" all through the sad bit. Maybe you really do have to be married? I know Dickens said somewhere we should never be ashamed of our tears, but I'm glad to know we weren't the only married couple who cried at this.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Few Craft Plugs

I wanted to put in a plug for the knitting magazine, Creative Knitting. I subscribed to this last year and I've found this magazine fun to look at and worth the subscription cost. Here's the good points.

  • The clothing patterns are not high fashion garments but things average people might actually wear.

  • The magazine is plus-size friendly. I don't think I've ever seen a women's pattern in CK that did not go up to XL, most seem to have XXL sizing, and I've seen some that went up to 5X.

  • There is usually an article teaching a new technique--typically with accompanying project that uses the technique--and, of course, a basics how-to section at the back of each magazine.

  • A year's subscription is inexpensive (US$19.97 for six issues), and the patterns' sample garments often use less expensive yarns.

  • They follow the practice of telling you what weight the suggested yarn is and what the yardage is, as opposed to just saying "5 skeins of Brand XYZ yarn".

  • If there's a correction to a pattern, you can find it on the magazine's easily-navigated website.

I've decided not to renew my subscription because I have too many craft-related books and magazines already, but if you're looking to subscribe to a knitting magazine, this is the one I would recommend to most people.


My acknowledgement of having too much craft-related material about did not prevent me from picking up a small stack of back issue craft magazines (including a few CK mags) at a library book sale recently. Among those were three issues of an early '80s magazine from Lark Communications called handmade. This was a general craft magazine--sewing, knitting, crochet, needlepoint, etc--that had a good quality feel to it. If it were still around, I would subscribe. (There is an Australian magazine with the same name still publishing, but as far as I can tell, they seem to be a different entity.) If you ever come across an issue at a yard sale or wherever, I don't think you'll regret picking it up.


I'm not big on crocheted or knit flowers as a rule, but the ones Lion Brand has been featuring in its email newsletter recently have sometimes been pretty cute. Still, I wouldn't be mentioning it if they hadn't included a photo an awfully familiar-looking flower they called Tradescantia. It turned out to be the official name for my favorite weed, spiderwort. (There's also a nice close-up picture here.) As most people don't seem to know the name of this flower when I mention it, I say kudos to LB for showing a relatively obscure flower.


I sometimes hear people saying they don't know how to do basic hand stitching. There are some videos showing some hand-sewing techniques here. I didn't watch all of the videos, but the ones I watched were pretty well done. The presenter's slip stitch method was different from what I learned as a kid, and it is much better, so I'm glad I saw that video.

Warning: They seem to have added annoying advertisements at the beginning of the videos since I first saw the site.


Two weeks ago I saw this Daily Mail article about a group of women who knit a replica of their village. That's both really fun and a bigger feat than many people would realize. I think it falls into the"you ask why and I ask why not" category of pursuits, which I consider to be a generally good category.

Less happily, the ladies touch on people not knitting much anymore because people prefer storebought items to handmade. One says, "I used to knit such complicated stuff, but now I watch television instead." I know some people would say that whatever consumers want is right and good so therefore I shouldn't say this, but still I find it rather sad that handcrafts are dying out as people buy great quantities of whatever the advertisers are telling us we should like this month and that a skilled knitter is increasingly watching television instead of knitting because no one is interested in her stuff.


The By Hand, With Heart blogger, who is also the author of the interesting-looking knitting book Great Yarns for the Close-knit Family, suggests a possible unofficial patron saint of knitters, St. Rafqa. I've heard a couple of other possibilities floated, but this sounds good to me.


I was pretty struck by the customer pictures that accompanied this page for the out-of-print book Hard Crochet by Mark Dittrick on Amazon. The book is supposed to have a new technique for really stiff crochet that lets you make firm brimmed hats, bowls, and even briefcases. I'm not going to buy it because I don't crochet much, but I'm passing the link along for any crocheters who may not have heard of it.


And that's about it for today.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Girls Only Society

I have sometimes seen instances of parents buying or crafting their daughters items that read, "Girls Rule, Boys Drool". I'm as sympathetic as anyone to people in that stage of childhood in which the opposite sex is presumed to have cooties, but having attained adolescence myself I know we grow out of it. And as I doubt very much that the mothers buying or crafting these anti-boy slogan items would permit their sons to wear "Girls Are Stupid" tee-shirts, their allowing their daughters to do the same sort of thing has always seemed fundamentally unfair to me.

However, I'm going to look, if not a little more kindly, then a little less unkindly on the practice from now on.

See, Knitting Pattern Central (a great site that serves as a clearinghouse for free knitting patterns) currently has in its newly added section a link to a dishcloth emblazoned with the charming legend:


What a delightful message for the kiddies! Just think: every time Junior goes through the kitchen he can read a message proclaiming not only the stupidity of his own personal father, but of all fathers everywhere. Personally, I can't wait for this slogan to catch on in the broader society, in the form of bumperstickers and adult clothing. I'm particularly looking forward to the line of maternity wear. What could be better for family life and the promotion of a humane, livable society than mothers constantly proclaiming their contempt for the men who gave their children half their DNA? If they could do it with sparkly lettering stretched across their pregnant bellies, so much the better, but meanwhile I'll settle for a dishcloth.

And if there might be some slight effect on Junior's developing self-image from seeing this sort of anti-dad and, by extension, anti-male message day in and day out, so what? Little boys (and their sisters) are never too young to learn about the general drooling idiocy of men and the uselessness of fathers. And if , for some unfathomable reason, Junior should harbor any belief that he won't become a drooling idiot until he is grown up, he can always consult his sister's tee-shirt for re-education.

Friday, May 22, 2009

It Droppeth as the Gentle Rain

I recently found myself becoming attracted to the Divine Mercy prayer. I never used to be. In fact, I once described this chaplet to my husband as "not a beautiful prayer, like the rosary". Two to three months ago I suddenly began to be drawn to it; looking back, I realize I'd found myself noticing the image back even before Christmas, but my recent attraction to the prayer itself seemed out of the blue.

The chaplet of Divine Mercy is usually spoken, of course, but there is a lovely sung version that has been featured on EWTN and which you can hear multiple places. It is available on YouTube here: The Chaplet of Divine Mercy in Song, Part 1 of 3, Part 2, and Part 3. It is available as an audio file here. (I am not necessarily endorsing that site, BTW; this prayer is the only thing I have seen there and I know nothing about the site otherwise.) The CD is available from Amazon, and I heartily recommend it for praying in your car; not only is it lovely to hear, but as a prayer, it is easier to focus on while driving than the rosary is. If you'd like to pray along with others in real-time, EWTN television and radio airs the Divine Mercy prayer daily at 3PM Central Time, though it may not always be this same version.

I have never really gotten into praying this at the hour it is often prayed, 3PM, but I have sometimes wondered if would be good for more people to pray a mini mercy prayer then. Most people are busy with (secular) jobs or school at three in the afternoon. But if, when someone notices it's three o-clock (or a few minutes after), that person were to think of Jesus on the cross and offer a quick internal prayer for mercy, he could be in union with everyone else in his time zone praying for mercy. Just a fast "Lord have mercy", "God have mercy on us", "For the sake of Your Son's suffering, have mercy on us", or something similar. Anyway, it's just a thought. I figure the more people praying for mercy, the better.

Of course, my own recent attraction to this prayer was not really some happenstance out of the blue. Long story short, I needed to go to Confession and was, I'm ashamed to say, putting it off. My attraction to this devotion was in part a manifestation of my own largely subconscious need for mercy. I got it. I felt it. God's mercy is great.

Please pray for divine mercy for yourself, for your loved ones, for America, for the world. If not this particular prayer for mercy, then one you make up yourself. Or perhaps the Jesus Prayer, from Orthodox practice. (Salinger readers, you know it already! If not, you can learn about it from this book; I'm not qualified to comment on the translation, but it seemed a good book to me when I read it last November or December.) I did not realize at the time of my sudden inexplicable attraction that when I said "have mercy on us and on the whole world" I was praying for myself, except in a general way--in fact, the most urgent of my prayers were for someone else entirely--but I was blessed anyway. We all need mercy. And with God, if not always with our fellow humans, it is there for our asking.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I'm a Fellagirly

You Are 40% Feminine, 60% Masculine

You are in touch with your masculine side.
You are not overly sensitive and not easily moved.
Occasionally, though, something will get through and touch your heart!

Are You Masculine or Feminine?

That's probably close enough to accuracy for a pop psych quiz. I've never felt I wholly fit in with other women, and sometimes it seems to go beyond the way I've never fit in in other areas to be about my not fitting in as a woman. I'm just not keen on being in all-female groups. Assuming they're men who can carry on a conversation and that I have some point of commonality with, I much prefer the company of men to that of all-female groups. I am really uncomfortable in social situations where all the men start going off in one group and the women in another. I have been known to complain that "most women never want to talk about anything but diets, makeup, and hairstyles!" Of course, that is unfair, and not just because you'd have to add recipes and desserts to the list; it's not true either, but I think there is a certain amount of truth hidden in its incompleteness. What really bugs me about all female groups is the compulsion to agree: everyone is supposed to agree about everything, otherwise you're not being nice, and scholars of male-female speech differences will tell you this is because women like to build community when they talk, blah blah blah, but I just find it damned annoying. Goodness knows there are some men who can't argue without getting angry and a lot of men who can't argue well, but in general men are better about sometimes disagreeing chat and for this and possibly other reasons are more fun to talk with.

I also think women try to get too involved emotionally and personally with me; I am reserved and do not rush to share personal matters with people I hardly know. Women are more apt to be nosy than men and to invade my space. I also don't like the way most women tend to say "I feel" instead of "I think". Or the way they're so big on Hallmark-invented holidays and...okay, I'm getting a little negative here.

I was happy enough with being a girl in the eww, boys are yucky phase and before, but I found the onset of puberty upsetting. It's probable most people do to some extent, but I don't know if some quirk of personality made it more upsetting than average to me or not; I do know it coincided with my growing awareness of a gulf between me and my classmates--or a growing gulf--due to differing intelligence levels, and that may have exacerbated things. Unlike the girls around me, I saw no point in taking any interest in boys until I got to the point where I was experiencing sexual desire regularly, at age fifteen. (Even then my interest had to remain largely theoretical for a while!) In early adulthood, I was told on several occasions that my sexual attitudes and responses were male. In separate instances I also took some criticism for a particular sexual attitude that is more associated with men. I've also been given to understand that I'm cold and unfeeling, which is apparently a more male sort of thing;

On the other hand, I'm married; my sexual desires have always been for men; I have a number of pasttimes that are considered traditionally feminine in our society; I love, love, love puppies; I understand the appeal of small things (like baby clothes); I sometimes inexplicably want to mother the vulnerable, especially the small and vulnerable (like injured or frightened puppies, shy children, Ralph Wiggum); and I go soft and syrupy inside when I see babies--only in my innards, I try to keep my outards dignified--and I have many times felt that irrational or perhaps extra-rational yearning for a baby that women sometimes get. I'm also feminine enough that my marriage has sometimes had a little of that friction that is supposedly caused by male-female differences. I call my husband to deal with the mice and lizards that occasionally slip into our house and I would call him to deal with snakes; this is utterly unreasonable, but I do it shamelessly. It does not bother me to cry in front of him. He has sometimes indicated he finds me overly emotional and irrational. And, although he's several times yelled out "You're a MAN, baby", he once said--in the tone of a man who knows he's going to regret saying it!--that I was "acting like, I hate to say it, a woman".

Sooo...what does all this mean? Damned if I know. Humans are complicated.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Something Lovely for a Grey Day

I am a truly unmusical person. This is why I tend to prefer comical songs: I can appreciate interesting words (lyrics) better than I can the music itself. But everyone can be moved by some music at some time. I can remember being invigorated by some rousing bits of classical music when I was an adolescent and touched by an instrumental piece called "Vincent" I heard on the radio as a teen, the pleasant near-nostalgia I had as an adult non-believer hearing some of the hymns I'd heard sung in church as a child, the pleasure it always is to get to sing Christmas carols in a group. But nothing is as moving to this non-musical person as hearing someone who's good at it sing Ave Maria--no, not even hearing Amazing Grace, the one hymn that I liked even as an adult non-believer and that gives me a little shiver all down my body even when I sing it to myself in a voice that can't be made good at singing even inside my head. Amazing Grace, lovely though it is, is about the person or people singing--their downtroddeness and transformation through grace. The Ave Maria reaches above and beyond the person singing; it is lofty and inspiring, like a cathedral.

I can't sing it myself, but I love to hear other people sing it. I've often listened to Aaron Neville sing it in my car, through the gift of modern technology; buy a copy of his CD Believe and you can too. Here's a few links so you can listen right now:

The lyrics in Latin, English, German, and Slavic plus a few music clips.

Bobby McFerrin and audience doing an interesting version.

A site that has lyrics and music clips of a number of Catholic hymns (check out the Salve Regina; that is the only song other than the annual Christmas carols that I've enjoyed singing in church since I became Catholic).

And, saving the best for last, Luciano Pavarotti singing Ave Maria.

Friday, February 06, 2009

A Religious Craft Done Right

I just wanted to share this link to a pattern for a shadow (or illusion) knit depiction of the Chinese characters for Jesus Christ. I urge you to click on it and read the author's explanation of why shadow knitting is an especially apt way to show Jesus' name. Too often, religious crafts are hokey or twee. It is nice to see a religiously themed craft item that is both attractive to look at and has some thought behind it.

In addition to what the pattern author said, I think there's another reason why shadow knitting is appropriate for the name of Jesus, at least in Chinese characters: to me it speaks of the fact that faithful Catholics and other Christians must be largely underground in communist China.

If I were the creator of this project, I wouldn't use it as a blanket, but figure out a way to hang it on the wall so everyone who visits can see it.

My Crisp Recipe, Such As It Is

I pretty much gave up baking sweets while I was still a bride. I discovered that my husband, Philistine that he is, prefers storebought candy to homemade desserts. Something about having to throw out half or more of a cake that had gone stale was too disheartening. (Pies, I'm ashamed to say, I would likely finish off myself.) My baking has been pretty limited ever since.

One thing I have made a lot of times over the years is fruit crisps. Or maybe, since they're not always the same, I should say "things I've made a lot of times over the years are fruit crisps". It's one of those non-recipes that you can throw together at the drop of a hat; it's not actually any easier, now I think about it, than the cobblers I ate growing up, but somehow I'm far more likely to make it and, with the extra fiber in the oatmeal, I can almost persuade myself it's healthy--you know, if I'm feeling delusional.

Fruit Crisp

Chop fresh fruit into a baking dish.

For the topping, combine equal amounts of
  • old-fashioned oatmeal;
  • flour;
  • white sugar;
  • melted butter or margarine.

Mix those four ingredients together and you have your topping. Pat it onto the fruit. Put it into the oven at 350 degrees or a bit higher and bake until the topping is done.


What kind of fruit? Pretty much anything you like. I usually use apples, but pears are yummy like this and I've done many mixed fruit combos. Berries, if used alone, can be a bit too juicy. The most delicious fruit crisp I ever had was a post-Christmas concoction I made to use up some rapidly over-softening pears. I chopped the pears together with some apples, added some raisins I'd soaked in brandy, threw in some leftover cranberry sauce (yes, really), and added vanilla to the mixture. The result was a surprisingly elegant taste to this usually utilitarian sort of dessert. (If desserts can ever be utilitarian.)

What kind of flour? Plain, unbleached, or even whole wheat. I never buy self-rising, as plain is more versatile, and you wouldn't want the leavening in this, in any case.

Why not brown sugar? Brown sugar tastes good in the topping, but makes for a softer texture.

Why no measurements? Because saying equal amounts of every topping ingredient is easier to remember and more flexible as to size. If you're making a fairly small dessert, use a wee casserole dish for the fruit and use about a half-cup of each topping ingredient. If you want a larger dessert, layer your fruit into a big dish and use a cup (or however much it takes) of each topping ingredient.

Isn't that a lot of butter? Yes. If I'm making a big, cup and a half of each ingredient crisp, I'll usually reduce the amount of butter. Something in me just recoils at the idea of putting three sticks of butter into one dish--it's mostly a Scrooge thing.

Don't I use any spices? With apples, I usually dust the fruit with cinnamon or with a combo of things that I might like in apple pie. With other fruits I might or might not add spices, as the whim takes me. I do not normally use any liquid flavorings.

Anything else? Yes, for years I've been meaning to try this with nuts--probably slivered almonds--added to the topping mixture. I'm sure that would make it extra yummy. Though the nuts might take this out of the strictly cheap, super-easy, always-have-the-ingredients-on-hand category. Also, to give credit where credit is due, I first got the idea for this in one of Amy Dacyzyn's essays, in a passing comment about something she made in the microwave for her toddler.

Random Thoughts


How long before the anti-smoking zealots crack down on those old-fashioned pictures of Santa Claus holding a pipe? And will they expurgate Twas the Night Before Christmas or just burn all the copies?


You know who would make a good Nanny Ogg? Patsy Byrne, who played Nursie in Blackadder.


A good name for a purveyor of modest clothing would be Modest Modiste.


Some men seem to have a greater than average desire to protect people and save lives, and I suspect there's a higher proportion of such men in the emergency response jobs--firemen, policemen, EMTs--than in the general population.

I find I prefer the people who want to save lives to the people who want to run other people's lives.


I (almost) never remember the names of voice actors, but it's absurd the little moment of pleasure I get when I recognize in an anime the voice of one who did a character I enjoyed in some other anime.


It seems the older I get, the more annoying the "trash the conventional", "sneer at the mundanes", "show contempt for the bourgeoisie" schtick becomes. Even though I did my share of it when I was young.


Our popular culture is so steeped in the story of the hero who suffers persecution, or at least opposition, for holding an unpopular view that some contemporary people seem to have drawn the unwarranted conclustion that if a viewpoint is opposed it must therefore be the correct viewpoint.


Since the 1950s the size of the average American household has substantially decreased, but the size of our dessert recipes are still the same.

Should crochet figures that don't partake at least a little of a Japanese pop culture aesthetic still be called amigurumi? If they'd be just as at home in Lady's Home Crochet Weekly, circa 1980, why not just call them crochet toys?


I recently came across a woman saying that she was thinking of crafting a womb to celebrate the Roe v. Wade decision. I do hope she remembers to add a removable partially developed human.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Well, That Didn't Take Long

Checking the news at lunchtime today, I learned that President Obama would today lift the ban on giving federal funding to groups that promote abortion in other countries. Leaving aside the question of morality, there's another very big question American citizens should be asking themselves: What's in it for us?

Really. Why should we pay for them? Individual Americans can do whatever they like with their own money, but it seems to me that a country's government money should go toward projects that benefit the people of that country. How does it benefit the American guy/gal on the street to finance abortions in foreign nations? If individual women in other countries want abortions, why should the US government--which, let's not forget, takes its money from individual people's pocketbooks and paychecks--pay for them?

Sometimes it can be in our national interest to provide aid to other nations, of course, so it may be there is some benefit to you, me, and that guy ahead of us in line at the Quik-e-Mart that I'm just not seeing. Perhaps the idea is that if we help foreigners have abortions, there will be less of them, and that will be in our national interest? I guess that could be it, but I'm not convinced.

Would it be too much to ask that President Obama explain how it serves the United States' interests to pay for foreign abortions? And if he can't give a reason, to reinstate the ban until he can? Until then, Americans who worry about foreign people going un-aborted could start private charities to donate funds to pay for those abortions.