Sunday, December 19, 2010

Random Thoughts


Religion is not for perfect people who don't have to try, but for imperfect people who are willing to try.


The correct way to eat spice drops: separate out all the white and all the purple or black ones to give to me, then choose what you like from the rest.

*** Asian-American makes a live-action movie from a cartoon series set in a fictional world composed of people who all belong to one of "four nations" (some of whom live at the South Pole!) and to portray these fictional peoples he chooses to use actors from a variety of real-world countries and ethnicities ... yeah, that makes me assume racism all right. Hell, it's right up there with apartheid.


There are times I wonder if I'm out of step with my fellows (fellow women, fellow Americans, fellow contemporaries, fellow humans), then there are the times I know I am.


Leaving aside perhaps a few percentage points worth of people differently configured emotionally, it seems every man deep down really wants the approval of the woman in his life.


I don't want to take away any of the blame owing to addle-pated theorists, but maybe part of the reason substituting "gender" for "sex" caught on in middle America was that people were tired of the joke "Sex?" "Occasionally."


Sometimes I think if I hear one more person refer to pants and skirts that sit at the natural waist as "high-waisted", my head will explode.


Does any compliment other than "sexy" exist any more? Girls and women used to be pretty or beautiful, charming, sweet, smart, good. Now they're sexy. They wear sexy clothes, have sexy hair, engage in sexy pursuits (reading is sexy, knitting is sexy, etc.), and sometimes have sexy livelihoods (librarians are sexy). Nothing else exists.


A trip to the grocery store reveals prunes are now called dried plums and high fructose corn syrup is now corn sugar. If people have a problem with your product (e.g., giggle at its reputation for having mildly laxative properties or think it's a cheap and unhealthy substitute for sugar), just rename it. After all, changing the name changes the thing. Just ask KFC.


Maybe if older women had more grandchildren to hold there would be fewer spoiled rotten little dogs and doll collections.

If young women had babies younger, there'd definitely be fewer chihuahuas in skirts.

Maybe the main beneficiaries of delayed childbearing are small dogs.


Sometimes I wonder how many people around me (here in the Bible Belt, in a country where something like 89% of the population still self-identifies as Christian) have actually read the Gospels, let alone the rest of the Bible. Believer or not, you can't consider yourself an educated Westerner if you don't have at least a basic familiarity with the Bible, but I'm not sure the average American has it anymore.


I never seem to hear anyone say "damn" or "damn it" any more. But "f---" is everywhere.


Parades must be strange experiences for the two and three year-olds that get taken out to see them. At a time when you might ordinarily be getting ready for bed, you inexplicably get taken out to a public street to stand around in a crowd and wave at people going by in fancy getups. You're allowed to stand in the edge of the street, perhaps encouraged to make little dashes into it between floats. And your parents, who ordinarily tell you not to eat anything that's fallen on the floor, are picking up candy from the ground and giving it to you.


Are Americans collectively forgetting how to use nouns? Everywhere I look it's "bringing back sexy", "bring on the awesome", "how to create sexy", "she delivers the cute", "keep your normal off me" ...


Many prayers could be summed up as followed: Oh God, please don't let me experience the normal, natural, and wholly predictable consequences of my freely chosen actions!


A lot of Anglo-Americans find it weird that Mexicans and Americans of Mexican heritage will name their sons Jesus. But a lot of Anglos name their daughters Christi (or Christie, Christy, Kristi...). It only takes about two seconds of thought to see that is clearly weirder.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

US to Kenya: Kill Your Offspring, Reap Rewards

There was a news story this morning about the White House spending 23 million dollars of taxpayer money trying to get Kenya to legalize abortion in their new constitution. Leaving aside the fact that it's against US law to lobby for (or against, I think) abortion in other countries, what do we get out of this? Seriously, what is in it for us? I know Washingtonians don't consider $23million to be much money--not when it's other people's money, just "tax all you want, they'll make more"--but I'm still old-fashioned enough to think you should get something for your money and I want to know what we, the people, get out of this.

Kenya is a poor nation. If they have large reserves of natural resources we want to buy from them or if they are somehow strategically important to us in some way, I don't know about it. Now, there's a whole lot of things I don't know, so maybe they are important to US interests in some way that it behooves us to make friends with them via monetary gifts.

But, if so, could somebody please tell me how the #&!% do you diplomatically spin a gift like that?

US: Kenya?
Kenya: Yes?
US: We think there are too many Kenyans. If you would take steps to ensure that in the future there won't be so many of you, we could slip you some money on the quiet to show our appreciation. In fact, here's a little to get the ball rolling.
Kenya: ...

Here's a question for a WH press conference: Mr. President [or Mr. Press Secretary], does this administration have a problem with all African babies, or only Kenyan babies? Inquiring minds want to know.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Robin Hood

A few weeks ago Uncle Pookie and I watched The Adventures of Robin Hood--that's the 1938 film with Errol Flynn. Despite watching Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny in parodies of it when we were children, neither of us had seen the original. And I have to tell ya--Technicolor-look or not, lack of gritty realism or not--it beats the pants off the later Robin Hood films. Kevin Costner's Robin Hood couldn't have gotten an IT team to follow him if he offered free doughnuts, but it's easy to see why men followed Errol Flynn. Flynn's Robin Hood was charismatic, as a man leading a rebellion/guerilla movement in the woods needs to be. The whole movie is just plain fun.

My only regret is not to have seen it when I was eight. I would have loved it and spent hours afterward swashbuckling with a pretend sword. And I was a girl! Imagine how much fun a little boy who'd seen it would have. (Assuming he's not already jaded from years of video games and the cynical, crude, and oh-so-ironic programs and commercials on contemporary TV.)

Another, small thing about The Adventures of Robin Hood is that they remembered something I've been saying for years: Merrie Olde England was Catholic England. Religion is treated more respectfully here than it would be in any contemporary film. Yes, the Cardinal is in cahoots with Prince John and Friar Tuck is a hothead, but Friar Tuck is on the side of the good guys, at the beginning we see a priest or monk shown among the few willing to stand up to the oppressive Normans, and Robin Hood recruits Friar Tuck because he's out looking for a priest to tend to his men's spiritual needs. There's a few "by'r Lady"s scattered in there. More important, when the Merrie Men want to determine whether Maid Marian is really sincere, they ask her to swear by Our Lady--clearly, a serious oath to them.

No, this isn't a religious film; it's not even a serious film. It's just lighthearted fun from a time when religion was considered a normal part of life (there in the background, even if it wasn't up front) and Hollywood didn't automatically sneer at religious people, and which happened to depict a time when England was still Catholic.

If you're still with me, here's a little more Robin Hood fun from The Real Mother Goose, copyright 1916 by Rand McNally & Company:

Robin Hood and Little John

Robin Hood, Robin Hood,
Is in the mickle* wood!
Little John, Little John,
He to the town is gone.

Robin Hood, Robin Hood,
Telling his beads,
All in the greenwood
Among the green weeds.

Little John, Little John,
If he comes no more,
Robin Hood, Robin Hood,
We shall fret full sore!

* mickle = big

This rhyme was accompanied in the book I have with a fullpage illustration of Robin hood kneeling before a cross praying his rosary (i.e. "telling his beads"; "beads" refers to the physical beads of the rosary, but also to the older "bede", meaning prayer). You can see a small version of this picture online here.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Listen and Watch and Sing Along

UP and I saw the clip of Gene Simmons' tribute to the US military on Big Hollywood last week, but I've found myself thinking of it several times since and I had to go back and look at it again today. It made me choke up; then I sang along and it made me feel proud and happy. If you haven't seen it, do go look.

I am not given to saying that everyone must like this given thing or feel a particular way about that given thing. Comments like that are mostly idiotic. But right at this moment I can't help thinking that if anyone does not understand why I like this video so much, that person must not be fully American somehow. Skimming a little way down the comments section I saw this comment on the video: "That's completely American... loud, proud, sloppy, ready to kick ass, and a bit off key." [Ellipses in the original.] Damn straight.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

A Bumpersticker That Made Me Happy

Two or three days ago Uncle Pookie and I were going to see a movie with a friend. They were talking games or comics or something when I nearly squealed, "That car has something about black Catholics!" "What?" "The bumpersticker on that van over there," [I indicated one in the next lane] "it has something about black Catholics on it." UP drove up a bit closer so I could read it:

"No matter what,
no matter when,
black Catholics respect life."

I felt really happy seeing that bumpersticker; not even the laughing comment of our friend (who is black himself), "As if they exist!" could dampen my enthusiasm at seeing it. I guess technically it was a pro-life bumpersticker, but I see those frequently (and the "Choose Life" car tags even more frequently) and I'd never before seen a bumpersticker about black Catholics.

I don't have time right now to go into why that made me so happy to see that I'm telling you about it several days later, but it did. For now, suffice it to say I have occasionally looked around at the pews in mass and, seeing only a few black faces, found myself wondering, "Where are all the black people?" Say I'm racist for even noticing the color of my fellow parishioners, fine, whatever, I'm a racist who wants more black people to have the fullness of truth available in the Caholic Church. Say instead I ought to keep myself more focused on what's going on in mass instead of looking around at my fellow parishioners, and I'll agree with you on that.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Shame We All Live With

Some people complain about parents picking their children's religion and ask if parents should have a right to do so. Given that such people typically do not regard any religion as efficacious or true, I don't see why they should care, given that we inevitably teach our children all kinds of pointless things they won't bother remembering into adulthood anyway. (Quick, what's your state flower?) But be that as it may, I think they miss a much greater cause of outrage--parents actually choosing their children's names for them.

There is no greater sign of having dominion over someone or something than that you name it. Slavemasters named their slaves. Pet owners name their pets. The owners of the rights to a creative work name it. The owners of a business choose its name. It doesn't matter what the preferences of the slaves or the people who are employed by the business are or what the pet would (if it had reason) want to be called, the owners make the decisions on names; it is a sign of being the owner.

So think how appalling it is that a parent should name his (or her) baby. One human being naming another human being, just because the one is powerful and the other is helpless and happens to share DNA with the first. The older one violating a relationship that surely should have love as its basis by committing an act that says, "I own you!" The other, small and vulnerable, having among its first moments in an unfamiliar world be the slapping upon itself of a name that it did not choose and may not like.

And does the state try to prevent this imposition of the larger person's will upon the smaller one? Ha! Not only does the state not prevent parents arbitrarily decreeing that a particular child will be known as Wilhelm or Jacob and another as Shaniqua or Emily Rose, it effectively takes the parents' part by not allowing the imposed upon party to change his name until he has reached adulthood. The child will be known by the not-chosen-by-him name on every government document upon which he is "represented" until he is an adult. And even after he becomes an adult, the government will put obstacles in the way of his desire to change his name by the imposition of such things as paperwork, filing fees, and/or a visit to a judge. (The procedure varies from state to state.) Madness!

Until such a day as the adult child finally manges to jump through the last government-mandated hoop to remove what he never asked for from his identity, he must not only use the undesired name on every government document, he must also sign it to every school paper he produces, write it on tags in his clothing, use it on his college applications, put it on his ATM cards, and even--if you will credit it--answer to it in his daily life!

Parents should not name their children! Children should get to choose their own name when they are adults, and parents should not be allowed to influence their free choice in this matter. It is not enough merely to call your Congressman or Senator. Contact the U.N.'s Human Rights Council and let's get international laws changed to protect the rights of children in this crucial matter. If enough people start working on this today, perhaps soon we will no longer have to live with the nightmare scenario of little girls having to submit to being called Jennifer even though they know they were meant to be named Sade.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Random Thoughts


During the final years of Virginia Woolf's life, James Herriot began his career of driving around Yorkshire, treating sick animals. And you know, I reckon as a veterinarian he contributed a lot more to humanity and to human (let alone animal) happiness than Woolf ever did. And his writing about it gave a lot more pleasure too.


Maybe it's just me, but I think if you're not yet physically well-developed enough to fit into the big boy condoms, maybe that's a sign you ought not be having sex yet.

As opposed to a sign someone needs to make you junior-sized condoms.


"Mostly free" is not good enough. Not in economic freedom any more than in personal liberties.


Hearkening back to something I wrote some years back, I think the next time someone mentions a pregnant dog to me, I'll start yelling, "They're not puppies, they're canine fetuses!"... Then again, maybe I have enough social marks against me already.


I wonder if Morpheus is a blanket-hog.


You can butt your head up against human nature all you want, but all you'll get is a bloody head.


I'm considering suing John Ringo for alienation of affection. 'Cause when my husband is reading one of his books, I can't get no affection. :-P


A lot of people fret about oil spills (and did long before the recent and ongoing unpleasantness), but hardly anybody frets about estrogen in the water supply from hormonal contraceptive use. That sounds like selective outrage to me.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Happy Pentecost

Happy Pentecost to any and all Christians reading this. To any Jewish people reading this, I hope you had a happy Shavuot. And to anyone reading this who doesn't know what Pentecost is, you can try here and here for some more information, but the short answer is that it commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit as described in the second chapter of the biblical book of Acts.

And since the word Pentecost makes many of us think of Pentecostalism, here's as good a place as any to mention one of the many things becoming Catholic has done for me: it got rid of my culturally-absorbed prejudice against Pentecostals. I grew up among fairly mainstream Baptists and Methodists in the American South and there was a bit of a prejudice against Pentecostals (though of course, it being the South, everyone was too polite to be rude about it to anyone's face). Pentecostals and Holiness people were often called by the derogatory term "holy rollers" and were considered to have unseemly and overemotional, even tacky, religious services. People shook their heads at what they'd heard those Pentecostals got up to, with their fervent preaching and shouting and falling out on the floor and talking in tongues and--especially hard for Baptists to take--dancing. Some mainstream women might also shake their heads at the grooming restrictions many Holiness women adhered to, with their lack of makeup and their long hair.

I absorbed some of this prejudice myself, although I'm not sure if I ever realized it before I had to read The Grapes of Wrath for a class and found the Pentecostal Joads irritating to read about.

The ugly truth is that class snobbery was what was behind a lot of the head shaking, not doctrinal problems. Kathleen Norris has written about this a bit in her book Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith. Pentecostals in the past often came from the poorer, less educated parts of society, and I think that still holds true, although I've heard that in the last twenty to thirty years the average wealth and education level has gone up. I think for some people a bit of that lower class tinge remains in their perception of Pentecostals.

For me, becoming Catholic got rid of my mild prejudice. For one thing I came into the Church on the Pentecost Vigil. That kind of makes you think about the Holy Spirit, even if you don't think that deeply. I believe in the Holy Spirit; I publicly affirm it along with my fellow Catholics every time I go to mass and privately every time I pray the rosary or the Divine Mercy chaplet. I believe in the Pentecost account in Acts. I believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the fruits of the Holy Spirit, even if my understanding is not good. So why should I or anyone who believes these things be bothered by people seeking the Holy Spirit?

For another, I was baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Catholic Church teaches that everyone who is baptized thusly is part of the Body of Christ, even if they are not in full communion with Rome, and thus all other Christians are my brothers and sisters in Christ. (Yes, I know some Pentecostals baptize in the name of Jesus only, but I figure they are at least trying, so I tend to think of them as siblings in Christ too.)

For another, I was made aware of Charismatic Catholics--Catholics who pay a lot of attention to the Holy Spirit and enjoy more emotionalized or "spirit-filled" devotions outside of mass; some of them even "pray in a spirit language" (i.e. "speak in tongues".) This is not attractive to me, but the Church is both worldwide and ancient, creating room for a multiplicity of personal devotional practices, no one of which will appeal to everyone--and that is fantastic.

For another, even before I came into the Church I was very attracted to the line in Galatians about there being neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female in Christ Jesus. That seems to me a clear indication that we are to leave our worldy considerations, such as class consciousness or wondering if other people's cultural-acquired preferences are "tacky" or not, outside the Church door. I also did a fair amount of thinking around the idea that God's standards are not our standards. Remember that Flannery O'Conner story in which the smugly self-content Southern farm lady has a vision of all kinds of poor people and freaks going up to heaven before her, shouting and clapping and dancing on their way? It's like that. With God, the last shall be first and the first shall be last. You only have to hear "blessed are the meek" to know you are not in worldy territory; this is not how we think, but how God thinks.

For another, as a Catholic I'm now part of a religion that a lot of people look down on and consider full of tacky things. Pilgrims going in bare feet or on their knees up the steps to a shrine--how gauche. Crucifixes with blood dripping from them--a little too real to be in good taste. The Sacred Heart--what's that about? The Way of the Cross? Probably something "ethnic" people do.

And for yet another thing, Catholics receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit at confirmation. No doubt that helped.

So why am I going on at such length about my having shed what was only ever a mild prejudice? Well, for starters I'm glad it's gone; I'm glad I'm no longer bigoted against Christians in general, no longer inclined to demean myself by sneering at "fundies", and no longer prejudiced against "holy rollers". For another, in a time when any stick will do to beat the Church, I think it's good to tell some of the good we find there, even something as minor as this. American society has for forty-plus years held up prejudice as the greatest of secular sins. Well, the Catholic Church helped rid me of one subset of prejudice. That is a good thing, right? She deserves props for it, right?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Our Little Family Unit

For your viewing pleasure, a family portrait:


That's Uncle Pookie, our late cat GrouchyKitty, and me.

Apparently the camera not only adds ten pounds (to me), it makes husbands shorter and turns black calico cats solid black.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Not Having to Dress Up for Church


Why I'm Ambivalent When I Hear Other Catholics Say We Should Dress Up for Church

Saturday I was driving home from a casual trip out and thinking about stopping at a store to browse, when a glance at the clock suggested that, if I skipped the store, I had time to get to vigil mass in time to go to confession beforehand. So I did. As it turned out I didn't go to confession because the line was too long (mass was late starting without my adding to the line), but it was good anyway: I got to be at mass, to hear the scripture readings and make a spiritual communion, and (presumably because it was May Day) to hear some Marian music I don't get to hear often. This included a lovely Ave Maria sung by a man in the choir loft and Salve Regina as the recessional; I'm no singer, but I enthusiastically joined in on the recessional.

This experience was the highlight of an already good day, and it couldn't have happened if I had had to "dress up" for church, rather than being able to go as I was. Which was in blue jeans and a pretty, new-to-me knit top and tennis shoes.

Catholics online often bemoan the way contemporary Catholics dress for church, and I agree with them that we--or at least we here in America--can and should do better. But at the same time I am really glad I have the freedom not to worry too much about how I'm dressed when I go to church. I'm glad that I had the freedom to just go Saturday, knowing that noone would turn me away or talk about me viciously behind my back.

When I was growing up (Baptist), we had to dress a certain way for church services; this seemed to be the case in all the churches around where I lived (Bible Belt). Everyone had to dress up to the best of his ability; women couldn't wear pants, however nice, to Sunday services; and blue jeans were verboten, especially for women. Shorts were only for the small children at Vacation Bible School, not older girls. The first instances of women showing up in pants suits for Wednesday night prayer meeting or, worse, a teenage girl in blue jeans for Sunday night service were occasions for talk.

My mother paid a lot of attention to dress for church. I can't say if she was representative of others or not (I hope she was not), but she placed what I consider an excessive amount of importance on dressing for church. It was more a matter of vanity and pride for her than a matter of being decently clad for worship. I'm sure that, had anyone brought such a thing up, she would have given verbal agreement that just being clean, respectable, and there was more important than being expensively dressed, but that's what it would have been--verbal agreement. In actual fact she fretted about not having clothes and shoes nice enough to make a good showing among the other women and about her daughters not being as expensively dressed as the children of some other families. She fretted about it to the point she considered not having nice enough clothes to be an excuse to stay home. What does that say to a child?

My sister absorbed just enough of this attitude that, when I once suggested she visit one of the local Catholic churches, her "considering-it" question was, "How do they dress?" I understand the desire to be approriately dressed, but somehow that didn't seem like the most pertinent question to me.

For me, church could never be about clothes. One of the things I like about mass is that it is centered around Jesus; it is not about the minister or the quality of the preaching or the socio-economic status of the worshippers or my appearance, but about Jesus. If it were about me and my appearance, it wouldn't be worth going.

Now, because it is about Jesus, it is worth dressing up, even if we don't always do it. I don't wear immodest clothes to church, nor do I wear anything dirty and torn or anything that might reasonably be distracting or offensive to others. I would insist on similar minimal standards (probably higher) if I had children I was responsible for, and I would complain if my husband said he was going to wear, say, his Viking World Tour tee-shirt. If I'm too casual too often--and I am and I admit it's largely laziness--I at least try not to be a total slob in my dress. I also make sure I am clean, hair combed, etc., because I do know I am going to meet Jesus in the Eucharist. (Also, as a matter of charity, I don't want to become a form of involuntary penance for my pew-mates, due to bad breath, body odor, or head-swimmingly thick cologne.)

An interesting thing, though, is that we meet Jesus in the Eucharist in every mass, not just Sunday mass, and people saying we should dress up are usually talking about Sunday mass. I think everyone expects people at daily mass to wear their daily clothes, whether it's formal business wear, business casual, uniforms, or the stay-at-home mom or retiree look. (Or maybe they just expect daily communicants to know how to comport themselves.) Personally, I like that expectation--that idea that worship can take place every day and is not just something that happens when you are dressed a certain way. Mass happens, whether it's Sunday or not, whether you are dressed in your best or not, whether you feel like it or not. I smell a bumpersticker: Mass Happens. ... Eh, maybe not. My "Haiku Happens" idea was a lot better.

Oh, and in the unlikely event any non-Catholics want my advice on clothes before visiting a Catholic church, here's what I told my sister when she asked: "It would be more respectful not to wear anything skin-tight or low-cut but other than that, wear whatever you want. I can pretty much guarantee that no matter what you wear to a Catholic church, there will be someone there dressed better than you and someone dressed worse than you."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The High School Motivational Speech Noone Asked Me to Make

Some people like to exhort kids with, "You can be anything you want to be." This is usually followed with something like, "You can be a doctor or a lawyer, you can even be president if you want". I don't disagree with the gist of this message, but I think it might be better to take the focus off jobs and instead tell kids, "You can be anyone you want to be." In other words, "The kind of person you become is entirely up to you." That is and always will be more fully true than saying you can have any kind of career you want--the five foot two inch, slightly built boy isn't likely to make it as a defensive lineman, for example, nor the 6'3" husky man as a professional jockey. But whatever jobs may or may not be open to you in your particular society, the individual is always and everywhere the one who decides the kind of person he will become, and I think it might be more important for kids to hear that than to hear that they can become a lawyer if they want. My message would be, "You can become the sort of person who keeps his promises, or you can become the sort of person who breaks his word. You can become a man who abandons his children or one who does his best by them. You can become a woman who builds up her family or one who tears it down. You can become someone who betrays his friends or someone who shows loyalty. You can become someone who gossips maliciously and backbites or you can become someone who doesn't. It's all up to you. You determine who you become with all the choices you make every day. If you've made some bad choices in the past, today you get another choice--you get to decide if you will become the sort of person who is humble enough to admit wrong, learn from your mistakes, and correct them where possible or if you will be the sort who refuses to do any of that. Your choices, always. Who you will be is up to you."

Sewing Quote

Or, Sylvia Plath as you've never seen her.

From Letters Home by Sylvia Plath, letter dated October 8, 1960:

I have a new and exciting hobby. You will laugh....I went downtown and bought three 2-yard lengths of material--one bright red Viyella (at $1.50 a yard), one bright blue linen, and one soft Wedgwood blue flannel with stylized white little flowers on it (both at about 50 cents a yard). I also bought a dress pattern and nightgown pattern (Simplicity). Yesterday I completely cut out and basted the little nightgown, in a one-year size. It is exquisite....I pinned the little nightgown together to see what it would be like, and it's a little fairytale thing....My next purchase that I'll save up for is a sewing machine! I don't know when anything has given me as much pleasure as putting together the flannel nighty for Frieda--the pieces are so little, they are very quickly done. If I practice a lot now, I'll probably be able to make most of her clothes when she goes to school. The London stores are full of marvelous fabrics... [all ellipses in original]

She goes on to say that she and her husband consider handcrafts "the most satisfying things in the world to do. I am awfully proud of making clothes for little Frieda."

Apparently the fad didn't die immediately. Nearly a year later she mentioned in a letter that she was going out to look for a second-hand sewing machine like the one she'd been borrowing.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Happy Easter

Christ is risen!

I hope everyone reading this has a happy Easter season.

Friday, April 02, 2010

A Little Round-up

Sometimes I wish I had a digital camera set up for easy posting of pictures to the blog. It's been good weather recently and everything is in bloom, but it's not too hot to walk in the daytime yet, so we've had some nice walks recently where we could actually see things other than streetlight-illuminated pavement. There are still lots of azaleas, both in full flower and in bud (they seemed to bloom late this year due to the cold winter), but there are also spiderwort here and there, though it is earlier than I usually see them. There are all sorts of weedy things: the little four-leaved flowers some other children and I used to call "wishing violets", but which are probably a form of bluet; henbit; wood sorrel (pink); and all sorts of other things, mostly yellow flowers, some white, a lesser amount of pink and lavendar. Best of all are the wild violets. I've seen several little patches of them on our recent walks. In addition to their beauty, they are unexpected and so easily overlooked that they seem more of a treat than the equally beautiful spiderwort I see every year in south Mississippi.

Last Sunday (Palm Sunday) Uncle Pookie and I took sandwiches to a little park and, as I said, everything is in bloom. The weather was wonderful and it was great seeing everything in bloom. We also saw our first snake of the year. It was a big one, and an ugly bastard, rough-looking and mottled brown; I think I saw a triangular head as I moved quickly backwards, but it was ugly regardless. We were surprised to see it, because it didn't seem that warm yet. We'd stopped on a little place where the road went over a large drainage ditch (there's often fish in there and we like to look at them) and the snake was sunning itself on a kind of metal pipe or support that stretched across the ditch. As we started walking away the snake flopped itself into the presumably cold water and we couldn't see it anymore. Nearby was a larger patch of wild violets than I'd yet seen and for just a moment it seemed a shame that they grow closer to the snake's home than to mine. Also that that snake, so ugly compared to, say, a little green garter snake, could crawl all over the beautiful violets. This is fanciful thinking of course, to call one bit of nature touching another unfair, because it is ugly and the other is beautiful.

Holy Thursday I actually made it to mass. I'm ashamed to say I've never been to Holy Thursday mass before; although it's not a holy day of obligation, it is still a holy day and I have often meant to go and somehow never made it. In the past I've sometimes had to resist the urge to refer to it as "foot-washin' Thursday". When I was growing up I would, rarely, hear my elders refer to "foot-washing Baptists"--fellow Baptists, perceived as perhaps a bit "backwoods" or old-fashioned, who practiced foot-washing in church. (For the record, I also heard my mother say to another relative that we should not put it down because her father, who was a respected preacher, believed in it as a potentially good thing, albeit something they did not practice.) In the Roman Catholic rite, the Holy Thursday readings all relate to the Last Supper and early in the priest emulates Jesus by washing the feet of a token number of male parishioners. My understanding of this is that it is symbolic not just of emulating Jesus in a rote way but of the Christian understanding of leadership--the one who would lead must serve; the one who would lead all must serve all. The ritual is actually rather beautiful at its heart.

Leaders humbling themselves before the people they have the privilege to serve? Reminding themselves they are servants? Some United States Congressmen might benefit from that.

Uncle Pookie and I went to see How to Train Your Dragon with a friend earlier this week. I wasn't thrilled about going because, although the trailer looked okay and there were some seriously cool promotional children's playsets for the movie in Wal-mart, I have a long-standing problem with de-monsterfying monsters, especially dragons. I like my dragons Western and dangerous and in need of slayers, not Eastern and personifying neutral forces in nature, let alone friendly and misunderstood. The "Which is cooler, Western dragons or Eastern dragons" thing is merely a matter of inidividual taste, but the rest is not. We do our children and our culture a disservice when we try to get rid of every monster out there and paint them as merely misunderstood. The world is dangerous and populated by monsters who can do more damage than dragons, who after all are easy to see coming. Children, like adults, need stories that say, yes, there are monsters, but monsters can be slain and sometimes that slayer can be a very ordinary person who reached within and summoned up the necessary bravery and faith and cunning and stamina to do what needed doing.

However How to Train Your Dragon won me over. The whole "the monsters aren't really monsters, just misunderstood" thing is dangerous territory and now old and tired territory, yes, but in the case of this particular movie's story, think of it as a pet-taming story and you're there. It's actually a pretty good animal-taming story. And if the "big, burly father misunderstanding his son" bit is also rather tired, at least Dad wasn't malicious or hopeless and there was a a lot of good animation and humor along the way. I liked the designs of the houses and such, the "nature" visuals were good too, some of the Vikings (especially the one Craig Ferguson voiced) were funny, and I like that the hero was a builder/engineer sort and that we saw him not get his design right the first time, but have to test and modify it. The Night Fury dragon was sometimes like an overgrown domestic cat--most delightfully when he's hiding and watching, and he can't help but give that slight butt wiggle cats sometimes can't contain when they're contemplating the joy of pouncing. The movie also has a great line near the beginning, which I expect to see in sig lines before long: "We're Vikings. We have stubborness issues." Uncle Pookie and I, who both probably have some Viking ancestry, really liked that line.

Should you shell out extra to see it in 3D? I'm not sure. I've been impressed with the quality of the new 3D in the movies I've seen it in previously, but I really only noticed the 3D effect once or twice in this movie (once was when ash was falling at the end). I'm not sure if that's because it wasn't that amazing this time or if this movie had enough story to keep the viewers focused on the story or overall experience rather than singling out special effects. By contrast, the first 3D movie I saw (the one with the giant girl) I oohed and ahhed over the 3D for a while then fell asleep right there in the theater.

A note for people who suffer from motion sickness: This is a safe movie, despite all the flying. I didn't get queasy at all. I only glanced away preventively once, for the briefest of moments, and it turned out not to be necessary.

Some Bits and Pieces to Think About

Last Wednesday I talked to my sister, who is a nurse, on the phone. We only had a short time to talk, but before we rang off, I asked her what the mood on the ground was re the health care "reform" Congress had thrust upon us the previous Sunday night. "People are freaking out," she said. She repeated it for emphasis. She said that everything she hears suggests old people will just "be hung out to dry" and that she has patients asking her worriedly if they will still be able to get health care. As to health care workers, which was what I was most curious about, she said they are very worried. She said some of the doctors she knows were saying they were going to stop taking Medicare patients and that a few of the older doctors were talking about taking early retirement. Everyone was worried about hospitals having to make cutbacks, and the nurses especially were worried about having their wages cut.

I've been meaning ever since to get her on the phone for a longer talk about this, but I haven't yet. For one thing, she's overworked at the moment, and I hate to risk disturbing her rest.

But I find myself thinking of another phone conversation or two we had back in 2008. A few days before Election Day and then again after the election we talked on the phone. My sister, who was then working in Miami, has never really been interested in politics, but with all the hoopla of that election we got on the subject. On the call before the election, she told me that there was a lot of opposition to Obama. I was very surprised and told her that didn't fit in with my expectations of Miami (rich Yankees retiring there, for example). "Oh, it's mostly just the Cubans," she said. "Ah, that would explain it," I said.

It was either that conversation or the one right after the election, where she asked me, "It's not true what they keep saying about Obama being a socialist, is it?" I replied with some mealy-mouthed, wishy-washy thing to the effect that no, he wasn't a socialist, certainly not officially, probably not at all, but he seemed to maybe have some ideas that were kind of socialist-leaning, as did a lot of people in his party today, but he's not actually a socialist really.

(Yeah, not my finest hour with regard to either concision or prescience. To my credit I could be a lot more concise on why I didn't want him to be President: Obama had zero executive experience, he was so pro-abortion he couldn't find it within himself to condemn partial birth abortion or to say that would-be abortions who were born alive should be given medical care, and I had no confidence at all that he got the need for national defense. He also seemed clearly to favor big government, and I feared the kind of appointees he might make to the Supreme Court. That was more than enough to make me vote for McCain, who I was far from thrilled with but who at least seemed to get the need for defense. But I could have gone on. Right or wrong, I did not believe Obama shared my love of America, nor did I think he would be a friend of our military personnel, nor did I think he was concerned about much else in this country other than his own career--admittedly a common enough trait among politicians. I couldn't decide if he was a True Believer in progressive ideology or if he espoused it as trendy things to help his career; I hoped for the latter, but worried it might be the former.)

Anyhoo, this week I happened to listen to the archived episode of EWTN Live from the same evening I was talking to my sister. Johnette Benkovic was the guest, and I only put it on for some background noise. She happened to read aloud some quotes that struck me and, as I'm rambling anyway I might as well share them:

"First we will take eastern Europe, then the masses of Asia. We will encircle the last bastion of capitalism, the United States of America. We will not need to fight; it will fall as a ripe fruit into our hands." (Lenin)
"We can not expect Americans to jump from capitalism to communism. But we can assist their elected leaders in giving Americans doses of socialism until they suddenly awake to find out they have communism." (Khrueschev)
"The American people will never knowingly adopt socialism but under the name of liberalism they will adopt every fragment of the socialist program until one day America will be a socialist nation without knowing how it happened." (Norman Thomas, whose name I did not recognize but whom she said was a former Socialist candidate for US president)

Those are the quotes as I heard them; if you want to listen to the episode yourself go to the Audio Library search page and type "ewtn live" into the series search box. I thought of my sister's Miami comment "Oh, it's mostly just the Cubans" when Benkovic said she'd read those quotes in a recent speech and had a Cuban woman come up to her afterward and say she was glad someone was telling the truth, that she'd come to America to escape and there was nowhere else for her to go.

You know, I've heard that back in the '50s American Catholics used to pray regularly for an end to communism. (I may be mixing this up a bit with the St. Michael prayer that used to be said at the end of mass for the Church and the world in general.) I don't think it would be a bad idea for Christians of all stripes to take this up again. I know socialism is not as bad as communism, but how well did Orthodox Christians fare in the Soviet Union? Is Christianity thriving in countries with more socialist leanings than the United States has heretofore had? At any rate, I have since 3/21 made a point of remembering to pray daily for the future of America. I urge everyone, but especially practicing Christians and Jews, to do the same.

This being the Bible Belt, I sometimes see bumperstickers or yard signs that say "God Bless America", but lately what I'd like to see is "God Have Mercy on America" or just plain "Pray for America".

Sunday, March 28, 2010

An Anecdote for the Beginning of Holy Week

One day, a little over a year before I came into the Church, two women at my workplace were denouncing the manager of my department--a devout Pentecostal and family man--because, when all the managers had been asked to come in on Easter Sunday to catch up on some things, he'd said "no, he needed to be with his family on Easter." The matter had little or nothing to do with them, but one of them, especially, was quite exercised about it. She didn't accept his reason for not working that day and declared "Easter isn't even an important holiday, not like Christmas!"

"Actually, for Christians it's the most important holiday of the year," was on the tip of my tongue, but I bit it. (As a nice Southern girl or possibly as what Amy Welborn calls a "not nice girl", I do that a lot.) It's probably just as well I bit my tongue, because I later learned she went to church, suggesting she probably was some stripe of Christian and so my telling her what Christians do might have seemed presumptuous.

But it's an interesting attitude.

We moderns, at least here in America, seem to have let advertisers tell us which holiday is the more important, and oddly enough they picked the one that let them sell us more stuff.

I know which of the two I looked forward to as a child. I mean, hunting Easter eggs and eating a basketful of candy was nice and all, but we usually had to go to church (bor-ing!) and I was a little vague on the whole why of the thing anyway. Whereas Christmas, on the other hand, had a months long buildup, starting with the arrival of the Sears toy catalogue in early autumn and, once Thanksgiving came, special programs on TV and a visit to Santa and tree selecting and decorating, to fill the time pleasantly until that wonderful night came with all of its ritual of cookies and milk and being sent to bed early and then Christmas morning--finally--with toys from Santa and an extra-special dinner to look forward to. We usually didn't have to go to church (it not falling on Sunday most years), but I knew the Christmas story and it was relatively easy to grasp. Some years my mother would read it aloud on Christmas (starting with "And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus..."), and it was a great story that fit in easily enough with all the warm and cosy holiday programming; the Peanuts special even quoted from it.

There weren't any beloved Easter programs that quoted from the Resurrection story, let alone the Passion. We heard the story in Sunday school of course, but it was full of stuff that was incomprehensible to little kids who didn't have as much background on the subject as the adults around us may have assumed we did. (For example, who were all these people and why were they in Jerusalem, why palms on the ground, why a crown of thorns, who was Pilate, who were the Romans, etc.) Maybe some of the adults didn't think the Passion was a terribly nice story, at least not for little kids, because I don't remember hearing much about it. (Another possibility is I wasn't paying sufficient attention.) There was a picture of the Agony in the Garden I used to see all over the place, but the story we got sometimes seemed to skip from Jesus going into Jerusalem on a donkey (another popular illustration) to the stone being found already rolled back. I didn't know why the schools let us off on Good Friday. I didn't know why Good Friday was called good. My guess is I wasn't alone in that.

It's a shame. Because while the story of the Passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus isn't going to sell as many dollars worth of merchandise as the story of his birth does, it is a very important story. Contrary to my coworker's opinion, Easter is a very important holiday. Even more important than Christmas. The Incarnation of the un-created Creator, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, into human form, subject to all the ills that flesh is heir to is a big story, yes, and one well worth celebrating with all the presents and feasting and strings of lights that people care to have. But that this Word made flesh then voluntarily chose to undergo terrible suffering on our behalf when he could have avoided it--that is also important to remember, is it not? And that he then rose from the dead and walked and talked with his apostles and was seen by over five hundred people--kind of a big story, too, right? And that all of this has profound implications for those who take him to heart and are willing to accept what he offers? Yeah, that's big. If none of it had happened, we might not even remember the Incarnation at Christmas.

Just something to think about this week.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Day America Died

I hope to God it's not. I have been proud and grateful to be an American ever since I was a child, but tonight America's elected representatives have chosen to deal us what may be a fatal blow by laying the groundwork for a massive power grab. Govermentalized medicine will be enormously expensive, not only in tax dollars, but in personal freedom and eventually in the degrading effect it will have on the character of our people. As the title of this Mark Steyn post from earlier today says, Happy Dependence Day. I hope to God we can turn this around, even partially, but I'm not optimistic. We've been gut-shot. This is the beginning of the long decline. (Barring immediate and forceful and clever and sustained action on the part of a whole lot of Americans.)

I now fully expect to end my life in an America that is poorer and less powerful and less free than the one I was born into.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

American Pi

Happy American Pi Day! (Today's 3/14 in American-style notation; watch for British Pi Day in July--22/7, to be exact.) Having no actual celebration, real-life or online, planned, I offer you a new term I learned today: Daylight Stupid Time.

I've written here at least once before about how I am no fan of Daylight Savings Time, which happened to coincide with American Pi Day this year. Well, today John J. Miller posted an email in the Corner from a reader saying that the amateur astronomy community calls it Daylight Stupid Time. That sounds about right to me.

Friday, March 12, 2010

One More Cent on the Census

I'm basically just adding to what was in my previous post on this. Mark Krikorian has another Corner post on the Census, which has some interesting bits. His advice doesn't change though: 'Question 9 on your census form — check "Some other race" and write in "American." You're doing nothing wrong. And you may help set something right.'

Incidentally I, in contrast to Krikorian, do have a problem with the gov mailing out a letter saying that we will get a census form in the mail later. That strikes me as government waste. I suppose the theory is that an "it's coming" letter will result in more people filling out the census, but that's bollocks.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

One Guy's Two Cents On the Census

I've always been mildly suspicious of forms that ask my race. I mean, why is that the business of someone who's never seen me and is thus unable draw his own conclusions? Why is it the business of anyone? Are they going to use that information to discriminate against me or against people who check a different box than I do? I don't like either of those possibilities.

Having it be the United States government doing the asking doesn't make me less suspicious. Mark Krikorian has a suggestion for what to do with this year's census questioning of our race:

"...we should answer Question 9 by checking the last option — "Some other race"
— and writing in "American." It's a truthful answer but at the same time is a
way for ordinary citizens to express their rejection of unconstitutional racial
classification schemes."

I'm not a legal scholar, so I can't say with certainty if this questioning is technically constitutional or not. But I am a nativeborn US citizen and one who has always been happy and proud to be so. And I question why a theoretically colorblind entity like our federal government needs to know my race. Or your race. Or that of any citizen. I'll be happy to check "Some other race" and write in "American".

There's some other census weirdness (for instance, why is question 8 separate from question 9?), but I will give the census creators props for one thing: they ask for our sex, not our "gender". Sex is a more fundamental distinction than race and I have no problem with forms asking for my sex, but being a human being rather than a word, I do not have a gender.

Friday, March 05, 2010

More Food

When I made my last post, I knew I was leaving out something I'd meant to add, but I couldn't remember what it was until several hours after I'd posted. It was mustard. I found a delicious new mustard. Zatarain's Creole Mustard. It is coarse and grainy in texture and has a strong mustard taste with a vinegar tang to it. So yummy I lick the knife I spread it with. (Hey, it's my kitchen.) We have never gone through mustard so quickly. I don't know why I never noticed it on the grocery shelves before, but I hope Zatarain's keeps making it for a long time.

As long as I'm on food, how about some more? I first learned how to turn old-fashioned oatmeal into microwave oatmeal from the Tightwad Gazette newsletter. Basically you just put oatmeal in a bowl with milk and sweetener overnight, although you can jazz it up some (not to mention leaving out the sweetener.) But Kayla's Thrifty Ways wrote about a variation in which she used flavored yogurt instead of milk, and I tried that this week--the yogurt part, that is. And I loved it. I think you get a better texture than with the milk method, and I liked the slight tanginess of the yogurt. The husband, who's no fan of porridge in the first place, prefers the milk method.

Here's my version:

1/2 Cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 Cup plain yogurt (I use Dannon All Natural because it's so creamy.)
approx. 1/4 Cup unsweetened applesauce
splash or two of vanilla flavoring
dash of apple pie spice
one packet of Splenda

Mix all ingredients in bowl and let sit in refrigerator overnight. In the morning, put it in the microwave for one minute. (In contrast, the milk method generally takes a minue and a half for me; not sure what the difference is.) Stir it up and Bob's your uncle. Serves one. Uncle Pookie added honey to his, but this is plenty sweet to me.

The only way to have a quicker breakfast would be to eat it cold. Okay, the old grab-a-piece-of-fruit-on-the-way-out-the-door method is faster, but this is the fastest thing I know of that lets you sit down to eat like a civilized person.

Oh, and since I mentioned the Tightwad Gazette, if any non-vegetarian Catholics reading this are looking for a different sort of fish dish, check out the Tightwad Gazette's Tuna-Cheddar Chowder recipe. (It's collected in The Tightwad Gazette II and The Complete Tightwad Gazette.) The name may sound kinda yucky, but it's actually so yummy I recommend serving it with a piece of French bread to wipe your bowl with afterward. The recipe claims it serves 4, but Uncle Pookie and I always polish it off in one sitting. (Probably why we have such big, comfy bottoms to sit upon.) It's not particulary Lenten, I guess, but it is different.

And yes, I will unashamedly wipe my bowl with a piece of French (or Italian or homeade) bread if I've been eating something creamy, at least at home. I've been willing to do so ever since I read the description of that amazing French farm meal Peter Mayle was invited to in A Year in Provence--the one where he and his wife ended up "eating for England". Read it, if you haven't.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Little Something Food

I like to point others to good things I've found. One of the most recent of those things is the crock pot split pea soup recipe at Kayla K's Thrifty Ways, which I've already cooked twice. Whenever I made split pea soup in the past, I made it on the stovetop, with indifferent to poor results. Cooking it in the crock pot makes a real difference in the quality, and there's less hands-on time than with the stovetop. I made mine with chicken broth (the real thing once, bouillion cubes the other) instead of vegetable bouillion, and I used a chopped up garlic clove for the seasoning. Yummy. With a piece of homemade bread, it makes a perfect Lenten Friday meal.* Outside of Fridays in Lent, my husband prefers a ham sandwich as accompaniment.

I've been a bit bread-happy lately, compared to recent years. In addition to several batches of Cuban bread, I've made cornbread three or four times recently. I normally buy self-rising white corn meal for cornbread and that is good, but I haven't been making much bread and I've been out for months. A few weeks ago I was given some stone ground white corn meal from a grist mill up in Laurel. Using the recipe on the bag (and the oven temperature of my usual recipe, since their recipe didn't include temp), I have made some really delicious corn bread. It has a really fresh taste, as well as being a wee bit more coarse than the usual meal I buy in the grocery store. If you can get hold of some in your area, I recommend it. A little square (or two) of the bread made from it is perfect with the crock pot split pea soup.

Also on the bread front, I recently had a decent storebought biscuit. My mother, who makes very good homemade biscuits, has taken to keeping a bag of frozen biscuits on hand for when she wants just one or two biscuits with a meal. I've tasted frozen biscuits before and, while they're considerably better than the wasp's nests that are canned biscuits, they're certainly no patch on the average homemade. But this kind my mother's using, Mary B's Tea Biscuits, is actually tasty. She cooks them in a litle toaster oven/convection oven combo with a thin smear of butter on top, and they come out tasting like real biscuits. I bought a bag and for some reason I can not get as good results in either my toaster oven or my regular oven--maybe it's the convection makes the difference?--but they are edible and certainly better than any canned biscuit. I like the size and, although I can't remember the price, it seemed reasonable enough.

I've started experimenting a bit with a George Foreman grill. I wouldn't have bought one myself, but someone who had two gave me one months back and I put it under my cabinet and promptly forgot I had it until asked how I was enjoying it. So I had to get it out and try it. It's not bad. Fairly easy to wipe clean, if nothing else. So far I've been most impressed with the fish fillets I grilled on it yesterday. The first fish I tried on it tore into pieces as I'd been warned would happen (still tasted fine), but these I didn't lift the lid to check until I was pretty sure they were done and I was super careful lifting them off the grill--with that and a little luck I had two pretty little fillets. I've never been an adventurous cooker of fish and grilled makes a welcome addition to my little repertoire. Extra welcome for Lent.

Do check out the rest of Kayla K's Thrifty Ways, which I found via Knitting Pattern Central. It's a nice little blog on thriftiness (obviously), including cooking and crafts, and the author seems like a really nice young lady.

*Re something with chicken broth being suitable for meatless Friday meals, my understanding (based on a possibly faulty memory of one of Jimmy Akins' Lent-related posts) is that soups and such cooked with animal juices are technically allowed, although not necessarily in the spirit of the thing. I probably wouldn't use real broth for a Friday meal and I hesitate at the bouillion cubes, but I figure a chicken bouillion cube is a long way from chicken and a couple of small cubes spread out over a crockpot of soup is pretty negligible. I haven't had vegetable bouillion in the house in years.

Friday, February 26, 2010

A New Pleasure and a RIP

Two weeks ago today I was an hour and a half north of here and got to experience a pleasure I have never had in the whole of my life: I got to walk in the falling snow. Central and south Mississippi do have the rare snowfall and I have known several that were really notable by our standards. But every one I have ever known fell during the night, so I never got to experience more than seeing the flakes lit up in the car lights as we drove home or, if home when it started, running outside for a few minutes to see it; I could only take a walk in the snow the next day, after it had fallen. Friday before last, by contrast, much of the snowfall happened in the morning, so I got to take a walk in it and see the big, fluffy flakes fall past my face in natural light. It was beautiful.

Of course, I also discovered that snow can create a problem on glasses something like rain does and, not being at home, I didn't have a brimmed hat to wear to keep the snow off them, but nothing is perfect in this life and that walk, with the vision of snow on pines and more snow falling, was good enough for me.

Today was also the seventeenth anniversary of the World Trade Center bombing. Here is a piece from the fifteenth anniversary. Michelle Malkin notes the anniversary too. May the seven people who died that day and all of the people who have died in terrorist attacks on America and on her allies be granted eternal rest.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Well, There Goes a Perfectly Good Joke...

There's an old joke that ends with Boudreaux shivering and saying, "Hot damn, the Saints done won the Super Bowl!" I guess we can't use that joke any more. But tell me now, is it a coincidence that it was such a cold weekend when they went and won it, hmm?

Not that I much care. I've never watched football and I was lucky enough to marry one of those few Southern men who couldn't care less about it. I usually don't even know when the Super Bowl is coming up, let alone who's playing, but I live in SW Mississippi. There is a lot of black and gold and a lot of fleurs de lis around here anyway, but in the past couple of weeks it multiplied. Sunday afternoon mass, whose attendance I've noticed looking a bit sparse on previous Superbowl Sundays (at least once this was my only clue there'd been a SuperBowl), looked this year as if a plague had hit the area. I guess some of the people who chose morning mass over afternoon got what they were praying for. Good for them. I'm happy for them, in a non-involved, benign, good-will-to-men-of-good-will sort of way.

Even if their win does spoil a perfectly good joke.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

A Random Thought

Do you ever find yourself wondering if the exact job that would have been most satisfying to you is one that no longer exists in any substantial sense, such as blacksmith, buggy whip maker, or wagon wheel maker.

Well, okay, me neither, beyond about five seconds today. Although I did used to wonder if the apple variety that would most exactly suit my personal taste buds is a variety that hasn't been grown within living memory.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Quote of the Past Month

It's been a long time since I've made one of my irregularly scheduled "Quote of the Varying Time Period" posts, so here is my favorite quote from the month of January:

...I could whisper, ‘Turn,’ and 6,000 tons of aircraft carrier, four acres of
U.S. sovereign territory, thousands of people, enough aircraft to make a nice
air force for a small country, and billions of dollars of equipment and training turned.

And I traded it for a toddler who giggled and ran the
other way when I yelled, “Would you come here?!?“ [source]

It's from The Political Housewyf, whose blog I found by accident last week.

Here's An Idea for Someone Else

When I saw the movie Ushpizin (mentioned a couple of posts ago), I got to experience one of those minor pleasures of life that people seldom talk about: unexpectedly hearing words you know in a stream of what are, to you, meaningless sounds. In the movie when the wife walked to the sink and started the hand-washing blessing, it took a moment for the penny to drop and me to realize, "Hey I heard that, I didn't understand it by reading subtitles". I knew the whole beginning of the blessing (Baruch atah adonai melech haolam...), because they are the beginning of other blessings and I Iearned them a long time ago. In the middle of this flow of sounds I couldn't understand was a sentence--or partial sentence--I did understand. Usually when I have this experience it's only a word: some busboys saying manana, for example, or one of the handful of Japanese words I know (oba-chan, konichiwa--words like that) coming out of an anime character's mouth. Suddenly hearing an English word in a stream of foreign language is also pretty good, but not quite as good.

Anyway, this is only preparatory to recommending a website that has some Hebrew blessings with the words in both Hebrew characters and roman letters and audio of each word being said or sung so that you can learn correct pronunciation: Learn Hebrew Presumably the site will eventually be expanded to include more prayers.

And recommending that website is only preparatory to asking why some Catholic somewhere doesn't do this for Latin prayers? I've read advice to pronounce Church Latin like Italian (rather than Classical Latin), and I once somewhere saw a few Latin prayers spelled out phonetically for English speakers, but that's it. Any media-savvy speakers of Church Latin want to perform this service for us slobs who never studied Latin and are too lazy to start but would like to know a few prayers?

If I'm complaining about a lack that has already been filled, please tell me.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

"An Inexplicable Cultural Phenomenon"

Okay, I finally succumbed. I read Twilight. I admit it. I was weak. Earlier this month I was tired from somehow not having gotten any rest despite sleeping all night, so after I got my husband his Sunday lunch, I went to bed and curled up in a ball, thinking I just wanted to read something mindless. A friend had suggested I download the sample chapter of Twilight "just to laugh at how bad it is" and I finally had, but hadn't read it. So I did. The problem is when you finish a sample chapter the Kindle asks if you want to buy the book, and in a fit of boredom, impulse purchasing, or possibly insanity, I did.

Other than remarking that in all the time I spent reading in bed as a child, I never dreamed I'd one day be able to buy books in bed, what else is there to say?

I'm not sure I'd ever heard of Twilight before Gina R. Dalfonzo's NRO review of the series a few months before the first movie came out. I wouldn't have been interested anyway, and neither Dalfonzo's piece nor anything I heard after changed my mind. Thomas Hibbs' review of the second movie made me laugh, and so did YouTube clips of the Rifftrax for the first movie. (From memory--"You can read it, there just isn't anything there".) I think the young man playing Jacob Black is kind of hot, but beyond that I don't see the appeal.

Twilight is badly written, and I don't just mean stylistically: I never for a minute buy Edward's and Bella's sudden romance. (That's despite the fact I believe in the possibility of sudden romance.) The whole book is just blatant wish fulfillment. Bella may seem clumsy and average, but that just hides her secret specialness. She makes friends immediately. Boy after boy falls for her. The most handsome boy in school falls passionately, irrevocably in love with her the moment he lays eyes on her. He's a good boy who is also a bad boy. He smells good and sparkles in the sunlight, always dresses well, drives a luxury car, plays music for her, wants nothing more than to protect her, and will never, ever pressure her over anything unless it's for her own good. He makes her faint when he kisses her. Of course he's filthy, stinking rich too. And he just keeps on insisting on giving her presents and telling her how special she is, darn it. There may have been some wish fulfillment going on in Harry Potter books, but this...whoah.

And dear, blank Bella, who was apparently just waiting for Edward to write on her slate and give her meaning, remains pretty blank. Another case of there being no there there. Even before she knows how perfect Edward is, with the self-denial and the money and whatnot, she learns he is probably a soulless monster and she decides that it doesn't matter. Let me repeat that: her response to finding out that the boy she sits beside in science class has no soul and craves human blood is to decide that it doesn't matter. What?! Bobby McFerrin, upon learning that the soulless undead walk among us and go to our schools, would have decided to worry, but not this girl. Does she think souls are unimportant, or does she just think that having the hots for a boy overrides all other considerations, including survival? Or is she just thick?

Parents wondering if this series is wholesome reading for their daughters might want to read those two reviews I've linked above and some of Regina Doman's comments here. Personally, I wouldn't recommend giving this series to anyone, but considering all the trash out there, if your adolescent daughter really wants to read it, this may not be a hill you want to die on.

Beyond that, I don't have anything to say. I can't claim to understand why grown women have been devouring this. It remains for me what Rifftrax called it (and I quoted in the title of this post.)

Two Movies You May Not Have Heard Of

Ushpizin, available from Netflix for either DVD rental or instant viewing, is an interesting movie about a married couple trying to be religious and not always succeeding. It is the festival of Sukkot, and Moshe and his wife are so broke they barely have any food in the house, let alone supplies for celebrating the holiday. They begin to pray very hard and two things happen, they receive an unexpected sum of money and two guests from Moshe's not-so-religious past show up. They attempt to provide hospitality to the men, but things do not go smoothly.

I saw this small independent movie back in November, but I still remember it and would like to see it again; that's better than some big budget movies I've seen. I liked it not only because it gives a glimpse inside a world I will never be a part of, but because it shows religious people sincerely trying to follow God, failing to live up to their ideals, yet continuing to try. Religion is not shown as a contemptible thing, fit only for mockery. This makes Ushpizin an unusual movie by contemporary standards. It's also a good story.

Arranged (also available from Netflix) is another low-budget, seemingly small movie. It concerns Rochel and Nasira, two young schoolteachers in a NYC elementary school, who do not fit in with the other teachers. Both dress modestly and have expectations of an arranged marriage. Did I mention they don't fit in? They become friends through the shared bonds of looking for love in a now non-standard way and of enduring their principal's attempts to save them from oppression.

Ushpizin is the better film, but I like this movie too. How often do we get to see a young woman stand up in a movie and say that "traditional" isn't necessarily bad? Aren't all modern films supposed to be about young women defying authority and tradition? This is a different movie--refreshingly so.

As to family viewing, I don't think little kids would like these movies, but older girls might like Arranged and there's no acres of naked flesh, sex scenes, violence, or noticeable swearing in either movie. There's also no car chases and special effects, for family members who require them, and Ushpizin has subtitles, which I've learned is an issue for some people. (I'm sympathetic to illiteracy; I'm not sympathetic to whines of "I don't want to read" coming from literate people.)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Cheap "Luxury"

Saturday before last I did something I hadn't done in a long time: I made bread--"proper" bread, with hand kneading and everything. Back in the years when I was a relatively young married I made yeast bread fairly often, from different recipes, but a couple of things happened that stopped it. First Uncle Pookie found a clearance bread machine for only $20 or $24, which left my "bread machines are too expensive" reason not to have one in the dust, and brought it to me for a gift. I quickly discovered that, while it was true that the bread bread machines make is not as good as the best hand-kneaded bread, it was easily the equal of my hand-kneaded bread and I didn't have to do any work for it. So I made a fair bit of bread machine bread, until the second thing happened, which was my realizing how sugar and flour products were negatively affecting me (unstable blood sugar, excessive appetite, mood swings), and I ate very little bread for a couple of years, let alone made it. Then when I started up again on the bread, I was long out of any kind of habit of making even quick breads (biscuits, cornbread), let alone yeast bread.

But having tried out a beer bread recipe the week before Christmas as a possible dish to carry to a family gathering, I kind of had bread on the mind and getting out one old recipe ended too poorly to get it wholly out of my mind, so faced with a dull, cold evening I pulled out the bread recipe I used more than any other back then: the "Cuban Bread" recipe that ran in the old Tightwad Gazette newsletter. (Now available in the big Tightwad Gazette book.)

If you've never tried it, you really should. It's easy and, as far as I can tell, failsafe. There's only one rising period before you put it in the oven, so it's pretty fast, and my poor kneading skills have never spoiled the quality of the bread yet. Moreover, the other week when I made this, I was working with seriously old yeast; I'd proofed some beforehand, so I knew it was still alive, just really sluggish, so I had to let the dough rise longer than usual, but rise it did. I cut my crosses and sprinkled some oatmeal on top, because I didn't have any of the sesame seeds I used to keep on hand for breadmaking, and put it in the oven. Result: two of the most beautiful boules I've ever seen. Tasty, too. I don't think anybody could mess this recipe up without trying.

We can think of home baked bread as a sort of a cheap luxury. To get storebought bread that's equivalent in taste to homemade, you have to spring for the artisan breads, which cost several times more than the ubiquitous sandwich breads. Even then, they aren't always as good as homemade, you can't have a slice hot from the oven, and they never fill your home with the smell of baking bread. Which is a bonus you can't buy in the store.

A word about the name, Cuban Bread. I always suspected back when I used to make this that it might not necessarily be truly Cuban, because, after all, no self-respecting French person would eat what we call French dressing, right? I wouldn't venture to say it definitely is not, but a quick Google search while I was making it suggested it isn't. It does, however, sound like Puerto Rican bread, in that it's put into a cold oven with a pan of boiling water on the rack underneath it.

That quickie Google search had a side benefit, in that it informed me of the existence of the Cuban sandwich. Two kinds of pig flesh in one sandwich? Add some bacon and UP would be in heaven. Makes me sorry I never visited Miami.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Away from Your Desk and Out of School

For some reason I was a little more impressed this morning with a line in Mark Steyn's weekend column than I should be. It was his advice to aspiring writers: "Don't just write there, do something."

It put me in mind of somewhere in Sylvia Plath's journals, I think, where she observed that she had spent all her time on literature, whereas her husband, although he knew English language poetry very well, had also studied anthropology, read lots of myths, and, most important of all, spent a lot of time outdoors, fishing, hunting, and observing the natural world. It gave him more to draw on when he wrote.

I've always had a great regard for writing and for writers (as a group, not necessarily for every individual), and I don't think the world is best served when writers spend all their time in literature classes, in school generally, or, heaven help us, in creative writing programs. I noticed a decade ago that whenever I picked up an interesting looking fiction book and read the inside flaps, if the author's bio said he was from a graduate of a creative writing program, I almost invariably put the book back on the shelf; the book had to be exceptionally intriguing for me to break that pattern. I had gained a new bias without intending to or noticing myself acquring it. But when I noticed I had it, it wasn't hard to know why I had it: I had come to expect from books by people whose bio consisted mainly of getting a creative writing degree that their writing would be technically smooth, yes, but that all too often I would be left wondering why they bothered to write it. Like Gertrude Stein's hometown, there was no there there. There might be a story, but when there was, there often didn't seem to be a point. I may be a plebeian and a philistine, but I know worthwhile writing doesn't leave you wondering why the author bothered.

Steyn wasn't necessarily talking about fiction writers, of course, or those with "literary" ambitions, but I think his advice to do something is good for any stripe of writer who wants to avoid becoming someone "for whom words are props and codes and metaphors but no longer expressive of anything real." As someone else put it, the writer who never leaves his desk ends up writing odes to his desk lamp. Go out and raise dogs, as one of Steyn's suggestions had it, or grow vegetables, spend your summer break working construction or waiting tables in a truck stop, or even just spend a lot of time talking to people who don't have much in common with the people in your creative writing program. (Key point on that last bit would be to listen more than you talk.) Those of us humble readers who are in love with stories or who love to read nonfiction with some there there and who may be your future readers will thank you for it.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Another Grooming Post: OR Why I've Not Bothered to Go No 'Poo

Over the past several years, I've come across a number of people online who have stopped using shampoo. What used to be the province of a tiny number of usually SCA people with very long hair seems to going more mainstream. More power to them. But they mostly seem to be using a tedious system of baking soda rinses alternated with vinegar rinses which makes me tired to think about, so I don't know why they didn't first try an easier way: just use a small amount of shampoo, applied only on the scalp. And unless your hair is very short, don't wash it every day.

Unless you've fallen in a mud puddle or have applied something like oil or a henna pack to your hair, you don't need to put shampoo on your hair. The point of "washing your hair" isn't to wash your hair, so much as to wash your scalp. Your scalp is what produces the oil. That oil, which both moisturizes the hair and can make it look dirty, has to travel down the hair; the hair isn't making new oil all down its length. This is why the longer your hair gets the more likely it is to get split ends and why people with long hair will notice their hair starts to look a little dirty or oily near the roots when most of their hair looks perfectly fine.

Applying shampoo only to the scalp is apparently a bizarre and "not true" idea to some people, even hair stylists; I once had one gush at me when she was cutting my bra-length hair off to shoulder-length, "You are going to save so much money on shampoo!" But this isn't some crazy idea I came up with on my own. In my early to mid teens I read an article in a women's magazine about two or three models who had kept their long hair, against the pressure to cut it shorter. One of these models had very lush hair. She said she washed it every three days and applied shampoo only to the scalp, then applied a conditioner to the ends only. I've used shampoo only on my scalp ever since, except for the exceptions mentioned earlier.

What's more, I use cheap shampoo, I use more of it on my scalp than the minimum needed, I wear my hair long, and beyond a handful of homemade hot oil treatments over the years (mostly cuz I was bored), I used no conditioners until recently. I don't even have one of those chlorine filtering shower heads that I used to see in Real Goods catalogue. But my hair is healthy and when I wear it loose in public I often have women stop me and say how pretty it is, although that may be largely the color (long red hair has novelty value).

Washing my hair this way about twice a week and never using conditioner let me have bra-length hair (i.e. hair that covered the bottom of my bra strap) for years without any split ends. In my mid-thirties, after a while with hair so short I didn't have to comb it, just run my fingers through it, I decided to see just how long my hair could get. Somewhere around waist-length I transitioned to washing my hair about once a week (more in summer than winter) and eventually it reached to the top of my hips. I'm forty now and it seems everything on me is falling apart or drying up, but I've discovered that if I apply conditioner to the ends occasionally, I can have waist-length or longer hair with only minimal split ends. (That's split ends I can see looking close up, not something you can see across the room, like the straw piles my sister used to get so vocal about that appear on some women's heads after a permanent.) Maybe if I spent more time on it, I would have no split ends even at hip length. But what I'm doing works well enough for me and requires only the smallest outlay of time and money.

I don't doubt the "no 'poo" folks get good results, but for me it would take more effort than what I do now. It wouldn't save me much money (an inexpensive bottle of shampoo lasts me a year or more, despite the fact I use a bit more than I strictly need), and my hair is healthy enough with this treatment to get compliments.

Everyone's hair is different, of course, but I think some of the women who are contemplating going the no 'poo route would be well-served if they just started using less shampoo less often and applying it only to the scalp, rather than to the whole length of the hair.

Women's Deodorant

Does anyone know why there don't seem to be many--or any?-- deodorants for women? I live in a hot, humid climate and I've never been one of those rare people who look fresh and cool as a morning flower even when working outside, so in the summer I use the strongest antiperspirant I can find: Mitchum. Mitchum's old slogan saying it was so strong you could skip a day was no joke and a couple of years back they strengthened the formula even more. It would be overkill in winter, so when the weather cools down in fall, I switch over to something cheaper and less powerful. (Suave is the cheapest brand here, so it's usually that.)

But I'm the sort of person who won't take anything to bring down a fever (unless it's dangerously high) because I figure that fever is there for a reason and I should let it do its job. I hate getting all sweaty, I don't want to stain my clothes with perspiration, and I have enough social strikes against me without adding the great American taboo of stinking, so I'm okay with stopping my armpit perspiration in summer. But there's not much of it in winter. So a couple of months ago I was thinking maybe I should just use a deodorant, rather than an antiperspirant, in winter.

But women's deodorant is missing in action. Men's deodorant is everywhere. Male-marketed deodorants are more common, or so it seems, than male-targeted anti-perspirants and anti-perspirant/deodorant combos. This is despite the fact male deodorants must be harder to make than female deodorants. Males are the stinkier of the species--of this species and every other species I have any familiarity with. Male deodorants must cover up the powerful male armpit sweat smell without stopping the sweat--and they do, and very well at that! So I know it's possible to make deodorants that cover up the lighter female sweat smell without stopping the perspiration, but going by the shelves in local stores, no one does any more. (For the record, I didn't check any health food stores in this little local search.)

Most women aren't going to use male deodorants because they smell like male cologne and the smell is strong (it has to be). There are some unisex anti-perspirants (like Mitchum), but I could only find one deodorant that seemed to be unisex: Tom's of Maine sat at the intersection of the men's and women's underarm products and was not noticeably targeted to either. It also claimed to be unscented, which means it only has the scent of the essential oils used in it. Pleasant enough, no doubt, but it was also nearly five times the cost of the Suave anti-perspirant. I bought the Suave. I also experimented a little with a homemade concoction, but my solution so far is just to use less of the Suave.

But the question here is why no (or so few) women's deodorant? Why do the manufactureres think there's less of a market for it? Uncle Pookie and I discussed this and our best guess is that women just don't like to sweat. Uncle Pookie also had a theory about these sort of products coming on the market back when many men still labored outside in the sun all day, so they needed to sweat, but I'm skeptical of that explaining it, because at that time few people had air conditioning yet and most people didn't eat out mucy, so most women spent hours over a hot stove every day. I don't remember what other ideas we came up with, only that our best guess was that women just don't like to get sweaty, so with women choosing anti-perspirants, the market for women's deodorants dried up. (Hardy har har.)

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year

Here's wishing everyone reading this a happy and blessed 2010.

Here at Chez Pookie et Suzanne, our New Year's celebrations began and ended with the eating of the traditional Southern New Year's food: black-eyed peas and cabbage. For anyone not from here, it's an old custom to eat black-eyed peas on New Year's Day for luck in the coming year. Grocery stores put out displays of black-eyed peas right after Christmas. Some restaurants put them on the menu for the day. When I was a child, even my baby sister, who could usually get away with her picky eating, would be required to choke down a spoonful. (Okay, some years she negotiated that down to only one or two peas.)

I was grown before I heard of eating cabbage on New Year's Day. Uncle Pookie's family ate both, saying the peas were so you'd have plenty of change (coins) in the coming year and the cabbage so you'd have plenty of paper money. I've since encountered others who eat both and say the peas are for general luck and the cabbage for money.

I don't actually believe in good luck tokens and such, but I do believe in customs. Harmless traditional practices like this ought to be kept up. They add flavor to life. A sense of texture to the year and continuity to a string of years. And when they're regional or local, they help prevent every part of America looking exactly like every other part.