Monday, December 22, 2008

Best Proof That Santa Claus Exists

"Tori says that Santa doesn't exist," Sadie said as I tucked her into bed.

Uh-oh, I thought, here it comes. Tori is the older sister of Sadie's friend, Valencia. She is in the 4th grade. I can only imagine what she's told Sadie.

"Really?" I queried, all casual and cool-like.

"Yeah, but I know she's wrong."

"How do you know that?"

"Well, there's got to be a Santa; otherwise, who's keeping an eye on all those elves?"

"Elves?" Oh my.

"Yeah, elves," Sadie stressed. "If there were no Santa, we'd be overrun with them."

And there you have it. Thank goodness that we've got Santa confining those creepy little compulsive toymakers up north. I'll never look at Santa's Workshop in the same way again.

Seriously, what did I laugh about before Sadie came along to charm, astound, and amuse me?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ice Princess

At the wonderful family camp we attend every year, Barnabas, we have played the same introduction game a few times. You probably know it -- everyone in the room has several toothpicks, and, as we go around the room, everyone says his or her name and something they've never done. Every person who has done the deed that the speaker has not puts one toothpick in a bowl. The goal is to be the person holding the most toothpicks at the end of the introduction circuit. This means you have the dubious distinction of being the most boring, unaccomplished person in the room. Still, it is fun to try to think of things that you've never done that, most likely, a majority of the others in the room have.

Since our camp is in Canada, I got a big groan and universal toothpick discharging when I introduced myself with the revelation that I have never attended a hockey game. Should we play this game again this year, I will further annoy the other campers with the equally startling disclosure that I have never gone ice skating. Never. C'mon, I was a kid growing up in Southern California. You had to really, really make an effort to get anywhere near that amount of ice -- even in rink form. Roller skating? Yes! Swimming? Yes! Yes! Horseback riding? Only like all the time! But never, never sliding about the ice in ankle-bending skates.

So, how weird is it that Sadie's dreams right now are filled with half-lutzes and salchows? There is an ice rink on the road to Issaquah that we travel occasionally; and, whenever we pass it, Sadie never fails to look wistfully out the window and say, "I sure wish I could go ice skating." Aw.

Well, I certainly could not take her. My own lack of physical coordination bodes ill for my harboring a secret skating talent, and, should Sadie venture out with me, our tushes will see more contact with the ice than our skates' blades. So, I decided that figure skating lessons were in order for my aspiring ice princess. I purchased an introductory course on the sly, found a great beginner's skate set on-line, and wrapped the entire package in snowflake paper to nestle under our tree. I think Sadie will be delighted.

You know how, when you have a great gift awaiting Christmas morn, you sort of like to tease out a little of the intended recipient's desires by egging them on? So, the other day, as we passed Castle Ice yet again, I said to Sadie, "So, do you still want to try ice skating?"

"Oh yes!" With starry eyes.

"Are you interested in skating for the love of the sport and the desire to do well, or are you mainly interested in it for the cool costumes?" I teased.

"Um . . ."

Uh-oh. Had I stumbled on something I did not want to hear? "You do want to learn to skate, don't you? You're not just in it for the clothes?"

"Oh, yes. I do want to learn how to skate, Mom." Then, she turned and whispered into the ear of her grandmother, who was sitting next to her, "I'm really just in it for the clothes."

"I heard that!" I gave Sadie the stink-eye via the rearview mirror.

Sadie laughed and laughed, all the way to Issaquah. Ice princesses. Who can live with them?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

O Tannenbaum!

It is supposed to alternate between snow and freezing rains this weekend. So, of course, we're going out to choose our Christmas tree.

The local afternoon radio show that I listen to is having the fake vs. real Christmas tree debate today. For our family, there is no debate -- real all the way. I've even switched to real wreaths on the doors. Why live in the Evergreen State and put up a bunch of plastic for Christmas?

Did you know that -- while the tradition of bringing evergreen boughs into homes in the winter has ancient pagan roots and the bringing of an actual tree into the house (hung upside-down!) has old Christian roots -- the father of the modern, lighted Christmas tree is Martin Luther? According to my book, Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas by Ace Collins (Zondervan 2003), the story goes like this:

Legend has it that Martin Luther was walking home on a dark December evening when he was struck by the beauty of the starlight coming through the branches of the many fir trees in the woods around his home. The German Protestant Refromer was so captivated by the way the filtered light appeared that he felt moved to duplicate this effect on the tree he had placed in his home. He tied a candleholder onto one of the evergreen's branches, put a candle in the wooden holder, and lit it. Walking to the opposite side of the tree, he studied the flickering light. He like the effect and attached several more candles in the same way. Not only was the preacher's family impressed, so were his neighbors. A host of them added candles to their own indoor trees, and the tradition of a lighted tree was born.

(A side note: Across the street from the house where I grew up lived a German couple who would, despite all common notions of fire safety, light real candles on their tree every year. We were glad to be across the street and not right next door. It was beautiful, though.)

Luther taught his friends and family that the tree represented the everlasting love of God. He pointed out that the evergreen's colors did not fade, just as the Lord's love would not fade, no matter what the circumstance or trial. The candlelight represented the hope that Christ brought to the world through His birth and resurrection. Thus, to those who knew Luther, the tree evolved into a symbol, not just of Christmas, but of Christian faith in general. (pp 73-74)

When I was a kid, every year I would look forward to going to the tree farm with my dad. One of my bitter Christmas memories was the year I missed out. I had done some weaseling with logging piano practice hours during the week, and somehow my mother found out. So, in my mother's way, she sent my father out for the tree while she stayed home with me and kept an eagle eye on my reluctant fingers as I moped at the piano for half an hour practising, with just a tad of irony, "O Tannenbaum."

Ours is a mixed marriage -- my husband grew up in a home that put up a fake tree every Christmas. But, as in most mixed marriages, one spouse converted. Though he hollered and fussed the first couple of years about the sap and the needles, he eventually grew to love the fresh evergreen smell permeating all the rooms during the most wonderful time of the year. And he began to appreciate the ritual involved in choosing a tree and to accept it as a positive family tradition. In our house, this rite of the season is as follows:

Somewhere around two weeks before Christmas -- if possible on a freezing cold, icy, snowy sort of day -- we drive my car (because of the sap) to the local grocery store's parking lot. There, we meet up with the same two guys we see every year. These guys are great. If we were not already in the Christmas spirit, we would be irresistibly drawn into it by the gap-toothed grins the greet us under the baseball caps of questionable cleanliness that cover so poorly the greasy coifs of stringy hair. We roam freely amidst the lanes of Nobles, Douglases, and Fasers that make up the bulk of the selection. Sadie acts the part of wood nymph, dancing among the pines and firs with careless abandon, often coming too close to a blissful leap out into the parking lot traffic of near-frantic holiday grocery shoppers. And, above all the bustle, you'll hear . . . "Sadie! Get back here! Help us choose a tree!"

We look and look, and then we listen. And the perfect tree whispers to us through the biting cold. So Jason, being the man, gets to stay outside with Toothless the First, wrestling the botanical beast onto the roof of my Honda, while Sadie and I make the Walk of Trepidation to the trailer. As we climb slowly up the steps, the smell of cigarettes seeps under the closed door. Knock, knock, knock. "Come in!" Toothless the Second replies.

Money changes hands. We now own a tree. Sadie, who has been dancing about in the background, hardly able to contain her excitement, finds the opportunity to make a bid for one out of the disreputable grouping of candy canes that sits on a makeshift desk. Toothless the Second smiles ghoulishly as he bends down to offer her her choice. I stand there awkwardly, trying to avert my eyes from everything at once -- from the filthy mattresses with hastily thrown blankets; from the kitchenette with that morning's breakfast dishes forming a festive habitat for microbiological organisms; from the ominously half-opened door in the rear that I shudder to realize is most likely the bathroom; from the general revolt against hygiene that surrounds me.

Outside, more money has changed hands in the form of a tip between Jason and Toothless the First. We then flee with our tree . . . whee! And, when we get home, the story continues, with much swearing and grunting on the part of Jason as he hauls in the needle-covered sap-bleeder while I hover in the background like a nervous bird -- offering, but never really providing, help. Long story short, both our marriage and the Christmas spirit somehow survive the tree stand ordeal, Ella Fitzgerald's unmatchable voice bursts joyfully from the stereo, and the delightful job of decorating begins.

Good times!

To all who decorate the evergreen (and to the rest who do not, but -- I'll bet -- wish they did), merry, merry Christmas!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sadie's Snowman

Today, Sadie entered a cake in her school's cake decorating contest. I'm very proud of her.

She picked out the design from an ad for cookies that she found in the newspaper. She mixed up the cake batter. And she decorated the cake herself.

Now, to help her along so that she could do so much by herself, I baked a practice cake, and we figured everything out beforehand. I am including some pics, because I think Sadie did a marvelous job, and because I am especially happy with the way the Twizzler scarf turned out (perfect ends for fringing!).

The cake is Devil's Food with vanilla frosting. The ear muffs are chocolate chip cookies with blue frosting and a Twizzler band. The eyes are half Oreo cookies. The nose is a triangle baked out of cinnamon roll dough (thanks, Pillsbury!) and then covered with orange frosting. The mouth is a series of raisins. And the scarf was formed from the inspired use of more Twizzlers.

Snowman Brothers (Mine on the Left; Sadie's on the Right)

Sadie's Snowman

I saw some of the other cakes entered into the contest, and I cannot help but think that, in their processes of creation, there was more than the "minimal parental involvement" requested on the entry form. Isn't that the way it goes on school projects, though? We parents are a competitive lot. I told Sadie this morning that, whether she wins a prize or not, she did a great job and can take great pleasure in the fact that she did almost all of it by herself (including the awesome Twizzler scarf fringing effect).

(Apologies for the state of our kitchen floor, by the way. We're having them redone, and the whole house is a wreck.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"There Ain't a Body, Be it Mouse or Man, That Ain't Made Better By a Little Soup."

It is a deep grey autumn day here in the Pacific Northwest. There is a stillness and resignation in the nearly bare branches of the trees outside my kitchen window -- as if they've thrown off their beauty to commiserate with the dying year. Every once in a while, a dull brown bird flits quickly by, trying to beat the chill that chases it back to its nest. It is a day for soup.

Kate DiCamillo understands about soup. She wrote an entire book, The Tale of Despereaux, as a paean to the wondrous concoction of broth and bits. OK, Despereaux is not only about soup, but also about light and darkness, heroism and villainy, and the power of story to kindle hope and keep it alive. But, the necessity and comfort of soup is there, too. As Cook tells us, "There ain't a body, be it mouse or man, that ain't made better by a little soup." You and I know that is true.

So, I am having a bowl for lunch. And, it is so good, that I want to share the recipe with whosoever may come along.

Potato-Leek-Cheese Soup (serves 2-4)

5 T. Butter
4 Leeks
4 Stalks of Celery
2 Large Potatoes
6 cups Water
8 oz. Cream Cheese
8 oz. Plain Yogurt
Garlic Salt and Black Pepper to taste

Chop up leeks and celery. Peel and cube potatoes. Saute all three in butter in a large pot for approximately 5 minutes. Add water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer for 30 minutes.

Use fork to mash potatoes. Add in cream cheese and yogurt and stir until smooth and melted. Add garlic salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with artisan bread -- preferably Pain Rustique. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Album Review: The Christmas Collection

With the heartbreak of the 2008 elections behind me, I am ready to turn to a far more joyful subject: Christmas. More specifically, Christmas music. It is always difficult for me to put off pulling out the seasonal tunes until November -- and I have been known to listen a time or two to a particular favorite even before Halloween.

The first Christmas after I became a believer, I went out and bought two Christmas albums: a recording of Handel's Messiah and Amy Grant's Home for Christmas. These two became the foundation of what has grown over the years to become quite a collection, indeed. The crowning moment of my Christmas cache was in 2004 when I added the long-awaited album by Carolyn Arends, Christmas: An Irrational Season. But I have many, many treasures, and it wouldn't be Christmas without a spin in the CD player from such artists as Point of Grace, Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Connick, Jr., Nat King Cole, Jewel, Chris Rice, and many others. And Amy Grant. Especially Amy Grant.

Some have called her the "voice of Christmas," and that is as fair a designation as any when you consider that she had released three holiday albums by 1999 . Something about that melting, smoky, honeyed drawl just marries well with the songs of the season. My personal favorite of hers is the first, A Christmas Album (1983). It is a pitch-perfect combination of the fresh and fun and the sincere and spiritual. Home for Christmas (1992) is lush and orchestral. A Christmas to Remember (1999) was an album to forget in my opinion -- a couple of good songs mixed into a dull and spiritless compilation. So, in 2008, Amy Grant has released The Christmas Collection, a "best-of" that also includes four new recordings.

Of course, I bought it today.

I was most eager to hear the new stuff, since I've owned the others for years. So, if you are like me and just want the skinny on the new songs, here you go:

1. "Jingle Bells" -- Apparently this arrangement of "Jingle Bells" was originally done by Barbra Streisand. I find it pretty awful. The tempo cannot decide whether to be fast and jazzy or slow and elegant; it tries both, erratically, and fails. Amy's voice doesn't even sound good. Yuck. (P.S. I have independently verified this song's exceeding badness by playing it for my husband last night, and his returning the same verdict)

2. "I Need a Silent Night" -- All the wretchedness of "Jingle Bells" cannot take one whit away from the glorious sublimity of "I Need a Silent Night." Here is a heart's cry for the true meaning of Christmas and against the stress and rush we put ourselves under trying to "buy Christmas peace." This is one of the best original Christmas songs I've ever heard. It is Arendsesque in its art; and my commendation cannot go farther than that. This one song is worth the price of the entire album. Of course, you could just buy this song on iTunes for 99¢.

3. "Baby, It's Christmas" -- This is a slow, soft jazz tune about "adult time" on Christmas Eve. I was surprised to find that I liked it. I read the lyrics before I heard the song, and they sound much better than they read. I guess it needs to be sung by a woman in love to make sense.

4. "Count Your Blessings" -- This song is sweet and quiet and peaceful. It is from the movie White Christmas. My only quibble with it is its position in the middle of the song line-up. I think it ruins the arc, and would have preferred it toward the end.

So, those are the new ones. Now, as far as the selection of what older tunes to include, there is a pretty good sampling of the first three albums. I was very glad, though not surprised, to see such must-hear favorites as "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" (HFC), "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" (ACA), "Grown-Up Christmas List" (HFC), and "Tennessee Christmas" (ACA -- and kind of hard to listen to still, because of . . . you know . . .).

Of course, there were some disappointing omissions. Nowhere to be found is the marvelous "Heirlooms" from A Christmas Album, or Amy's beautiful rendition of "The Christmas Song" from same. "Emmanuel, God With Us" is a hauntingly spiritual offering from Home for Christmas that did not make it. And "Christmas Can't Be Very Far Away," my favorite from A Christmas to Remember was left off as well.

And there were some inclusions I could have done without. For instance, though I know that it had to be included, I am no fan of "Breath of Heaven." In fact, I positively dislike it. And, every female singer under fifty who has recorded a Christmas album has covered it. I just don't get its appeal. OK, I do get a bit of its appeal, but I so absolutely disagree with a line in its lyric that I cannot listen to it. "In a world as cold as stone, must I walk this path alone? Be with me now, be with me now." Hello? Can you say 'Joseph'? I know that's not the point of the song, but it tees me off to no end. I hate to see Joseph marginalized in the Christmas story. Do you think Mary could have survived, let alone raised the Baby without Joseph? Aargh! OK, tirade ending . . . Now.

Another song I do not like, though this really has nothing to do with Amy Grant, since she neither wrote it nor sang it poorly, is "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." I used to like it until I saw Meet Me in St. Louis. Oh goodness, how depressing! Then that weird little girl goes out and takes out the snowmen in her rage -- rather disturbing. Now I have a hard time with the song. Anyway, that song from Home for Christmas is the closer on this new album.

So, if you do not have any Amy Grant Christmas albums, this is a good place to start. It will brighten your season. However, do make sure that you buy her first seasonal offering, A Christmas Album, as well. It is her best one -- not a false note in song selection or arrangement. You'll love those I've mentioned here, as well as the driving "Emmanuel," the fresh "Little Town," the sweet original "Christmas Hymn," the rocking "Love Has Come," the delightful "Sleigh Ride" (also included in The Christmas Collection), and the aforementioned favorites, "The Christmas Song" and "Heirlooms." Wonderful stuff.

And, any write-up of Christmas music would not be complete unless I plugged again Carolyn Arends's album, Christmas: An Irrational Season. Its merit has been written of extensively before here, so I will not belabor my point. Just make sure you add it to your collection this year, so that you do not have to experience another Christmas without its wonder and beauty.

Merry Super-Early-But-Why-Not? Christmas Everyone!

Friday, October 24, 2008


One of the most beautiful things about the Internet is that you can glimpse, examine, or immerse yourself in worlds to which you do not really belong. I'm not meaning anything dirty or illegal here; but, face it: There are groups which you may respect, may love and admire, but into which you will never really fit comfortably in a one-on-one situation. The Internet allows you to visit those groups -- hang with them, in a way -- without the discomfort of being visibly out-of-place.

OK, an opening paragraph like that screams for examples, so I want to share some of my favorite places to go where I feel like an interloper (but a respectful, admiring one):

Songville: This is a blog by songwriters for songwriters. I am not, nor -- alas -- shall I ever be, a songwriter; however, I love this site. Not only is it run by my favorite songwriter, Carolyn Arends (admittedly why I first visited the site), but it is chock-full of great creativity-inspiring advice and ideas. And, as a sort-of writer in my own right (without the musical ability), I can really appreciate any adrenaline boosting smack-to-the-head for my wayward muse.

Freedom's Journal Magazine: This beautiful on-line magazine is a conservative, Christian journal from an African-American perspective. I am obviously super-white (especially since it's been almost two months since I've visited the tanning salon); but, unlike, apparently, many middle-class suburban whites, I've always lived in racially-mixed neighborhoods. To me, growing up, The Cosby Show reflected reality --those were the families in my neighborhood. So, it was heart-breaking to learn, as I grew older, of the terrible history that Blacks experienced in the U.S and realize how much that legacy still clouds and stunts inter-racial relationships today. And, unfortunately, it began to change my comfort level. I started to get that hyper-sensitivity to anything racial when speaking with my African-American friends and neighbors; and, though I strive to fight against it, that still affects me today around my wonderful neighbors whom I love very much.

Reading Freedom's Journal reminds me that, as a Christian with conservative values, I have a lot more in common with many in the Black community than with the secular, libertine Caucasians that populate this particular corner of Eden known as the Pacific Northwest. I am still too timid to discuss politics or faith with my neighbors; but, FJM gives me hope that one day we will find a shared set of American Christian values and really come together in Jesus's name.

The Western Standard: Ah, Canadians! I love them. And, to find Canadians who are not afraid to stand up to the post-1967 weirdness of Euro-Canada is a cool thing, indeed. Now, I am not Canadian -- nor, unlike my friend, Princess Holly, do I wish I were -- but reading this on-line journal makes me feel a little Maple-leafy inside, and, more than once, "O Canada" has swelled to my lips unwittingly.

American Chesterton Society: Now, this is an iffy inclusion. G.K. Chesterton is by no means loved and admired by Catholics alone. He is a Christian for all seasons. However, he is a famous Catholic convert, and they have every right to claim him as ardently as they do. So, visiting Chesterton sites and attending Seattle Chesterton Society meetings is akin to being on the warm-up bench at the big game. C'mon coach, put me in! However, I remain a little, lonely and lowly Protestant in a sea of awesome Catholics. Again, though, we have far more in common, theologically and culturally, than we have divisions. And Gilbert Keith is way too cool to stop indulging in him simply because I attend Calvary Chapel and not Our Lady of Perpetual Indigestion.

Messianic Jewish Communications: Again, I am not a Jew, nor do I play one on T.V., but I love this resource site and have used it often. I think that Messianic Jews are brave in their conviction to live their lives as Jewish believers in Christ. Unfortunately, that too often separates them from Gentile Christians who celebrate Sabbath on Sundays and usually no traditional Jewish holidays, and from the larger Jewish community, which, lamentably, seems more ready to accept secular Jews than those who believe in Jesus. I highly recommend this site -- especially for Christians wanting to immerse themselves in the Judaic history of the Church and the Jewish nature of our Savior.

So there are a few of the sites that I love, despite my never really fitting in to their larger communities. Of course, that is the greatest thing about the world's getting smaller -- we can find common cause with people from whom we might be separated in life. We can simply cut through the diabolical and divisive forces of first impressions and surface differences, and delve into our shared reply to the question at the heart of every matter: How ought we to live?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Physician-Assisted Suicide (For a Light, Fun Topic)

Well, physician-assisted suicide, or "death with dignity," will be on the ballot here in Washington this November as I-1000.


And, I have squishy feelings about it. I'm wavering on how to vote.

As a Christian, I do not believe that I have a right to take my own life, no matter how much I do not want to suffer in an illness. To honor my Creator, I need to trust Him with the time and manner of my death. As a daughter, I do not want my father to end his life early if, God forbid, he should have a fatal illness. I want him to be here on earth with me for as long as possible; and I will gladly take care of him and treasure him until his natural death.

However, I think it is silly and presumptuous to say that, because I feel strongly that physician-assisted suicide is immoral and unacceptable, no one should be able to contract with a physician for drugs that would end what he perceives as unreasonable suffering.

For me, this topic, unlike abortion, has myriad grey areas. Abortion is the taking of another's life -- a life so innocent and unable to speak for herself, that she deserves every protection under the law. Physician-assisted suicide, though, is only about taking one's own life. And, as disgusting and God-dismissing as that is, it is questionable to try to legislate that. Anyone who wants to may take his life at any time; and, for his survivors, it would be, I think, far easier to walk in upon a drug-overdose suicide than many other kinds.

There is, of course, a terrible precedent set by insisting that life loses some of its value in suffering. I cannot help but think that it is a bad idea to hide away end-of-life issues, because it marginalizes and disregards those who are vulnerable and dependent. Our society needs more lessons in compassion, not fewer.

I think that I will probably vote against I-1000 on November 4. This is just too much of a slippery slope for me. Plus, I will have to answer to the Most High some day for every action, every decision, and every thought. This initiative is not God-honoring; therefore, I cannot vote for it. But, I can certainly see the other side's point of view. It is a tough, highly personal issue.

Monday, October 20, 2008


Well, I broke down and joined Twitter. Updates will post on this blog's sidebar and also here.


Is Your Whole Worldview in His Hands?

How biblical is your worldview? Mine is, according to this test from Worldview Weekend, 87% biblical.

Why does worldview matter, anyway?

Well, there is probably no better way to predict how a person will react to unforeseen circumstances and what decisions he will make in the hum-drum of the everyday.

For self-identified Christians, worldview is the dividing line between those who see Jesus as guru and those who see Him as Lord. I always find it quite amusing when Christians take on the sophisticated view that the Bible is largely metaphorical and not meant to be taken literally -- even up to the crucifixion and resurrection. Of course, Jesus Himself saw scripture as historical in nature -- He believed all of the things that post-modern Christians like to mock. The funny thing is, He was there; we weren't; I'll take Him at His word.

My lowest score on this test came in the section dealing with American civil law. I do not think that our country's founding was quite as biblically-based as the creators of the test do. I could certainly be taken to school on this. I know, for a fact, that the nation as a whole has always been more biblically adherent than our leaders. Some of our founding fathers were Christians; many were Deists. I do agree, though, that they used the Bible as one of their models for forming a just government; they also looked to Plato and Rome and British law.

Anyway, this was an interesting test. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Addictive Fun (But For a Good Cause)

Free Rice! Free Rice! Free Rice!

No, our Secretary of State has not been taken hostage (so far as I know); but, here is an addictive and fun and educational site that also helps get food to vulnerable people around the world.

Basically, this is a quiz site with a twist: For every correct answer, sponsors of this site donate 20 grains of rice through the U.N. World Food Program. Doesn't sound like a lot, does it? Well, you'd be surprised how quickly it adds up. I just started playing the vocabulary quiz yesterday, and have probably played less than 1/2 hour total, yet I have donated more than 3000 grains, so far.

I encourage you to visit and play and see if you do not learn a few new words in the process (there are also math, geography, chemistry, and foreign language quizzes). And it is great to watch the little cyber-bowl fill with rice as you show off your linguistic prowess.

Happy Playing!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Life Mosaic

I found this fun blog doo-dah on my friend, Kadie's, blog (I think her blog is private, so I will not link to it and blow her cover):

Make a Life Mosaic!

These are the Q & A's that describe each of the photos (from left to right):

1. What is your first name? Justine
2. What is your favorite food? Cheeseburger (And how stoked was I to find this image of the best cheeseburger in the world -- the In-N-Out Double Double? So . . . hungry . . .)
3. What high school did you go to? Claremont High (I chose the water down the drain because it most aptly described my opinion of high school.)
4. What is your favorite color? Blue (Gotta love this guy floating in the breezy blue sky.)
5. Who is your celebrity crush? Bobby Jindal (Hubba, hubba!)
6. Favorite drink? Starbucks Gingerbread Latte ("It's the most wonderful time of the year . . .")
7. Dream vacation? Ireland
8. Favorite dessert? Fruit Tart (I actually had this at my wedding, instead of the traditional white albatross)
9. What you want to be when you grow up? A writer (OK, technically, there is no elusive career for which I long; however, I always have a vague, guilty feeling that I ought to be a writer + what a cool pic, eh?)
10. What do you love most in life? Laughter
11. One Word to describe you? Optimistic
12. Your flickr or nickname? Goober (But only Jason is allowed to call me this. Don't even think about it . . . seriously, don't even think . . . you're thinking about it right now, aren't you?)

Here's how to make YOUR mosaic:
1. Type your answer to each of the questions above into Flickr Search.
2. Using only the first page, pick an image.
3. Copy and paste each of the URLs for the images into fd’s mosaic maker.
4. Copy the mosaic image (right click, save image as) to your computer.

And, here are the links to give credit and love back to the photographers who posted to Flickr and allowed me to create this lovely diversion:

1. Pirate Justine, 2. burger 3. fountain redux, 4. Just hanging around, 5. 1/14/2008 Bobby Jindal, The Governor of Louisiana, 6. I <3 Starbucks 7. Irish Farmland, 8. fruits tart, 9. writer's teeth, 10. Funny, 11. Wake Up (It's a Beautiful Morning), 12. Goober

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

All Other Ground is Sinking Sand

No, the sky is not falling; but, if you are like me, watching your modest portfolio pitch and dive like a sailboat in a tempest can look like an incredible imitation of blue firmament careening toward you. Don't duck and cover -- whether it is a mere acorn or the fallout of dubious financial dealings from folks like ACORN that's bonked us on our heads, we'll all be just fine.

Now is the time when you realize where your treasure really is.

And that is why I have that surpassing peace and immeasurable good cheer. Every time the world and its mechanisms fail, another window is opened for Christ to reveal His sustaining glory. The same rock that can leave your vessel a water-logged wreck is also the one that, when you cling to it, will save your life.

I pray that we do not lose sight of the important things in this next period of belt-tightening and priority reassessments -- that we who are never outside of the realm of God's blessings do not forget to bless the Father with our worship, praise, and trust; and to bless Him, also, by blessing others in His name.

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind."
-- 2 Timothy 1:7

Saturday, September 27, 2008

When It Rains . . .

It pours! Ugh, how clichéd a way to start a post.

Anyway, the world o' blogs has gone from a dearth of new material to read -- from old friends and new resources -- to a whirlwind again. From Carolyn Arends alone there is suddenly a wealth of musings o' life and song and story to read.

Now I'm overusing the whimsical "blank o' blank" device. Yikes! Someone stop this bad writing! (I blame Stephan Pastis.)

So, updated goes the old sidebar (I had to physically restrain myself from writing "old" as "ol'" -- see, I can get better.) (The parenthetical asides continue unabated, though.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Progression, Regression, and The Shack

I have been to The Shack. I read this surprise bestseller a couple of months ago at the beginning of the summer. While there are some moving parts, it is easily forgettable. In fact, in trying to write this right now, I have realized that there are only a few scenes from the book that have stayed with me. It's rather like the Chinese food of pop-Christian literature.

But, Eugene Peterson is quoted thus on its cover: "This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress did for his. It's that good." Of course, Eugene Peterson also is responsible for giving us the dubious gift of The Message (the only "translation" of Biblical text about which I have been heard to say, "I hate it."), so, if I were author William Young, I'd have said, "Thanks, but no thanks on the endorsement, Gene, old boy."

Said cover blurb did, however, raise my curiosity. I decided to read, at long last, The Pilgrim's Progress, and see if this beloved allegory of Christendom were as insipid as Peterson had unintentionally implied. I love having a go at a classic, and Bunyan's a Brit, so he already had an advantage going in, to my Anglophilic way of thinking.

The Pilgrim's Progress certainly isn't banal -- there's not a bit of vapid fluff on its stark bones -- but it is arduous. I cannot remember the last time I had to work so hard to get through a book. Unlike The Shack, where there is, I believe, not one reference to Biblical text, PP is rife with scriptural citations. This is very good from a theologically defensive position (as Bunyan was always in trouble with the Church of England for his Puritan proclivities), but it is very distracting from a literary one.

The Pilgrim's Progress's greatest failing, in my opinion, is its utter lack of wit and humor. There is a sweet and imploring earnestness throughout the book that gives it some redeeming charm; but, in reading it, I finally understood what Chesterton was talking about when he dismissed the dour Puritans. It is a book that I am very grateful to have read after becoming a Christian, as I think its bleakness would have pushed my spiritual walk back a few steps. I believe it is doctrinally sound, but the delectable strain of exuberant joy that to me characterizes a life lived knowing Christ is, if not missing, then tragically subdued.

A confession: I only finished part one of The Pilgrim's Progress. I have heard tell that part two, wherein Christian's wife and children make their own journey, is a little lighter in tone and friendlier in spirit, so I will have to come back to it soon and rejoin Bunyan's allegorical adventure. In the meantime, I have decided to visit with Jack Lewis and read his own homage to PP, The Pilgrim's Regress.

At last I am in a familiar and congenial land. In structure alone, C.S. Lewis's book is easier on the eyes and mind. In style, of course, Lewis is a master. I have only read about five chapters, but, so far, it is an interesting journey. The Pilgrim's Regress was the first book that C.S. Lewis wrote after becoming a Christian, and the book has a sense of being a bit rough about the edges -- which makes it all the more accessible. As a reader, there is a sense of reality in the protagonist, John's, journey -- his yearning and struggles and questions and doubts and weaknesses make sense, because, in a way, it is the author himself who has begun something new.

Christian literature is much like the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead -- when it is good, it is very, very good (read: transcendent, sublime); when it is bad, it is horrid. The Shack is not horrid, exactly, but, despite its being on the shelves of every bookstore across this nation, I cannot think that it will achieve immortality. There is simply not enough bite to it. Not to mention, you're hungry again an hour after finishing it.

September 11

Thank goodness for podcasting. I was in Chicago on September 11 this year, but, with the magic of digital archiving, I was able to get caught up on my favorite radio program, the Michael Medved Show, when I returned. And I just listened to his broadcast on Sept. 11 yesterday. Boy, did it bring back a flood of memories.

I was up unusually early that Tuesday morning. I had to be at work by 7:30 AM. I was puttering around the kitchen at 6:00, making a peanut butter and banana sandwich for breakfast. The radio was on, and I was listening to the Kirby Wilbur Show on AM 570. He was talking about a local story -- a boy who had accidentally been killed by his father at a shooting range. About a quarter after the hour, the newscaster, Carleen Johnson, broke into his show and said, in a voice I'll never forget, "Kirby, I'm seeing reports that a plane has flown into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York."

Of course, at first, we thought it was a small, private plane that had lost its bearings and slammed into the building in a tragic accident. I could not conceive that it would be anything else. But, knowing that Jason has interest in both giant skyscrapers and airplanes, I shook him awake and told him to turn on the TV before I went into the shower. While in the shower, I was still listening to the radio when they reported that another airplane had crashed into the other WTC tower. I screamed out, "Terrorists!" Oh God! What a horrible day.

On my drive to work, I heard about the plane exploding into the side of the Pentagon. Soon afterward came news of a possibly unrelated jet crash in Pennsylvania. Driving, driving, driving. I heard that helicopters were trying to fly close enough to rescue people trapped in the top floors of the WTC towers. "They have to get those people out," I whispered to myself, "Because those towers are going to collapse." I don't know how I knew it, but I just had a terrible vision of the two proud structures tumbling to the ground in clouds of smoke and debris. When I saw the footage of the same later, it was hellish déjà vu.

At work it was pale faces, haunted eyes, and hushed voices all day. We kept the radio on in the office as each unfolding of wretched news held our tortured attention. When I returned home that afternoon, I did what I never do: Turned on the television and sat on the couch without moving. It takes a lot of time to ingest that level of evil. Jason came home, and we watched almost all night, praying for news of more rescues, more heroism, more hope. We wanted and needed to know that somehow, someway, our country would survive.

When I drove to work the next morning, I looked at the late summer glory surrounding me. There is no place on earth more beautiful to my eyes than Washington. And I tried to memorize it, because I was convinced that everything had changed forever. I looked to the future, and all I could see was attack after attack by a dispersed, determined, and diabolical enemy. And, admit it, that's what you saw on September 12, 2001, too.

And so, when I listened to Michael Medved last night, it all came rushing back to me -- that day of seven years ago. I started crying. And, when Mr. Medved played clips of President Bush's addressing the nation, whether from the Capitol or from a pile of rubble in Manhattan, I cried even harder. Damn it. You know what? I felt this overwhelming need to say, "Thank you, Mr. President." Because what I thought would be on September 12, 2001 is not my reality on September 24, 2008.

George W. Bush has been simultaneously vilified and dismissed over these past seven years. And, I'll confess, I did not agree that this current Iraq War was the best investment of American lives and taxpayers' dollars; but, here is the thing: I do not fear flying on an airplane. I do not hesitate to ride on public transportation or visit a shopping center. In the most important job that a U.S. President has -- protecting our country from attack; keeping citizens safe -- President Bush has done a remarkable job.

Thank you, Mr. President. You have this American's gratitude.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Art of Humorous Hyperbole

I'll admit: I am a big fan of the "Chuck Norris Facts" that have made their rounds 'round the world wide web. Now, Über-All-American-Girl, Sarah Palin, has her own little known facts site. Visit and have a chuckle.

Some of my favorites:
  • N. Alaska is sunny half the year and dark half the year because Sarah Palin needed the reading light, then wanted a nap.
  • Death once had a near-Sarah Palin experience.
  • When Sarah Palin booked a flight to Europe, the French immediately surrendered.
  • Sarah Palin can divide by zero.
  • Sarah Palin got Tom Brady pregnant, and then left him. (N.B. This explains his "injury" that put him out of play this season.)
  • Sarah Palin became governor because five children left her with too much spare energy.
  • Sarah Palin paid her way through school by hunting for yeti pelts with a slingshot.
  • Sarah Palin knows the location of D.B. Cooper’s body because she threw him from the plane.
  • Sarah Palin once bagged a caribou by staring it down until it died.
  • What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? Sarah Palin.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Stand Up and Fight!

This call to action that ended John McCain's acceptance speech at the RNC moves me to tears:

I'm going to fight for my cause every day as your President. I'm going to fight to make sure every American has every reason to thank God, as I thank Him: that I'm an American, a proud citizen of the greatest country on earth, and with hard work, strong faith and a little courage, great things are always within our reach.

Fight with me. Fight with me. Fight for what's right for our country.

Fight for the ideals and character of a free people.

Fight for our children's future.

Fight for justice and opportunity for all.

Stand up to defend our country from its enemies. Stand up for each other; for beautiful, blessed, bountiful America. Stand up, stand up, stand up and fight. Nothing is inevitable here. We're Americans, and we never give up. We never quit. We never hide from history. We make history.

Thank you, and God bless you, and God bless America.

John McCain is the first Presidential nominee I can remember who has asked me to fight for what might be called "The Idea of America." Most politicians just rattle off a bunch of promises of things their administration will give you, never pausing to consider that those goodies are not theirs to give. But, this . . . this was even better than JFK's "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." This was heart-thumping, palm-sweating, spine-tingling, jump-up-off-the-couch-and-cheer-with-the-convention-crowd good.

Now, I'm finally excited about John McCain for who he is; not merely excited about the Sarahcuda (though, I am admittedly still very much stoked about her as well).

Senator McCain, I accept your challenge. I will fight with you.

Friday, August 29, 2008

It's Morning in America

Our next Vice President of the United States of America,
the current Governor of Alaska,
Sarah Palin.
She's exciting, by the way, not because she is a woman,* but because she is a proven, conservative reformer (hey, that oxymoron works, eh?), and she is a pro-life Christian who walks the talk. Plus, I'll take a two-year governor and former mayor over any amount of senatorial experience, any day.
Palin successfully killed the "Bridge to Nowhere" project that had become a nationwide symbol of wasteful earmark spending. "Alaska needs to be self-sufficient," she says, "instead of relying heavily on 'federal dollars,' as the state does today."** Add an "Amen," and bask in the elegant simplicity of that statement for a moment.
On April 18, 2008, Palin gave birth to her second son, Trig Paxson Van Palin, who has Down Syndrome. She returned to the office three days after giving birth. Palin refused to let the results of prenatal genetic testing change her decision to have the baby. "I'm looking at him right now, and I see perfection," Palin said. "Yeah, he has an extra chromosome. I keep thinking, in our world, what is normal and what is perfect?"**
God bless our future Veep.
*Very insulting insinuations, MSM. Any voter who would decide his or her vote because of the gender or race of a candidate ought not to be voting.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

File This Under: "You Learn Something New Every Day"

Sadie and Rylee and I took a delightful nine-year-old named Kayla to the Issaquah Zoo today. At their great animal tracks exhibit, and Kayla pointed to a lemur's tracks and said, "That's a monkey's print."

I was excited that she recognized it as a primate's. "Actually, it's a lemur's, but they're primates too, so that was a good observation," I encouraged.

Kayla said, "Yeah, I knew it was some sort of monkey. Humans are just monkeys too, you know; except, we've dissolved."


Thursday, July 17, 2008

What It Is Not All About

It is so frustrating, as a parent, to see your child not value something at which they have remarkable talent.

Now, call me biased, but my daughter, Sadie, has some lovely skill at ballet. It is a joy to watch her dance. That is, it is a joy when you are able to watch her dance. Too often, in her ballet class, she is chattering, crying, staring off in the distance, or doing something else disruptive. Her dance teacher, Miss Kelly, puts up with it, I think, because she knows that Sadie can pull it together on recital day and be a credit to her class, rather than the disgrace that she is for most of the nine months preceding.

I cannot understand her attitude. I loved ballet when I was little, and I think I would have practiced until my feet bled, had I shown even half of Sadie's talent. But, Sadie whines and complains about dance all the time. Interestingly, though, she never takes me up on my offers that she quit ballet, because she lives for that spotlight in June. But, oh how she makes us miserable until the blessed recital day!

So, after her latest triumph of a recital where she danced bee-yew-tifully, her dad asked her why she misbehaves so often in class. She said that it was boring to have to wait for the others to learn the steps, and she hated some of the games that they played.

"What kind of games?" Jason, who rarely sees the classes, asked.

"Mostly the hokey-pokey," Sadie replied, scrunching up her face into an expression of disdain. "I hate it! It makes me furious with rage!"

"The hokey-pokey?" Jason reiterated in bewilderment.

"Yes!" Sadie roared.

Well, Miss Kelly does pull that one out quite a bit. I can see how it could get tiring.

The next day, Jason prodded her further on this particular bugaboo. "What don't you like about the hokey-pokey?" he pressed, "It's a lot of fun."

"It's so long and boring," Sadie asserted. "You put your right hand in, your right hand out, put it in, shake it about, blah, blah, blah. Why not put your whole self in right away, shake yourself about, do the hokey-pokey, and be done with it?"

Well, she never got a coherent reply out of us, as we were too busy snorting back gales of laughter. I'll never look at the hokey-pokey the same way again.

Sadie's moved up to the next level in ballet, and I hope she'll be mature enough this upcoming fall to participate with better will in class. Maybe in the new level, the hokey-pokey will not rear its superfluous head quite as often. We can only hope.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Observation #686

You know it's been a tough day when you've been roaming the aisles at the supermarket for over a half an hour, trying to decide what to buy for dinner that night, and the only thing in your cart is the economy-sized bottle of white zinfandel.


Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy Birthday, U.S.A.!

In honor of my beloved country's 232nd birthday, I want to share ten of my favorite places to visit in the U.S.A. (in no particular order, and definitely not exclusive):

Best Hike: Denny Creek and Slide Rocks in Snoqualmie Pass, WA. This is a great hike with kids -- only about 2.5 miles through stunning old-growth forest -- and the payoff is a natural water slide that feels great on one of those uncommonly hot Northwest summer days. Bring a plastic shopping bag for your bum, and slide away!

Best Park: Forest Park in St. Louis, MO. Ever since they re-made Forest Park in honor of the 100th Anniversary of the 1904 World's Fair, this sprawling park has become a stunning showcase of Belle Epoque beauty. From "Shakespeare in the Park" and paddle boating on the restored waterways in the summer to the impressive art and history museums in the winter, there is every reason to visit Forest Park year-round.

Best Botanical Gardens: The Missouri Botanical Gardens in St. Louis, MO. Another jewel in St. Lou, MoBot is far and away the most ravishing botanical gardens I have ever visited. I think it would be impossible to grow tired of visiting, as the flora is so extensive, and the visiting art displays are so intriguing. It's a winner with kids, too, as they've got a killer children's play area (Old West theme), an English hedge maze, and endless other things on which climbing is allowed.

Best Museum: The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. I first visited this group of museums when I was nine, and it has been my standard of excellence ever since. Honorable mentions, though, would have to include the Field Museum in Chicago; my favorite from childhood, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County; and, for its limited scope, you cannot beat the Laura Ingalls Wilder House Museum in Mansfield, MO.

Best Kick-Ass Mansion Owned By an Eccentric Millionaire: Hearst Castle in San Simeon, CA. There are more candidates for this very specific category than you might realize: Winchester Mystery House, Biltmore, innumerable ones in the South, I'm sure. But, Hearst Castle has to take the cake. Not only is it excessively grand and verging on tacky -- as any great house ought to be -- but the lingering Hollywood mystique, combined with the heartbreaking pathos of W.R. Hearst's love affair with Marion Davies make this an easy place to lose oneself in speculation. Keep your eyes open for photos that include Carole Lombard when you take a tour.

Best Beach Town: Laguna, CA. This is a sentimental choice for me. I spent many, many weeks of my childhood summers in Laguna, as it was a favorite of both my mother and my father, and it will forever remain in my mind as the quintessential beach town. I don't even think the beach is that great -- very stony, rather than sandy, if memory serves -- but the atmosphere is appropriately casual chic, with plenty of funky shops and outdoor cafes.

Best Beach: Virginia Beach, VA. Warm Atlantic currents and milky-white sand make this one of the best beaches in America, in my opinion. It also comes across as more locally visited, rather than so touristy, which is refreshing.

Best Place to Shop: University Village, Seattle, WA. I just love this outdoor shopping plaza, and I don't care who knows. It has my favorite shops all together in one place: Eddie Bauer, B&N, The Land of Nod, Hanna Andersson and more! It's a great place to walk around with your requisite Starbucks concoction in your hand and drink in the PNW-ness.

Best Road Tripping Highway: Here is a tie: 101 that runs up and down the coast of California is gorgeous; I-90 that crosses the top half of the continental U.S. takes you through a different kind of American beauty. If you love road trips like I do, either one is a good bet.

Best City: Oh dear. I love Seattle, New York, and St. Louis so very much, but I think that I may have to pick as my favorite (mostly because it so surprised me) Chicago, IL. You cannot beat the atmosphere of this city -- add to that the innumerable cultural doings and great food and easy mobility . . . it's one heck of a great town.

And this is one heck of a great country. Happy Independence Day!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Which Is More Frustrating: Reading Lyrics to a Song You Cannot Hear? Or Reading About a Book You Cannot Buy?

I'm reading a really, really good novel right now. Unfortunately, you cannot read it. Nya, nya.

It's called Rainmaker's Wrestling, and it is by the inimitable Flicka Spumoni. If you've any sense at all, you will go and read the few chapters she has posted on her blog. It's not enough, but it will have to do.

I was determined to read this book, so I badgered Ms. Spumoni until she finally sent me a copy. Then, I was afraid of it; it sat on my shelf, rebuking me, for a few months. I mean, what if I couldn't get into it? Whatever would I say to Flicka, especially after having made such a fuss? I knew I liked the first chapter and the few middle chapters that she had made available, but here is my big secret: I am not a fiction reader.

What? The very title of this blog comes from a novel.

Yes, and a very good novel at that. But, even so, I am no fiction reader.

I do read some fiction, but it is very rare that I find a story that I can lose myself in. And, I tend to love Brit Lit best, and ignore or disparage most North American novels. There are many exceptions, but it's still safe to say that I lean toward non-fiction nine times out of ten. Of course, I read such a volume of books in general, that quite a few novels have been in the mix. I manage to work in about three or four a year.

Also, I knew that Rainmaker would be dark in places. There is a sense of brooding, almost American Gothic, that permeates the first chapter. It is all very beautiful in its stark, dark way, but could I sustain the stomach to read further? Would a girl who is drawn to the "light, bright, and sparkling" in literature be able to adapt to a tale that starts with whoredom, drugs, and abuse; especially when a little baby has to be born into all of it?

Well, I went into Chapter 2 with a catch in my throat, but my fears were immediately swept aside by this gripping tale. It is almost ludicrously easy to immerse yourself in this story. The characters are very real -- you would swear that these were people that the author hung out with yesterday, though the story begins sixty years ago. Within the first five chapters, I had already belly-laughed out loud once and cried twice.

Now, there are pitfalls when a story is this good. Sometimes the author makes the worst things happen to the best people. That is another reason that I tend not to read fiction. If it's non-fiction, I know pretty much who will live and die going in; novels tend to suck you in until you are completely devoted to a character or two and then the author causes their demise, which throws you into an emotional vortex. I will admit that after a certain chapter in this book, I was so broken-hearted that I had to set it aside for a few days; then, I got mad at Flicka, and left it aside for a few days more. The tragedy of that chapter infiltrated my dreams and gave me nightmares. It would pierce me suddenly when I was just going about my business, causing me to sob with as little control as I had the first time I read it. Dammit, Flicka! I've got a life to live here. You've gotta stop doing this to me.

But, of course, I'm back into it now. You cannot leave the other characters hanging just because your heart is rent. I'm still devastated, but I read on.

So, I am completely envious of Flicka's obvious and abundant talent for writing fiction. I'm a complete dud at that art form. Not only can she write novels, but she wrote a short story a while back called The Troll, The Flute and The Forbidden Music, that I printed off and have yet, because I find it so enchanting.

Alongside the envy, in fact overshadowing it in every way, is this tremendous pride I have in my genius friend who has blessed and privileged me with a copy of her novel. I am just so proud to know her and read her work before it's published. Because it will be published; of that I'm sure. She is a mighty fine writer.

Someday, you will be able to read it, too. Until then, I repeat: Nya, nya!

Friday, June 20, 2008

I Am Tan. Tan I Am.

I think that everyone is entitled to an entirely frivolous dream or two. Something that is emphatically not noble or generous or kind or idealistic. Just a selfish little desire that nags at the mind until it is realized. My dream of this nature has always been to get a tan.

OK, I know it's kind of lame, but just imagine: You are a pasty kid with mousy brown hair living in Southern California. Most people get tanned skin just by walking outside once or twice a week, but your skin stays stubbornly pale; except when you actually make an effort to lie in the sun -- then your fickle hide burns to tomato red and retreats back to white a few days later. This is very frustrating.

So, most of my teen and adult life I have harbored an entirely vain wish to see my skin caramelized at least once. I moved up to the blessed Pacific Northwest, and my melanin inferiority complex lessened a bit (at least many here were as pasty as I for the 8 months a year that the sun is shrouded in clouds), but, in the summer, these infuriatingly outdoorsy folks start showing up looking brown and healthy and fit. Jerks.

About six years ago, I tried tanning beds. I went every day for two weeks before a Las Vegas trip, and sat under the lamps for 10-15 minutes per session. I did not tell Jason, because I wanted him to be blown away when I first appeared at the Luxor's pool area in all my golden glory. Um, I should have known something was up when he never mentioned anything in those two weeks. In Vegas, my blinding whiteness reflected the glare from the water. I was depressed.

Last summer, I decided that my skin and UV rays could never learn to get along, so I went in big for sunless tanning. I bought the super-high-end stuff -- the stuff that says that it will not streak. I faithfully applied it every other day, even employing a disgruntled Jason to get my back. It streaked. And it looked horrible on my knees and elbows, despite the super light touch I used in those trouble spots. The only thing worse than suffering summer in a lily-white state is to go forth with streaky skin. I was embarrassed.

This year, I've been going pretty regularly to the gym (except last week, when I spent my gym time eating King's Hawaiian Bread instead). As I started seeing some buffness come to my arms and legs, their doughy complexion again began to niggle me. I eyed with renewed hope the tanning salon next door to the gym. A thousand and one quotes began to run through my mind; among them: Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Second marriages are the triumph of hope over experience. Like a worn-out bride revisiting the conjugal altar, I pushed open the doors and walked inside.

There, I met the Nut Brown Girl (NBG). She is one of those favorites of fortune who radiate such warmth and likability that immediately engender an absolute trust in what they say. She looked like a wholesome, little nut: dark brown hair, dark brown eyes, and a deep, dusky tan. I decided to pour out my troubled tale of ultra-Caucasian angst to her.

At the end of the saga, I pathetically cried out, "So, can you help me? Can you tell me how to get the tan I've always wanted?" She nodded; knowingly, sympathetically, confidently.

"We can," the NBG asserted. And I believed.

She got me the right products and the right tanning bed. I've been three times, seven minutes each time, and I can say that I am tan. At least, I have a wee tan -- not much, but infinitely better than anything I've ever had before. True, some parts of me are red -- those parts, like my belly, which have surely never seen a UV ray before. But the parts that matter -- arms, legs, shoulders, and even my face (though I use sunscreen on it) -- are light brownish, and I feel great!

So, having got that monkey off my back, I can go back to the bigger, grander dreams of helping to achieve world peace and promoting the universal knowledge of Christ. Or, in my reality, the somewhat smaller, but not less important, dream of blessing the Lord and the people He loves in every way that I can.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

It Was a Very Good Year: 1908

I'm sure you could come up with many things more
To list on this post, but I'll start with four.
Four wonderful things born in 1908
That made that year particularly great.
So here in my awkward and doggerel rhyme,
I'll celebrate the centennial of four things sublime.

The first was when one Gilbert, so witty and foxy
Published his masterpiece, Orthodoxy;
This work, so enchanting, funny, and profound,
Reflects its author, G.K., (though perhaps not as round).
Its excellence is compounded when -- oh woe is me! --
You realize he wrote it when he was thirty-three.

"For if this book is a joke, it is a joke against me. I am the man who, with the utmost daring, discovered what had been discovered before. If there is an element of farce in what follows, the farce is at my own expense; for this book explains how I fancied I was the first to set foot in Brighton and then found I was the last. . . . I freely confess all the idiotic ambitions of the late nineteenth century. I did, like all other solemn little boys, try to be in advance of the age. Like them, I tried to be some 10 minutes in advance of the truth. And I found I was 1,800 years behind it. . . . It may be, heaven forgive me, that I did try to be original; but I only succeeded in inventing all by myself an inferior copy of the existing traditions of civilized religion. . . .I did try to found a heresy of my own; and when I had put the last touches to it, I discovered it was orthodoxy."
[from "Introduction in Defense of Everything Else," Orthodoxy. G.K. Chesterton, 1908)

That year, a second Gilbert also came onto the scene,
Along with a red-haired girl with eyes of grey-green.
More laborous than the cleaning of those Augean Stables
Was Gilbert's task of wooing the maid of Green Gables.
This first was the start of a three-novel plan,
That at last saw Mr. Blythe win his spirited Anne.

"So far, the ordinary observer; an extraordinary observer might have seen that the chin was very pointed and pronounced; that the big eyes were full of spirit and vivacity; that the mouth was sweet-lipped and expressive; that the forehead was broad and full; in short, our discerning extraordinary observer might have concluded that no commonplace soul inhabited the body of this stray woman-child of whom shy Matthew Cuthbert was so ludicrously afraid."
[from "Matthew Cuthbert is Surprised," Anne of Green Gables. L.M. Montgomery, 1908)

If you are a fan of screwball comedy,
I'm sure you can guess who wins slot number three.
In October '08, when autumn winds blew in sweeter,
A stork in Fort Wayne dropped off tiny Jane Peters.
She grew to be beautiful, classy, a real card,
And we know her and love her as Carole Lombard.

“I live by a man's code, designed to fit a man's world, yet at the same time I never forget that a woman's first job is to choose the right shade of lipstick." -- Carole Lombard

The last on this list is a favorite of mine,
Because it's a staple refrain at America's pasttime.
"Take Me Out to the Ballgame" was first sung in '08
And its popularity, it seems, will never abate.
Even while watching the Mariners lose, you poor wretch,
You're happy to sing it in the seventh-inning stretch.

"Take me out to the ballgame
Take me out to the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and cracker-jacks
I don't care if I ever get back.
And we'll root, root, root for the Mariners
If they don't win it's a shame [but expected -- oy!]
'Cause it's one-two-three strikes you're out
At the old ballgame!"

So, there you have it, my nominations this year
Of centennial items we ought to still cheer.
Three things and one person, who each in its place
Spread betterment and joy to the whole human race.
So, read Orthodoxy and Anne; see a Lombard pic or two.
Go sing at a ballgame -- it's what Americans do!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Great Wal-Mart Debate

Jason and I have an ongoing debate about Wal-Mart vs. Small Town America. He is disgusted by towns that pass legislation designed to keep Wal-Mart out of their municipalities. I think that those towns are acting according to American principles; therefore, they are well within their rights.

Neither Jason nor I is a particular fan of Wal-Mart; especially of Wal-Mart in Renton, WA, which is an unappetizing cross between dirty dishevelment and sullied skankiness. On the other hand, we both adore Sam's Club. So, this is not an issue of loving or hating Sam Walton and all his legacy of low prices and mass quantities.

The crux of our disagreement is an understanding of what constitutes freedom of association. I have no problem with zoning laws, especially when they're established very locally. I think that people have a right to determine in what sort of town they want to live. Jason thinks that it is usually small, arrogant groups of elitists that punish people in their communities by limiting consumer choices. I grant him this point. He asserts that laws designed for the sole purpose of restricting one type of business are anti-freedom of association, because they do not permit the market to decide what sorts of businesses succeed in an area -- rather, it is political pull, which is pushes against every kind of freedom.

I return with the idea that, just as a community has every right to decide that they do not want strip clubs, casinos, prostitution, liquor stores, etc. in their town makeup, they ought to have every right to decide against other types of retail that they see as hurting their town's branding, values, charm, business climate, traffic congestion, and so on.

Jason cannot believe that I put Wal-Mart in the same league as strip clubs and casinos. Believe it, baby. I've been to Renton's Wal-Mart. It makes strip clubs and casinos look classy.

Seriously. Say I lived in one of those small towns in Vermont that only seems to convene its city council either to put out a warrant for the arrest of President Bush or bar Wal-Mart from building a local store. Say that I was determined to buy as many cheap products as I possibly could, regardless of their dubious quality and countries of origin. I have four choices: I can resign myself to buying from the overpriced, but awfully quaint, local General Store and shut up. I can move to one of the many places in this vast and varied land where there is a Wal-Mart within an hour's drive in any direction. I can run for the city council myself and fight to change the restrictive laws (and slap my fellow Vermonters out of their George W. Bush hysteria -- Calvin Coolidge would be ashamed of them -- though he wouldn't say much about it). I can order from, and pay a small shipping charge for all the Chinese-made crap my local UPS truck can carry. Sounds like representative democracy works, and I have as many choices as a person ought to have.

Jason usually responds at this point with something like, "You're just a communist!" (which is from the Ludwig von Mises school of argument stoppers*). He's joking, of course. He knows I'm not even a Democrat.

So, that's the gist of this argument we've let linger over the years. Each can concede that the other has a point. I mean, I don't like Wal-Mart very much, but I don't like snooty, whiny elitists who really hate Wal-Mart even more. While part of me abhors their general attitudes, I cannot help but acknowledge that at that very local level, government usually represents the will of the people. And neither of us would want to see Renton's Wal-Mart move any closer to our home. That's just not the kind of thing you want your kids exposed to.

*See: The Making of Modern Economics by Mark Skousen (Chapter 12, page 299), M.E. Sharpe Inc., Armonk, NY, 2001.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Names of God

We sang "Ancient of Days" in church yesterday. I like that song mostly because it uses such a cool and rarely-referenced name for the Lord. I'm not sure, but I think that Ancient of Days is only used in the Book of Daniel. The description there is probably where the popular notion of Grandpa God in a white nightgown with white hair and beard comes from (Daniel 7:9). Of course, since this is an apocalyptic vision, God isn't just sitting there all jolly-like. Nope -- He's seated on a fiery throne with wheels (?) burning of fire, opening the books to judge the "ten thousand times ten thousand" before Him. Oh dear. I'm glad to think that when I am standing there, Jesus will be pleading on my behalf.

Have you ever seen those posters or booklets that list all the names by which God reveals Himself to people? I love reading them over and thinking how the different names have come to mean so much to me over the years. Here are a few of my favorites:

Yahweh -- the most common Biblical word for the Lord. I really like when this is shortened to Yah. Whenever we have Messianic Jews speak at our church, they say "Yah," instead of "God," and I would be delighted if the rest of us picked up this habit.

Lahai-Roi -- "The One Who Lives and Sees Me" from Genesis 16. I took off "Beer" which means "well" and left on Hagar's revelation about God. It is a beautiful name, and one that I remember when I am feeling particularly insignificant and one-six-billionth-ish.

Jehovah-Jireh -- "The Lord will Provide" is a promise that I've clung to many a time.

El-Shaddai -- "God Almighty" or "God All Sufficient" pretty much says it all. Plus, is there anyone alive who does not love this Michael Card song as sung by Amy Grant?

Jehovah-Nissi -- "The Lord our Banner" reminds me that we are not on this battlefield alone. "Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war; With the cross of Jesus going on before . . ." The other side can never, ever win -- we just have to show up for the battles.

And then there are the names particular to Messiah. For instance:

Yeshua -- derived from the Hebrew "Y'shua" or "Je-Hoshua" (aka "Joshua") (and in Greek, of course, "Jesus") means "He will Save" or "Jehovah is Salvation" either of which is the gladdest news of any I've ever heard.

Alpha and Omega -- I love the continuity in this name. The Beginning and End and Everything in between -- and yet He shed His blood for me.

Of course, the I AM statements -- I AM the Way, the Truth, the Life; I AM the Bread of Life; I AM Living Water; I AM the Resurrection and the Life; Before Abraham was, I AM. As C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity (Book II, Chapter 3): "A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic -- on a level with the man who says he's a poached egg -- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to." I choose to fall at His feet.

What are your favorite names for the Lord Most High?

**I received much of this supplemental information (name translations from Hebrew and Greek, etc.) from this excellent website: The Names of God.**

Friday, June 13, 2008

Well, That Didn't Take Long

It did not take long for me to miss a couple days in my 30-day Blog Posting Blitz. Ah well . . .

So, here's what my week has been like:
  • This night owl has been up with the robins every morning; no worms as of yet, but plenty of sweet baby-lovin' time.
  • Sadie's gymnastics, karate, and ballet classes are rushing headlong toward their big shows/recitals; this has worn me out, but Sadie does not seem to be fazed.
  • I've only been to the gym one day this week; yet, my consumption of King's Hawaiian Bread is unabated.
  • A child who can read is a dangerous person to have around; for instance, it becomes impossible to substitute less-expensive Malt-O-Meal's Coco Roos for General Mills's Coco Puffs.
  • Ugh, Quatchi has come to torment me for the next 2 years. I despise the Olympic Games, but I recoil even more from the creepy Vancouver mascots. Unfortunately, Jason and Sadie love both.
  • Hanging out with two monkey-girls all day is fun and exciting, but exhausting. It leaves little time for putting coherent sentences together in conversation, let alone writing.
I'll be back . . .

P.S. How pathetic is it that I should feel so intellectually outgunned by a 19-month-old and a five-year-old? It doesn't help that they are not only both outstandingly smart, but also charming, cute, and unapologetically manipulative. Little stinkers!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Album Review: Smart Kid

Smart Kid
Clumsy Lovers
Nettwerk (2005)

Sometimes, after you fall in love with a work of art and you want to share your impressions with the world at large, you need to hole up in a room with your thesaurus for a week so that you can arm yourself with all the superlatives necessary to express adequately the transcendent nature of said project. I did not have time for that kind of research, but I'm going to have a go at reviewing this album, nonetheless.

Smart Kid is an album that you listen to for about the first ten times just because the music is so great. The eleventh time, the lyrics start to sink in, and you realize that the writing is as sharp and quirky and energetic as the music, but with a deeper bite to it than you first understood. The next five thousand spins it takes in your CD player (or iPod) will only lead to greater appreciation for the complete artistry that had come wrapped in unassuming cellophane. This may sound hyperbolic, but it's not.

The leading track, "Bobby Banjo," is an anachronistic and surreal adventure in the spirit of They Might Be Giants, but with better music. It's nonsense, but it's thoughtful, eerie, hilarious nonsense. Next, "Save For You" pairs cheerful music with rather melancholy lyrics that surprise you and keep you from getting too comfortable. "Coming Home," which is my daughter's favorite song, finds some smokin' fiddling alongside a pretty dark story. (Incidentally, this song was co-written by Carolyn Arends, Joy Jonat, and Chris Jonat (that's Carolyn's mother and brother) when Carolyn was around 10; I like to think that the line about the "second-hand revolver" belongs entirely to Carolyn's mom.)

"London Bridge" mixes a reggae beat with Clumsy Lovers' trademark enthusiastic fiddle and banjo to great effect. "Stand Up" has a great intro with funky whistling, and the song compels car dancing. For you Arends fans out there, you can hear her vocals contributing to the chorus. "Smart Kid" is funny and groovy and little sad, with one of the best refrains I've heard in a long time: Sometime trouble finds you/Sometimes you spark it/You may come out on the right side/But that don't make you the smart kid. Also this bridge: Don't try to tell me you never once drove with too much to drink/Or tried to outrun a train, driving too fast in the rain/You just got lucky when you forgot to think. Anyone who has been young and stupid can relate.

"People I've Been Meaning to Thank" is pure swinging country fun -- Andrea burns up the violin strings again, setting the pace on that one. "Better Days" is another one of their songs that you can listen to several times before the lyrics sink in. It's a pretty accurate portrayal of those dark days in relationships where you have to make the conscious decision to hold on: Don't give way; be strong, you say/It's just the price you pay/For the better days. "Okay Alright" is the only song on which the sole lady of the ensemble takes lead vocals, and Andrea Lewis's vocals are worth waiting for. I've always loved her wry, ironic voice -- especially on "Let the Sun Shine In" from Barnburner -- and this song was tailor-made for her powers of expression. Ever been fed up? This song is for you. It has my favorite mild swear word in it, too, which is even better.

"Cock of the North" is an instrumental variation on a traditional tune, and, again, Andrea's fiddle makes the song. "Don't Worry" is another chance for Arends fans to hear her warm vocals rise up in the background. I just want to take a second and say that the lead singer in Clumsy Lovers, Trevor Rogers, has one of the great male voices of this popular music era. Do you get sick of the whining sound that, unfortunately, has become the standard in masculine vocals? Goodness knows, I do. If you don't like that, you'll like Trevor Rogers voice.

"Clumsy Love Intro" and "This is Clumsy Love," both written, as most of these songs were, by Chris Jonat, are unqualified fun. "Rockefeller" is a paean to the simple pleasures that abound in family, faith and song -- and if that sounds mealy-mouthed at all to you, then just know that that description doesn't do full justice to the lyric.

"Not Long for This World" is the crown jewel of this sparkling album, in my opinion. Here is as concise and clear a nugget of useful theology and philosophy as any I've ever heard: You are not long for this world/So do not long for this world/Have a good look around/Take joy where it's found/But you are not long for this world. When was the last time you heard such a bold truth so beautifully spoken in song? It's a thoughtful and provocative ending to an all-around excellent album. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for something utterly new and addictive.